I am not a non-interventionist winemaker, simply because I do not trust fate at the wheel of my winemaking career.

We are often warned of the danger of processed food to our health, but what constitutes processed food? The common definition of processed food is any food that is handled through a process. Basically slaughtering and animal to get meat, or picking or handling food constitutes a process that leads to processed food. William S. Burrough’s name of his novel “Naked Lunch” refers to the fact that food is never as naked, as it is at the end of a fork. But the purest would argue that often food is not “raw” anymore, but “dead” by the time it is naked at the end of your fork. Is wine natural by the time it is in your glass? My current winemaking philosophy is that I do not want add anything to wine that will take anything away from it.

Basically I do not want to add fining agents, as far as possible, while at the same time I would consider tannin additions, acid and similar additions that will add something to the wine and make it better, more favourably. Dominique Delteil always warned of the effect yeast has on a wine’s colour, because the proteins in the cell wall would bind tannins that are bound to colour, and thereby reduce he colour of the wine. The real world effect of yeast reducing colour is difficult to fathom, but the possibility and effect exists.

One should therefore in theory either use wild yeasts (very small amount of yeast) or yeast that you know will do the job of fermentation well, so you would not need to re-inoculate and thereby fine some colour out with the new yeast cells. One of my pet peeves is the economical use of the truth by chemical and additive suppliers. Their graphs show the speed and efficiency clearly visible on their graph at presentations. They never ever show the correlation of their product with quality.

Does speed of malolactic fermentation correlate with quality? Was their microbial experiment that they used to get the data from, representative of the whole industry? When I buy malolactic bacteria, imagine my reaction, when together with my expensive packet of bugs, I am given a bag of yeast hulls, to help along the kinetics of the malolactic bacteria, and to help fine the colour out of my wine.

What??

Wine is a complex soup of chemicals, with interactions and kinetics quite impossible for any human brain to fathom exactly. Just because there is potassium in potassium metabisulphate, will it affect the pH of my wine significantly? Will my wine treatment improve the quality of the wine, or will throwing salt over my right shoulder have the same effect? I have said it many times, may we never stop learning, and wondering what is around the next corner.

Louis Nel is the owner and winemaker of Louis wines in South Africa.