At some point in your journey into the world of wine you have probably heard someone talk about Malolactic Fermentation (ML for short). But what is that, and is it a good thing in the wine? To put it simply, malolactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation process that can either occur naturally, or through the wine maker’s intervention. This secondary fermentation process weakens the acids in the wine, giving it a more rich and smooth drinkability. Through the action of bacteria, the malic acid in the wine is converted into lactic acid. Most, if not all red wines have gone through the malolactic fermentation process. However, with white wines, it is the call of the wine maker’s if they decide to allow the process to occur or not. Malolactic is what gives certain wines the rich butter, butterscotch, toffee and caramel flavors of lactic acid, much like you would find in a Chardonnay. But by using the malolactic fermentation process, it can also diminish the wine’s fruit forwardness, and with some white varietals you would not want to experience that in the wine.
I just returned from a trip to Northern California, and of course stopped by several wineries for wine tastings. Most of us know of Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley, and the fantastic wines that these areas produce. However, while on this trip I was introduced to the Suisun Valley, which is located in the next valley over, just to the east of Napa Valley. And while I had never before visited this area, I was surprised at what I found. The Suisun Valley was given the America Viticulture Area (AVA) status in 1982, and there are several wineries in this AVA that are producing some very good wines. I was able to stop by a few of the wineries and sampled their products. In my next blog I will introduce you to some of the wineries that I visited, and the wines I sampled while there.
The majority of wine drinkers, and even wine connoisseurs have most likely never heard the term, Biodynamic Viticulture. However, this method of grape growing has been around since the early 20th century. The initial thought behind this viticulture practice was developed by Rudolf Steiner from Austria. The principles and practices of biodynamic viticulture are based on spiritual-like philosophies. In short, biodynamic viticulture recognizes the entire universe as an ecosystem, and believes that the alignment of the planets and the phases of the moon have an impact on the vineyard, and thus the work within the vineyard is to be done in accordance to those alignments. Steiner’s philosophy behind this practice includes understanding the ecological, the energetic, and the spiritual in nature.
The practice of biodynamic viticulture is popular in some major growing regions around the world, and includes some very high-end wineries from countries such as France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Australia, Chile and the United States. There are more than 450 wine producers worldwide that incorporate this practice, and it continues to spread. Biodynamic wine makers claim to produce stronger, more vibrant wines where the terrior is more readily detected.
I first came across this viticulture practice at an old vineyard in Napa Valley, where the vineyard manager claims that biodynamic viticulture restored a dying vineyard, increased the crop production, as well as producing fantastic fruit. I am still trying to better understand this “mystical” approach to grape growing, and all of the practices that go into it. The consumption of biodynamic wines has an almost cult following. If you come across a bottle of biodynamic wine, give it a try and see what you think.
The entire realm of organically grown food is now a multi-billion dollar business, and one that I endorse wholeheartedly. If we can get away from using chemical additives to the foods we eat, and the products that we use, the better off all of us will be, now and in generations that will follow.
I recently represented a winery where the vineyards were certified as being organic by the USDA in 2008. And while the vineyards were certified as organic, the wine itself could not be certified as organic. So, what’s the reasoning behind that, why one and not the other? It comes down to this, while no herbicides, pesticides, or any other chemicals were used in the vineyard during the growing process, the vineyard can be certified as being 100% organic. What distinguishes the vineyard from being organic and not the wine is how the wine maker chooses to produce the wine. With the winery that I represented, the wine maker choose to add sulfur dioxide (sulfites) to the wine to stabilize and help in the preservation of the finished product. Because he choose to add the sulfur dioxide, the finished product, the wine, cannot be certified as being organic, even though the grapes used to produce it were organically grown.
In choosing a wine, look for those wines that use organically grown grapes, and if possible, a wine that the wine maker has decided not to add sulfur dioxide to the finished product. You may pay a bit more for organic wines, but it will be worth it in the end.