Shocking the shit out of wine

I read a lot of scientific wine studies. As booze science progresses, it is a great way to expand my understanding of how certain flavor compounds develop, where in the process they originate, how different grapes develop different attributes…you get the idea.

Plus, these papers are fun. Wine people in labs just make me so happy. It’s relaxing.

This one is a little different. As it came through my inbox, I didn’t fully appreciate the overly wordy title. And, since the operations I generally work with are very small, shock therapy for grapes isn’t something I’ve ever encountered.

Let me warn you, if you head over to your handy google search engine and attempt to look this up, most of the results are for anti-aging face treatments.

A friend (read: fellow wine worker at the pub) clued me in. Apparently the cold plasma thermal shock is a cleaning technique commonly employed in agriculture for microbial food safety and shelf-life purposes. The gist of the reading material is that electricity is pulsed through a medium (water…or something else) in which the fruit is submerged. Organic material (salmonella isn’t particularly common on grapes…but you get the idea) is sufficiently stunned and falls away.

The purpose of this overly long winded explanation is that a team in Croatia demonstrated the effects of such treatments on wine. What they found is (pardon the pun) shocking. They noted an increase in the stability wine phenolics, an increase in some phenols in white wines, AND they found that the treatment didn’t affect wine color.

You can read the abstract and highlights here. But, and in all fairness, I’m not sure if they treated grapes or actual wine.

This also begs the question: will such high voltage treatment affect how wines age in the bottle? Hmmmm….discuss among yourselves.

We started drinking early…earlier than scientists (and wine geeks) thought

NPR published a piece today about an 8,000 year old wine jug found in the country of Georgia. While most experts have long pointed to this region as the ancestral starting point for winemaking and the cultivation of vines for ancient man, this is the oldest such evidence found to date.

Neolithic Wine Jug - NPR
Courtesy of the Georgian National Museum via NPR

Which means we started drinking early.

And what did archaeologists find in this jug? Tartaric acid. That’s right, those shiny little crystalline deposits found in bright (not very cold stabilized) white wines across the world. Who knew?

You can read the full story here.

En Feugo 2017: The NorCal Firestorm

Two weeks ago our lovely little slice of heaven found itself on fire. Not the “this wine is fire” compliment, but literal flames. In the tidal rush of trauma, survivors, fatalities, and evacuations we all, every person in Northern California, scrambled to save ourselves and our neighbors.

As heroes saved their neighbors and the global community sprang to action to help Californians, many of us (myself included) found hope in the collective rally-cry California Strong.

We all now find ourselves baptized by fire, forged stronger and more resilient.

John Walsh published this article to that effect in the Sonoma Index-Tribune.

Unfortunately, that’s not a picture I can take. It’s not a story I can write.  It’s a kaleidoscope of images we collectively own and a chorus of voices of which I am merely one. (And a tone deaf one at that.)

But the picture I did take, the one to savor is this:

Ashen Leaf

That ashen leaf will crumble and blow away in the breeze. But, as we say around Sonoma, the roots run deep. And there will be millions more where that came from. Green, lush, and stronger for the trial.

The smoke was thick but quickly blown through. The fog remains, as it ever does, it the valleys and among the rolling landscape it calls home.

What the What? – Wine

According to the Oxford Companion to Wine the technical definition of wine is:

an alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of fruits or berries.

Illuminating, no?

By this definition, we can safely include mead and cider. Renaissance faire enthusiasts rejoice! We could also include strawberry, dandelion, cactus, blueberry, and whole host of other fruit wines from around the world.

Before my fellow wine geeks panic (put that pinkie finger down, we’re getting there), this is a refreshingly vague and broad definition. Since fruit wines, mead, and ciders have their own names, wine means something more specific. Especially in those parts of the world with vineyards.

For our purposes, and the purposes of most of the drinking world, the definition of wine is:

the alcoholic beverage resulting from the fermentation of juice from freshly harvested and crushed grapes. 

If you’re looking for a cool etymology lesson, the origins for the word wine are under the entry for wine in the Oxford Companion.

In the meantime, here’s your flashcard.

What the What - Wine - definition image

Harvest 2017 – Go get your hands dirty.

The glory days of Summer are coming to a crashing halt in Sonoma. Evening sneaks up at a delightfully early hour and lets me sneak into the warm comfort of misshapen sweatpants and sweaters that deserve a decent burial.

Something perks up as the temperatures dip down: Harvest. That magical time of year when wine growers from Washington State to Baja California can be heard tearing their hair out in unison as grapevines do whatever it is they feel like doing until that pivotal moment of perfection. Grape ripeness.

The sense of relief as grapes reach ripeness and the vines are relieved of their duty is palpable.  I swear the vines celebrate every bit as much as parents when school starts. “Get them AWAY FROM ME.”

I know, you were promised harvest stuff. So here we go.

The grapes are coming in at Balo Vineyards. Fortunately, I have friends in grapey places. Everyone, meet Wes.

Crangle - Balo - 20170921-16
Jolly looking, isn’t he?

Wes invited me up to sort grapes and play in the mess of harvest and crush. Who says no to that? Especially when the winemaker is local legend Alex Crangle.

A short road trip later, I find myself on a sunny crush pad in Anderson Valley. The grapes have arrived, and Alex is unloading the grapes from the truck. Wanna know important solid forklift skills can be?

So slick.

Rather than write a Trotsky style novel for you to read through, here’s slideshow of what “hand sorting grapes” actually looks like. It’s sticky and, if you value the condition of your nails (I don’t), please wear gloves.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Alex pulls a bin of grapes to be sorted and loads into onto the sorting table. All hands on deck pick through the clusters. Too ripe? Too green? Leaves, rocks, bugs? All gone.

You’ll notice that after the lovely “we’re picking through grapes” images, there is an escalator lift. At the top of the lift, the bunches may go into a bin as whole clusters (whole cluster fermentation) or they may be removed from their stems immediately. The machine with the red paddles is a destemmer. Taking a picture of it in action is hazardous to your health at best. It gently removes the grapes from the stems. And it’s hilariously difficult to clean.

The white pellets in the container of sorted grapes? That’s dry ice. A two fold tool that keeps the grapes cool while putting off a layer of carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen and thus protects the grapes from the potentially harmful air around them.

So there you have it. Hand sorting grapes in Anderson Valley.

WtF out.


But First

Let me introduce some structure into what will otherwise crumble into rambling wine-soaked chaos. As much fun as that could be, it is not entirely appropriate for permanent online existence.

What the Fog is designed to explore wine and the kaleidoscope of information about it. To that end, please stand for the introduction of:

(Insert drum roll here)

What the Who

What the What

What the Where

What the When

What the How

What the Why

That’s right, organization. Gather yourself, it’s going to be okay.

Who posts will take a look at a person in wine. From the vague, such as “winemaker” to the very specific, like Catherine Seda Bugue, co-owner of the Napa Valley Wine Academy. We’ll also play with historical figures like Pliny the Elder (not just a funny named beer, actual person) and contemporary figures such as Jancis Robinson.

What examine the technical definition based stuff, like specific grapes (what in the world is Carmenere?) and technical terms (because Malolactic Fermentation isn’t all that intuitive). Pretty much anything that falls under the “what is that” umbrella.

Where explore wine regions. From juggernauts like Bordeaux to blips on the map like Cole Valley (it’s in California).  Incidentally, this section ties neatly into the What portion of life, since the interlinking articles will clear up any questions you might have.

See? Not so bad.

When posts will regurgitate historical or contemporary events from other sources (journals, newspapers, all that stuff). As the What and the Where change, the changes will be noted and linked to the When.

How does fermentation take place? How do flavors of green pepper happen in Cabernet Sauvignon? These articles are technical and will give you the upper hand with most wine professionals.

Why? Why indeed. This is the naughty little sibling of this page. Why will seek to explore philosophical questions about wine, fermented beverages, life in general. Why is the fun bit.

Now, while the backFOG of things to write may be never ending, that is sort of the point. So, send some cloud mail my way if you have a question, a suggestion, or enjoy snappy rapport.

*the fog retreats for a sip of Barbaresco*