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Making wine like a chemist. The Wonderful World of Chemistry Amateur Winemaking making Dupont Proud.

2013 December 22
by Gene Fiorot

It has to be said once and for all. Even if offends the scientific obsessed crowd. SOC, you make wine like Chemists and it sadly tastes like that. With all the talk of “Kit Wine Taste” permeating the winekmaking forum discussions , often overlooked is the taste of wine make by Chemists , Engineers , and Math Majors. I include Math Majors as I have a personal abhorrence to them as a group. My prejudice I admit. Nevertheless all of the above usually suck at making wine. Seriously All of the above need a new hobby. Why? Because they cannot appreciate Art. It is not their fault, they were born that way. Parts per Million always trumps human perception for them. And therein lies the basis for their failure. They have no confidence in human sensory ability even their own. These limited capability artistically challenged individuals rely on numbers as represented in laboratory tests and react to them as such. That reliance makes all their decisions for them. So they usually wind up with a product reminiscent of polyester instead of wool. Not that they actually would be able to identify the difference. Only a Lab can do that. Silly you, you should have known that.

Probably the worst part of their actions if it were not limited to them drinking only their own organic petroleum based creations , they post on Amateur Winemaking Forums on the Internet their worries , fears and worse their advice on how to make wine. Me, I don’t make wine with a paint by numbers formulae. In fact most Artist don’t create Masterpieces with a calculator and a chemistry book either.

If we turn to the Art of Cinema, the Directors of the Masterpieces never relied on Engineering. And so it is for Winemaking. So while we have all recognized this for a very long time, Isn’t it time the Big Kahunna said it on Winepress.us? Or is jousting using scientific knowledge trump more important then the reason for being there?

24 Responses leave one →
  1. Dan Lodico permalink
    December 22, 2013

    In defense of The Chemists, and in particular I mean the The Chemists Who Really Do Know Their Shit and give sound advice on WP (I don’t visit the other sites so I can’t say), it would be fair to give weight to a couple of things:

    As a relative newbie (I’ve promoted myself from “rank beginner” to “relative newbie’) aspiring to make wine to the level I tasted at Bacchanalia, I think a couple of things apply,

    1. It is easier and quicker to learn the math and science than it is to learn the art. I can measure pH, and TA and ppm of SO2, and read countless articles on it. This does not make me a “Master”.Not to be mean, but a young winemaker and contributor to WP, from Isreal , comes to mind.

    2. Nothing can replace the experience of having tasted a lot of wines;Bad wine,good wine, outstanding wines, from various vintages, from all over the world, and years of experience tasting one’s own efforts going through the metamorphoses from grape to wine provides essential information that can be gained in no other manner .

    So when someone attempts to help me through this process of becoming an artist, from across a continent, he doesn’t have a lot of tools in his bag. The people who I have come to believe are the most helpful, have always tried to remind me (and other readers) that “taste trumps numbers”, whether we are fussing over pH, or TA, or how long in a barrel, etc etc..Developing that palate is part of the art, but can’t be conveyed over the internet.

    Leonardo da Vinci, before he created the masterpieces we still marvel at, over 500 years after he created them, paid his dues learning the basic “science”, as it was understood then, behind his art. Among other things, during his apprenticeship in Verrocchio’s Guild, was the painstaking process of learning to make dyes for paints from botanical sources. Eventually he expanded on what he learned by concocting his own formulas, for colors previously elusive.

    Whenever we take the moment to enjoy an artistic production, be it musical, dance, visual, or sensory (like wine!), as we marvel over the finished product, it is typical of us to forget the nuts and bolts that went into creating it; Hours of practicing musical scales, breaking dance steps down into pieces so small only the truly obsessed can practice them enough times to do it “artistically”-and indeed, the more artistically compelling the final product, the more the artist makes it look “simple”, or “easy”, and that is part of the magic of it.

    We need the science, but we must not be too constrained. Perhaps that is the “art” of making really fine wines. Well, that and getting really good grapes.

  2. MrWines permalink
    December 22, 2013

    Well hopefully I’m an exception as I am a graduate of an upstate NY engineering school and have surprised my tasting group members with bottles I’ve made in blind tastings in preparation for our diploma in wine and spirits exams. Several of them are distributors and one is a wine magazine reviewer and are now sitting for the master of wine program. These programs are focused on detecting quality of the product instead of purely location and vintage, so I would say that we have a strong appreciation of the art. Dan is right. There is little substitution to tasting a very broad selection of wines.

  3. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 22, 2013

    Keep stirring the pot I say….

  4. Zac Brown permalink
    December 22, 2013

    Having a foundation in the science is important .
    I’ve such a background .

    But with winemaking it’s as much an art as a science . You need to have respect for both.
    A Bsc has contributed nothing to the development of my pallet and intuition.
    But many people have just enough knowledge of the science to be dangerous.

    I think that you need to not treat the numbers as absolutes and know when to put the book down and go with your gut.

    Art + science / experience X good grapes = good wine

  5. Proud Puppy permalink
    December 23, 2013

    Yeah, but you need to absolutely stick by the numbers, and follow the directions exactly, because then you won’t invalidate the kit warranty, no? Like not aging past 60 days prior to bottling, or using a little less or more oak powder, right??

    Speaking about stirring Gene, I think the wasp nest just evacuated!

  6. Dan Lodico permalink
    December 23, 2013

    Speaking of artists: I meant to ask Puppy about his Syrah-Viognier blend he brought to the party. That is a wonderful wine. What brought those two wines together? That’s not a traditional blend is it?
    Was the Viognier fermented as a white and then blended?

  7. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 23, 2013

    On the contrary quite traditional, a little white in the vat to increase color.

  8. Dan Lodico permalink
    December 23, 2013

    White in the vat increases color?

  9. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 23, 2013

    Ah ! My Dear Watson, “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” A perfect potential treatise for the Winemaker Chemist amongst us. Copigmentati0n awaits you.

  10. Dan Lodico permalink
    December 23, 2013

    stop! my brain is exploding.

  11. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 23, 2013

    JSC (John) said the exact same thing the other day when reading the blog.

  12. D&S permalink
    December 24, 2013

    Geez. If I hadn’t been called worse by a better class of people I might take offense ; ). I had a (former) career as a research scientist, but I’ve never considered my wine as a science project. Like Zac mentioned, having a science background helps. This is especially true when you encounter the unexpected. Aspiring to achieve a number has never been my goal, only to produce something delicious and in balance.

  13. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 24, 2013

    Well D&S, Co-pigmentation please elaborate for all of us commoners in terms we can understand. Dan waits with an exploded head.

  14. Proud Puppy permalink
    December 24, 2013

    Dan, often they use the skins of Viognier, but the method is usually a coferment. As Gene mentioned it is common. The method is used, but not actually called S/V blend. In the case of an actual blend, a little higher Viognier proportion is used. It is very aromatic for the apricot, and usually less than 5 pct is used. Very obvious early on, but as it ages 2 or 3 yrs the Viognier really drops out.
    The bottle I made used around 12 to 14 pct, and at first it was overwhelming and overpowering and I thought I’d only use it for Sangria. About a year into the bottle age it came down to an obvious presence, but not overwhelming. It should get to a good balance in another year or so.
    No, not artistic, and have a purely Science background since a tot. But it is knowledge that gives a foundation, and I go more by sensory input for making any decisions, and only use #s as a reference model. You need to have a starting point or reference base so as not to be too lost.

  15. Dan Lodico permalink
    December 24, 2013

    Puppy, the 12-14% blend you made, was that co-fermented with skins of the V, or did you ferment the V as a white and blend later?

    I’m reading about co-pigmentation but it involves a lot of organic chemistry. I had to take that in college, and the sight of benzene rings gives me a case of PTSD, so I have to go slow.

  16. D&S permalink
    December 24, 2013

    Gene, I will try to explain copigmentation as I understand it. Personally, I don’t consider this much as I make wine today. The contribution of copigmentation to an aged, finished wine is not clear. The paper most often cited in the wine literature on copigmentation is Boulton’s below.
    http://www.napavalley.edu/people/gvierra/Documents/Fundamentals_of_Enology_Class/Copigmentation_Boulton.pdf

    In a nutshell copigmentation is a phenomenon in young wine where color is enhanced (increased absorbance) and/or changed (a wavelength shift) as a result of relatively weak complexes formed between anthocyanin molecules and/or antocyanins and other phenolic compounds in the wine that alone may have little or no contribution to color (tannins, cyanidins….). These complexes temporarily stabilize the anthocyanins and can change the hue of the wine. The copigment complex is thought to be the result of hydrophobic interactions between the compounds that result in a planar stack. These stacked molecules prevent water from hydrating the red (flayvilium) or blue (quinoidal) base states of the anthocyanin molecule. As a result, color is enhanced and/or shifted slightly toward blue.

    Classic copigmentation examples include Trebbiano with Sangiovese and Syrah/Viognier cofermentation, where the wine produced can be more intensely pigmented than the red alone. The thinking here is that the white varietal is providing molecular ‘co-factors’ that stabilize the anthocyanin from the red varietal. (I would submit that the floral component the Viognier adds is more important.)

    Copigmentation complexes can be influenced by many factors (cultivar, metals, pH, ethanol, heat, etc) as Boulton discusses. They are, however, thought to be short-lived in table wines. Eventually, they fall apart. I’ve not seen a study (though maybe it’s out there) showing how these complexes last over time or how fining agents affect them. Are there clear ways to stabilize these complexes? Not sure. Would it make the wine better if you could stabilize them? Again, not sure. Bouton tries to make an indirect case for copigmentation’s impact on sensory perception but it’s weak.

    So what does copigmentation mean to the winemaker producing an aged red wine? At this time, I don’t know. To me, it seems an interesting scientific pursuit whose immediate practical implications on the winemaking process are unclear. And this is the normal way science works. It takes time to reconcile seemingly conflicting or complex data into a solid understanding. Only then can you have an action plan.

    Just my two cents….

  17. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 24, 2013

    More than 2 cents and thanks for posting it so it is now searchable on the blog. And Dan’s head is feeling better already. It is a strange phenomena and worth noting besides it is so much fun to tell new winemaker adding white grapes to a red ferment will make the red wine darker. (in some cases and with lots of caveats ) Maybe I should take back what I said about Chemists. Not just yet.

  18. Dan Lodico permalink
    December 24, 2013

    In other words, it’s fun to make Dan’s head explode. I get it.

  19. MrWines permalink
    December 24, 2013

    Cote Rotie is traditionally 5-20% viognier cofermented with syrah.

  20. Proud Puppy permalink
    December 24, 2013

    Dan, the Viognier was fermented as whole grapes (whole berries) along with the Syrah whole berries ie in the same fermenting vessel. My intent on trying this was for the aromatics as Mr Wines mentioned, and not the pigmentation which I was aware of as well. To be honest, it was not notably increased in color, although I always aim for high extraction. I would not have seen any difference otherwise either. It was not a real good result until at least a year in the bottle, when it turned a corner. I stopped using them for Sangria then. The bottle you tried was the 2011 and was in the bottle 15 months. I think it had about 8 percent Petit Verdot from 2010 in about half the bottles, but I’m not sure if that was the bottle you tried, but I think it was. That gave it a more creamy smooth mouth feel from the added age on the PV, but I felt a little too mild for my taste.(The PV was kept in a 3 gal carboy, and 2 years prior to blending. Maybe at its aging peak).

  21. Gene Fiorot permalink*
    December 24, 2013

    Actually Dan I must apologize, no one ever told you part of your initiation to the club are head exploding exercises. Yep loads of fun! Now back to the 7 fishes I need to prepare for this evening.
    Merry Christmas Everyone!

  22. joey permalink
    January 13, 2014

    little late for this thread but…
    i was a math and physics major in college and then abruptly changed majors to art.

    not sure if this is gonna make a great or terrible winemaker. ha

  23. Dan Lodico permalink
    January 13, 2014

    joey, at least you’ll have nice labels!

  24. crazy run ranch permalink
    January 31, 2014

    Well my education is engineering and it surprises almost nobody to learn than. I think most winemakers, not just those with technical backgrounds, will try to make wine by the numbers, at least initially. I think there is a typical learning curve where learning what reasonable sugar, pH, SO2, etc. numbers should be will improve a beginners wine. Most of us were pretty happy to make that first wine that tasted like it could have been professionally made. Its that next jump in quality that’s the hard one and it has nothing to do with the numbers. Going from acceptable to delicious and sought after is probably a never ending pursuit. It never hurts to have data to help with decisions, just don’t let it keep you from making the right decision.

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