Postmodern Winemaking - Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft (Anglais) Relié – 7 janvier 2014
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Some reviewers may feel that Postmodern Winemaking is diametrically opposed to my work, but I must disagree, as I abhor dualism, and the bestial competitiveness associated with it. Postmodern Winemaking is a book for professional winemakers. Amateurs may struggle with it. It helps to know your wine (and other) history, because the author makes numerous offhand references to both as well as technical references that probably only old pro's would pick up on (I was clueless at times).
Clark Smith is writing from the perspective of a winemaker who's been working in the trenches for many years. Yes, his approach is technical, but he leans heavily towards applied science rather than theoretical, which personally I feel very aligned with.
The author is a proponent of micro oxygenation techniques, which involves adding fine oxygen to a wine at several stages. Due to that focus, he has developed a very refined, sophisticated take on the role that oxygen plays in the polymerization of tannins and anthocyanins in wine. This is something we can all take note of, no matter what winemaking discipline one adheres oneself to (if at all). He is urging us to accept more tannins than we may customarily feel comfortable with. Ideally, if managed well, more tannic structure can evolve into better wine.
The first part of the book is a bit tedious, as Clark perches on a soapbox--but why not? He has things to say, and is not afraid to draw a line in the sand. He bad-mouths the natural wine making camp, and takes pot-shots at the academics (easy targets), but it is all in good fun, and light-hearted. He's funny. He writes well, but sometimes I had to re-read sections to get the big picture. Winemaking is a complex subject that is difficult to describe in a linear fashion.
At times his writing is very succinct—almost poetic. If I may, here is quote:
“Experience with elevage unlocks the possibility of harvesting at true ripeness, when tannins are at their meanest, and permits the winemaker to pursue full extraction and extended maceration without fear of bitterness or astringency. These are culinary skills, not far different from chocolate-making techniques”.
Gorgeous. Well said.
I would very much enjoy drinking a glass or two with Clark and talking a little shop.
Mark Stanley 2014
This is the crux of the matter under consideration by author and winemaker Clark Smith in his collection of thoughts that at times might appear rather provoking, a little mischievous and even heretical to some. Throughout the book, the author's humour shines through thanks to the well-written, descriptive text with gems such as a wine being made "... that had more of a canned tomato soup aroma than the fresh strawberry notes I was seeking."
A lot of this book isn't new per se, but it is compiled and curated and polished into this single volume from many previously-published journal items. The author is seeking to shake an often overly-traditional industry into the future, promoting a belief that he feels would benefit the industry as a whole, through a fairly coarse, plain-talking message. This book is probably going to be "too much" for the casual wine drinker, but those who are involved in the wine industry will, or should, find this message worthy of serious consideration. The more dedicated wine drinker or culinary professional stands to learn a fair bit too, challenging many perceptions and opinions on the way.
The author notes that wine is just like architecture - the aesthetic properties of both are barely derived from their actual composition, yet so many wine buffs fuss about the use of a certain barrel, a certain vine or a certain style. Yet it is how the various "ingredients" are put together that can have the greatest impact on the taste, the most important function of the wine. Many people who are resistant to change are fearful that technology will transform their traditional bottle of wine into a modern-day chemical soup of ingredients, whilst being oblivious that that is exactly what their traditional bottle comprises of. Postmodern winemaking is perhaps just shuffling the deck of cards a little, making the "soup" a better product. Just like any development, there are pluses and minuses and you will still encounter the equivalent of bulk-produced wine and more traditionally-influenced products.
The concepts espoused might sound either far-fetched, radical or just a fairly mundane, obvious being, dependent on your point of view, your openness and your grasp of (possible) reality. You probably won't, or shouldn't, agree with everything the author says and that is no bad thing either. The author wouldn't expect anything less. That said, this reviewer is a little mixed about this book. It is an interesting subject, a fine read and certainly thought-provoking to those who have a vested interest in wine that is greater than just consuming it. The book's relative complexity and its price point may push it out of reach of the general, interested wine consumer, which is a bit of a shame but an understandable side-effect. The author has done, in any case, a very good job in setting out his stall in a fairly plain language.
So what to say? This is a book certainly worth of consideration if the subject in hand makes your eyebrows start to dance, either in shock or with curiosity.
In my 40 years in the industry I have seen massive transitions, from wax-lined concrete tanks and long cellaring (to achieve a natural fining), to stainless steel, cross-flow and membrane filtration; from it taking two years (and more) from vintage to bottle to the accountants' dream of a finished, marketed wine within two months of harvest. The reality of course is that cash-flow has 'always' been king, but in the past there were not the techniques available to achieve the speed that we have today. Smith uses all of the modern techniques yet advocates a sort of "slow food" outlook grafted over everything.
The modern wine industry faces quite severe financial challenges. All these modern techniques demand capital intensive equipment (usually meaning high borrowings); governments in much of the Western world see alcoholic drinks as a tax cash-cow (in my country, $3.00 on the lowest priced bottle is taxation, rising with price); then retailing has changed and the power of the supermarket chains enables them to dictate the price THEY will pay for a producer's wine - and of course it is not their profit margin that suffers. In turn this requires much higher volumes of through-put in order to survive financially. The real wonder then, is that industrial winemakers have not only maintained quality but have vastly improved it - even over my short, 40 year career.
Smith advocates the artisanal wine - a return to the focus on uniqueness and a promotion of texture, structure and flavour complexity as opposed what he feels are the simplistic, fruit-driven wines that have become the norm of the "industrial wines". Now I say that this is great, but we need to acknowledge that this can only be done on a small scale at greatly increased cost to the consumer. Indeed - as has always been the case - the differential between vins ordinaire and Grand Cru.
Four stars, for interesting concepts and explanations - one star less because he always uses ten words where one will do.
Wine is an art AND a science. I think Smith walks the fine line between them with great skill. And he writes in a way that shows his passion so I was able to read it easily while filling my head with useful facts and philosophies. It's not so dense that it can only be used as a reference book.
Although it's depth requires a bit more than fundamental knowledge of winemaking, I would recommend this book to a wide audience.