Monday, February 28, 2005

Wine, Technology, Legislation, and History (billy)

There is a certain mystique that surrounds the wine-making process. Afterall, it is a process that has changed little since antiquity. Grapes were once crushed by feet in an almost ritualistic manner. Fermentation and aging takes place in wooden barrels - casks that evoke (for some) romantic images and notions of simpler yet more elegant times: times when people were somehow more intentional, more real. Wine was/is stored in caves and underground grottos.

We know that Aristotle drank wine, as did Jesus, as do we. There is a history there; in that bottle. We may vicariously tap into that history, those experiences, that richness and mistique when we open a bottle and sip this wonderful, mysterious, and ancient drink.

It is little wonder then that some of us chafe or at least raise a questioning and skeptical eyebrow as the modern technologies of chemical and biological engineering, farming and irrigation technology, and other aspects of the sciences seek to understand and/or alter aspects of the winemaking process. "Wine was fine," we might say, "in Jesus' day and did not require that the flavor enhancing yeasts be chemically induced." The ancient process has worked

Yet as I've written before, the growth of technologys role in the winemaking process is inevitable as wine becomes more and more of a commodity - something produced - and less and less of something created and coming out of a specific region.

However, there are some (most notably in Europe) who chafe so greatly at the concept of wine in the lab that laws are being emplaced to protect history. Where laws already exist, they are being reinforced. Yet it is technology and scientific study that is challenging those laws. Consider:
For example, in Spain the law says that a Reserva wine must be aged for at least 12 months, and a Gran Reserva for at least 18 months. But when Teresa Garde Cerdán, a researcher in chemical sciences at the Public University of Navarre in northern Spain, conducted the first chemical analysis experiments on different types of wines and casks, what she found was unexpected.

The maximum concentrations of aromatic compounds transferred to wine from wood is reached after 10 to 12 months of the wine being stored in wooden casks, Cerdán found. After that, the compounds either remain the same or even begin to decrease.
Legislation should certainly change as a result of science, said Boulton. Otherwise wine with an inferior aromatic profile will end up having a higher price than better wine.
"European legislation regarding winemaking tends to preserve historic practices, with the result that it functions as economic protectionism," she said. "It's a way to preserve the prestige and exclusivity of traditional European wine appellations in the face of economic challenges from New World producers."

I don't see the trend of technology's increased involvement with wine decreasing. Political pressures will continue to mount. What it means for you and me, though, is that some of our favorite wines may be protectionally priced out of our everyday ranges. But we will have the opportunity to sample and then (possibly) love new wines from newer regions of the world. Yes, they may be altered in the lab or with lab-developed processes. Yet, when it comes down to it, the final analysis is in your glass.

And to THAT I'll raise a(nother) glass.

Read more HERE

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