HUMAN INTERVENTION IS NECESSARY TO MAKE WINE
Although in past Amaro Monthly Wine Club selections we have brought attention to winemaking personalities who add value to their respective products, we haven’t approached the overall issue of the human intervention factor in winemaking. In short, wine would not be wine unless humans intervened. For the June Monthly Wine Club, we exaggerate the point to bring attention to three types of human intervention, and as such we now pivot to the term “manipulation.” In the era of the “natural” wine trend, in which lowest intervention possible is seen as a desired goal, the word manipulation may take on a negative connotation, but it shouldn’t. Even in the most natural, non-interventionist winemaking, manipulation is involved in turning the juice of grapes into wine. Unless you equate wine to grapes that fall off the vine and ferment naturally on the ground and make a foraging deer tipsy, manipulating the fruit of Vitis vinifera at all stages of its development is key to making quaffable wine. The three types of manipulation that we explore for the June Monthly Wine Club are “manipulation in the field,” “manipulation in the cellar,” and “manipulation by husbandry.”
MANIPULATION IN THE FIELD: EARLY HARVEST TO MAKE A ROSÉ
An article from Winetourism.com provides an excellent synopsis of the process of harvesting grapes, so please feel free to click on the link for more information on this topic alone. Essentially, a harvester must know when to pick the grape at its perfect point of ripening. If it is picked too early, the wine can be too herbaceous and astringent, and if it is picked too late the grapes will have lost their acidity and the wine will have no structure and be “flabby.” Different varietals have different harvesting time windows and even different lengths to these windows. In the example for the June Monthly Wine Club, the grape in question is Merlot, which has a relatively long harvesting window compared to other grapes, but is usually picked later when the grape is full of fructose and the skin high in pigment (read, red). But because the picking window is wide, there is an early harvest time that the fructose and juice are ready and the skin has a lower pigment, which produces a light, fruity wine that is pink in color
Château Picoron is in Bordeaux country next to Saint-Emilion
Featured Amaro Wine Club manipulation-in-the-field wine: Château Picoron, L'Atlantique Madam I'm Adam Rosé (2021)
Chateau Picoron is an estate that has been around since 1570 on the slopes in the Castillon-Côtes overlooking the Dordogne Valley in the illustrious Bordeaux appellation region of France. The estate grows only Merlot grapes (although they have just recently decided to add Cabernet Franc to their fields), and instead of adhering to any type of appellation within Bordeaux, the current Australian owners have chosen to use harvest timing to create three distinct expressions of their single-varietal Merlot wines. By harvesting at different times within the harvesting window of opportunity, they produce a white wine, a rosé wine, and a red wine from their grapes.
The Madam I’m Adam is their rosé wine, which we have selected just for Amaro Monthly Wine Club members. However, Amaro Spirits & Wine also carries their white wine in the store, No Melon No Lemon. Interestingly, the winemakers choose to limit most of their manipulation to the field. In the cellar, they prefer to vinify with the least intervention and inputs possible, which also reflects their devotion to sustainable and organic farming.
FOOD PAIRINGS: pesto, veggie pizza, soft cheeses, hummus and flatbread, grilled meats.
MANIPULATION IN THE CELLAR: CARBONIC MACERATION TO MAKE A LIGHT RED
There are thousands of ways to manipulate wine in the cellar, from passive to active and somewhere in between. Most manipulation at this phase of winemaking is to obtain chemical stability, endurance, and some degree of consistency from bottle to bottle of a particular batch. Of course, there is manipulation that is technically unnecessary but is a winemaker’s choice to affect flavor and esthetic traits. The “unnecessary” ranges from heavy-handed, from simply altering the handling of grapes and fermentation and letting natural chemical reactions do their thing (the biggest example is aging in wood barrels) to using foreign agents to affect flavor, esthetics, and force consistency, and, yes, there is also a lot of what we would consider bad manipulation regarding the latter.
Amaro Spirits & Wine does not sell wine that sees over manipulation using chemicals and other foreign agents in the cellar, but we also wanted to provide an example of a more heavy-handed manipulation. Carbonic maceration is applied early, in the fermentation process. As many of you know, fermentation is when yeast “eats” the natural sugars in grape juice, leaving a residue that is alcohol. But what many don’t know is that not only yeast can cause fermentation. In carbonic maceration, fermentation of the grapes initially happens from inside the grape. To accomplish this, the winemaker fills a vessel with whole, intact bunches of grapes, injects carbon dioxide (CO2) into the vessel, and then seals it. In an oxygen-free environment, the CO2 seeps into the grape and breaks down sugars and malic acid, which is a different type of cellular fermentation that results in the production of alcohol in a short period of time. At about 2% alcohol by volume (ABV), the grapes burst and release this juice that has already been fermented. Yeast is then added to continue the fermentation process to get to a higher alcohol level, but by this time the CO2 fermentation, with its different manner of affecting the chemical compounds of the grape than yeast, has already created unique flavors that result in a light wine with low tannins that is meant to be drank immediately.
Whole cluster grapes awaiting to be sealed in a tank that is filled with carbon dioxide
Featured Amaro Wine Club manipulation-in-the-cellar wine: Bodegas Los Bermejos, Lanzarote Listán Negro Maceración Carbónica (2021)
VARIETAL: Listán Negro
Listán Negro, is a grape with dark red, almost black (hence the name), skin, which adds a tannic complexity and spicy and mineral nuances to a wine that when vinified naturally is usually on the fuller medium-bodied side. Amaro Spirits & Wine sells this version of the producer, its Maceracion Tradicional, which has NOT gone through carbonic maceration, so you may consider bringing a bottle home to compare to their Maceración Carbónica version that is in your June Monthly Wine Club box, and taste for yourself what manipulation can do to the same exact grapes by the same producer. Bodegas Los Bermejos is located on the island of Lanzarote and the vines grow in volcanic soil and are cultivated in unique holes in natural volcanic ash that protect the vines from the relentless trade winds.
FOOD PAIRINGS: stir-fried duck with vegetables, zucchini stuffed with lamb, baked potatoes with pepper sauce.
The unique vine cultivation techniques on the island of Lanzarote
MANIPULATION OF THE VINE: GRAFTING & HUSBANDRY TO CREATE A NATIONAL VARIETAL
Given the domestic dog culture that humans have created through selective breeding, it is not difficult to imagine that we would do the same with our beloved Vitis vinifera to control for environment and taste. And early on, humans learned that they could better control the volatility of selective breeding by planting the cuttings of the grape vines in lieu of seeds once a desired varietal type has been established. And thank goodness winemakers learned to grow plants from the plants themselves because from that emerged the process of “grafting” in which the root stock of a healthy plant could sustain another plant that is grafted to it. This process of grafting roots saved the European wine industry in the 19th century which in a few short years had been decimated by an invasive vine-eating species insect from the Americas, phylloxera.
But back to selective breeding; it happened over hundreds and even thousands of years, but of course science would enable more direct tampering to cross seed types, which is how we arrive at the grape varietal that features in this month’s wine club. In 1925, a South African scientist named Abraham Izak Perold crossed the seeds of the Pinot Noir and Cinsault varietals seeking to combine the hardy vine characteristics of the Cinsault grape, which produces robust wines used mostly in blends, with the finnicky, difficult-to-grow characteristics of the Pinot Noir vine whose grape produces tasty, nuanced wines, but could not survive well in South Africa’s terrain and climate. The name comes from the fact that Cinsault was called Hermitage in South Africa, so a blending of the Pinot Noir and Hermitage became Pinotage. It wasn’t until 1941 that an actual wine was made, however, because after planting his crossed seeds, Perold had lost interest, and they were subsequently rescued years later by another scientist Charles Niehaus and replanted and dubbed Pinotage. Ironically, the varietal that does not resemble Pinot Noir at all in taste, and instead is more akin to Shiraz. It is an inky grape that imparts bold tannins. Although it is a hardy vine, the grapes must be harvested just at the right time, and carefully attended to in the vinification process because its low acidity can result in a chemical-tasting wine. For a time, it gained a negative reputation from overplanting, overripening and heavy oak aging to produce huge, jammy, alcoholic wines. In the past few decades, however, there has been a largescale effort to thin crop yields, harvest earlier, and produce more nuanced wines from older vines, and with great success.
Pinotage is a robust grape in terms of growing, but it must be cultivated properly to coax the right properties that make good wine.
Featured Amaro Wine Club manipulation-by-husbandry wine: Dornier Wines, Pinotage Stellenbosch (2018)
Dornier Wines is located in the Stellenbosch appellation of the Western Cape in South Africa, operating four farms, Keerweder, Groenkloof, Heldemeer and Stellenrust (Homestead) the latter of which includes one of the first wine cellars ever built in Stellenbosch in the late 1600s. Similarly, the Keerweder estate dates to 1694, when it was acquired by Jac van Dyk. The current owners, the Rupert family, bought the estate from the Dornier family in 2020 and continues a tradition of biodiversity, sustainable farming, and social responsibility, with a WIETA rating, which signifies that the winery is devoted to, and facilitates, fair working conditions and sustainable ethical trade.
The Dornier estate and the four farms it incorporates date to the 17th century