Diogenes Searches for a "Clean" Wine
Do you remember the story of Diogenes who carried around a lantern, looking for an "honest man"? I wonder if, now, he may be looking around for a "clean" wine.
Up until about twenty years ago making a "clean" wine wasn’t considered a problem. But then, most wineries started using less of the SO2 that normally protects the wines, and then certain spoilage products started creeping in. The biggest villain is the natural yeast Brettanomyces (Brett for short) which gives a barnyard aroma and rubber boot flavor to the wine. Professor Kunkel, who specialized in yeasts at U.C. Davis, decried Brett for giving wine a "disgusting" taste! When you use some extra SO2 and keep Brett down to a slight amount you have only a slightly "disgusting" taste.
A noted arbiter of present day wines uses a shorthand tasting technique that is amazingly consistent, almost infallible in the rating of wines. It is the next best thing to actually drinking some wine for pleasure and evaluating it that way. The arbiter’s tasting technique has been largely helpful for the industry- except for a weakness: in its search for the most full bodied wine, this tasting technique has come to accept, that is, almost demand a certain amount of Brett. So, the situation in the industry becomes such that there is an economic disincentive to the making of clean wine, even though clean wines are invariably preferred by the people who are drinking wine for pleasure. Brett, this scourge of fine wine, has thus become acceptable in some of the finest wineries. The hard part for the affected wineries must be that Brett is difficult to control and they sometimes wind up with more than a "slight" amount. Curiously enough, Brett is one of the easiest elements to detect in wine. It is like bad breath, most anyone can smell it. It is easily quantified in the lab by measuring the 4-ethyl phenol of the wine. Anything above 425 mg/ml starts to be most noticeable.
So, back to Diogenes and his lantern. Our moment of truth at JARVIS came a few years ago when a part of one small lot of our wine was aged in a leaky barrel and the whole lot of wine developed a slight taste of VA (another term for acetic acid). Our winemaker, Dimitri Tchelistcheff, spotted this off-taste and anxious to make a "clean" wine we called in a service firm that through a new osmosis filtering process was able to separate out the VA. This worked fine, except afterwards to our great chagrin, we noticed the characteristic taste of Brett in this same lot of wine; the barnyard aroma was a dead give away. It seems that the filtering people had done their previous filter at a Brett infested winery and carried it over to our winery.
We were horrified and resolved at all costs that this insidious wild yeast should not get lodged in our cave and thus we would have it forever in our wine. We got rid of that wine, burned the infected barrels, repeatedly disinfected all our cave walls, floors, drains and the outside of all remaining barrels, and were actually successful in eliminating this scourge from our winery. Three years later and it hasn’t come back.
The ironic part of this story is that judging from other wines, our wine ratings could have been even higher with that Brett. Had we been motivated more in making money, rather than making a clean wine, the easy thing would have been to accept that batch of wine and the resultant continuous amount of Brett in our cave and in our wine.
Well, the bottom line is, Diogenes, you won’t find Brett in JARVIS wines and that works fine for all of our tastes and, I am sure, the tastes of our customers.