I love David Darlington’s, An Ideal Wine .... one generation’s pursuit of perfection -and profit -in California.
If you, like me, want to crawl into some of the crazy brains in California wine biz, An Ideal Wine is a great read. In flowing prose is a grand story how California turned away from sensible, and possibly great wine for the market driven gold ring. There was a good reason I gave the book a genuine blurb. I’m in awe of Darlington’s skill as a reporter.
I could easily gobble up a book on a trio of personalities that dominate his book; Randall Grahm, Clark Smith and Leo McCloskey. Ego. Charm. Madness. Salemanship! Smith is most famed for peddling wine manipulation tools like micro ox and reverse osmosis, and McCloskey famed for developing tools to help wineries score big. Both are the kind of men that takes me a lifetime to understand how they exist, how they think, how they can view what I see as truth in such a different light. Such is the miracle of life. And then there's Randall, one of those miracles too.
The answers aren't here, but the fun ride is. I'm rereading it right now, yellow marker in hand.
The other must own book for wine geeks is the text book, Authentic Wine: toward natural and sustainable winemaking.
Authentic Wine, co-written by Sam Harrop, MW and Dr. Jamie Goode, seems to address a walk towards natural, or at least the paths that are developing to lead us away from highly confabulated wine. Great. Work the pages, read and learn many trade secrets. The chapter on manipulations is particularly nifty and covers most of the techniques and ingredients that can twist wine.
But some things are missing in such a careful book. I was curious why they side-stepped thermovinification, rampant in the Beaujolais. I missed a conversation on carbonic maceration. It's a very huge chunk of natural wine history. Almost impossible to ignore, yet it's not here. After having wallowed in carbonic in my own book, its absence here was a disappointment. I really wanted Jamie's take.
On the whole, there's a lot in their volume I didn't address in Naked Wine. We're good companion pieces. You'd might say between us we lick the platter clean. Even if we don't always agree.
Then I was stumped and very confused when it came to the discussions of inoculations for both malolactic and alcoholic fermentations.
I had no idea that natural malos are likely to produce a lower total sulfur profile. Interesting. I'll do some investigating. The section also warned winemakers about the dangers of natural MLF, that natural MLF might actually produce some potentially carcinogenic compounds. They didn't give case studies or citations. I need to go further into this one. The chapter strongly took the stance that inoculation for MLF would be a wiser and healthier option. This was in the section about natural winemaking. All winemakers working naturally that I know would never take this without a scoff. The argument also lacked balance.
When the book came out on the side of inoculation for alcoholic fermentations, however, I was alarmed. They put forth an unbalanced argument with research supplied by Australian, South African New Zealand, hardly standard bearers of natural wine making.
In the "Can Natural Wine Be Made With Cultured Yeasts?" section, after explaining that some people don't believe that yeast is part of terroir, came this:
As a consequence, we argue for a broader view of natural wine that allows the use of cultured yeasts selected from nature where winemakers make this choice with a view to making wines that are more representative of their origin than might otherwise have reulted if fermentation was left to chance.
I don't know of any good winemaker who thinks that their hard work in the vineyard and sound care in the winery is leaving alcoholic fermentation to chance. Texier, Puzelat, DRC, Pacalet, Hank @ La Clarine, Fred Cossard, Occhipinti, Foradori, the Saah's...I can go on for pages.
Somehow quoting the emotional Nicolas Joly (as an example of someone who believes in no inoculation) instead of let's say a trained oenologue who practices naturally, just didn't seem balanced.
No inoculation is one tenet of natural winemaking. If you work so hard in the vineyard, if you work well in the cellar, you have earned your yeast, and what's more, there are many who believe the the DNA of the year and place is encapsulated in it. Their assertion was so off, their dismissal of the reasons people believe in native was so off, I began to be very uncomfortable.
I did a little more searching and saw that this wasn't the first time this duo had written about inoculations.
There are some serious transparency issues here and I can't understand why they weren't included in the text.
Jamie has been on press trips with Lallemand. This is not a hidden fact.
Sam consults to InterLoire on how to make sauvignon blanc more commercial in the Loire. This is not a hidden fact.
Sam has (or does, I can't tell from his Linked-in resume) consulted for Lallemand. This is not a hidden fact.
If Jamie would have acknowledged his relationship with the yeast and additive company, if Sam would have acknowledged his gigs, their addressing the inoculation issue, a highly valuable one for Lallemand, could be taken in context.
Their lack of disclosure seems dangerously close to supporting the interests of the multi-$$$ additive company, a company, I might add, that has a lot to lose if natural wins. By going forward without the disclosure, some of their points seem suspicious at worst and invalid at best. This is hard for me to write. I don't know Sam, but some people I know like him quite a bit and respect his palate. I don't know Jamie well at all, but I appreciate his work and it seems that we have similar palates. But knowing that science speak wins out against emotion and practical knowledge, even if the science is wrong, I had to go on record, especially as for better or worse, Natural Wine has been my topic for quite some time now.
In the end though, Authentic is a dense book, with lots of great info, so I don't want to throw out the baby with the water addition. It could be a great middle of the road text and intro to those poor UC Davis students going out for corporate wine jobs and want to change the world, a tiny bit.
The subtitle is to be taken literally Even still I would have suggested adding in two little words, "toward a more natural and sustainable."