Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thinkings for the end of the world....I mean the end of 2012.

(No this isn't another post about the Mayan calendar that our media misconstrued.......)

What is it about the end of the year and the beginning of a new one that makes some of us look to make changes in our lives?  Is it the idea of starting with a clean slate, that we can somehow start over?  Do we have reasons to start over?  Did we mess things up so royally last year that we feel the need to wipe our lives clean and show that we can do better?

The life we live in wine is different than most, and I understand this.  Or, at least, I pretend to.....  We have a cycle to our lives.  There's the growth cycle in the vineyard from pruning to budbreak to summer canopy management to harvest.  There's a second cycle as well in the cellar that runs from crush to aging to bottling.

I know most people's lives have some cycles as well.  Teachers go from school year to vacations and back to teaching.  Retailers have the ebb and flow of holiday sales and normal sales.  Manufacturing pushes to meet demands, although the peaks and valleys may not be so high.  Perhaps service industries encounter similar seasonal pushes and pulls.

What's unique about the wine industry is that we have two cycles that run concurrently but out of phase with each other.  As we're working on wines from one year in the cellar, we are working on the grapes for the following year in the vineyard.  The vineyard is always racing head, pulling us into the next year.  And grapegrowers are constantly thinking six months ahead if they can.  (I always seem to best imagine the next winter's pruning in February when we're picking fruit off the vines in August.)

This messes with our heads in a pretty fundamental way.  Ultimately, it makes it pretty tough to leave the industry because we're either working on something we have a lot of investment in (the wine we started growing in the vineyard a year or two ago) or we're looking forward to the potential of something (the vines and grapes we're currently working towards.)

It's a vicious cycle, Catch-22esque, that pulls us in like a black hole and makes us not want to leave.

The fact that it's wine we're talking about only compounds this issue.  Wine is good.

But, back to the idea of these strange New Year's resolutions that so many of us have: I don't get it.  And it's because of the cycles we have in grapegrowing and winemaking.  We're always starting over, numerous times a year.  We have so many opportunities to improve what we're doing and change how we do it.  We do it constantly, all throughout the year.  Mother Nature changes everything we do every single year, and we are compelled to change with her.

So, go ahead and make your resolutions next month.  But think about maybe making some in February or December for that matter.  Nothing wrong with that.  And if you keep making resolutions, then maybe January won't be so depressing...and maybe you'll get caught in the same type of glorious cycle I am, where everything changes around you constantly and you're always changing with it.  It's a good thing.  Tiring, yes, but a good sort of tired.

Happy January!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dissemination of Misinformation

I was talking today with a woman who mentioned that they had once visited a winery that had told them about the special processes they used--or specifically didn't use--that made their wines different and potentially better than other wines.

She said the winery didn't use "sulf-something."  I correctly guessed that the material in question was sulfur dioxide, the source of sulfites in wine, the raison d'etre of the "contains sulfites" warning we must place on every bottle of wine in this country.

Sulfites are extremely misunderstood by the general public, and not very well understood by a lot of winemakers.  But most wine in this world is made with the use of sulfites.  I don't know actual figures, but I would hazard a guess that it's around 99% of all wine made.  Sulfites are ubiquitous in our industry, and for good reason.  They work and they're safe when used correctly.

I'm not a doctor--but I play one in the winery--so check with your own doctor if this has implications for you.  But it's my understanding that sulfites--even though they are blamed for headaches--do not cause them.  Headaches are usually from some types of biogenic amines found in wines.  (Note the similarity to "histamines" for which we take "anti-histamines" when we have allergies.)  People can be allergic to them, and headaches are one of the symptoms.

Sulfites on the other hand tend to cause airway breathing issues.  As I can attest to.  When I get a strong whiff of pure potassium metabisulfite (which is the form of sulfites we use), I get wheezy.  Not fun, and you try to avoid it.  It's not good for you, but it's part of working in a winery sometimes unfortunately.

This is all good information, but where's the misinformation?  Well, the winery the woman was telling me about had told her that they don't use sulfites because of all the bad things they do.  This was news to me, because the Romans figured out long ago about burning sulfur wicks in their amphora to keep their wines fresh.  Not using sulfites is risky (it can be done, but you have to be a pretty good chemist to pull it off.)

I asked her if she liked the wines.  Turns out she didn't.  They were all bad she said, and she'd never go back.  All the wines needed was a small dose of sulfites in their life, and that winery could have made a few more sales and retained a customer.

I went to a similar winery once about 13 years ago.  No sulfites.  Washed all the grapes. Destemmed by hand.  Seemed like an interesting angle on how to set one's winery apart for all the other ones.  Turns out they really were setting themselves making bad wine.

I'm not here to tell folks how to make wine or what to sell.  The free market will hopefully bear out, and those making sub-par products will not be around down the road.  But until then, there are some simple things we all can do.  And the first and foremost one is to get our facts straight.