We are taught the benefits of protein stabilization of wines, and accept it as fact. We believe because we are told to. Then sometimes along our wine journey, a suspicion creeps in, we have never seen this “haze” formed by protein instability, is this just another Father Christmas story, one that cannot be true? Like any religion, winemaking has stages, and one sometimes does some church hopping to find the right way of doing things.

When I was a young bright-eyed winemaker, straight out of university, I got excited whenever I met a well-known winemaker. They were my rock stars, and I wanted to be one. What makes them so special, what can I learn, what wisdom can I glean from their fertile minds? I would seek the answer, and go to the mountain and climb it, to find my guru.

At this time I met some of the most decadent rock stars, who told me that adding too much bentonite is just plain evil. It is a conspiracy of the bentonite magnates, who have underground meetings and want to sell tons of the stuff to the masses (this bit I just made up). Bentonite just strips wine, and should be used in very conservative amounts. The recipe the gods gave me was, whatever the lab says, add half of it. If the bentonite requirement was 80g/hℓ, add only 40g/hℓ. I came down from the mountain, and applied this wisdom for a very short while, because I finally found the haze that my lecturers taught me about. Luckily it was a very small run, and did not mean the financial ruin of my boss, but from then on I was a much safer winemaker. I was cured from following gurus for a long time.

There are lots of things that we are taught that we just accept as fact. Most of them are too dangerous to try and disprove, so we might never know the truth. At the other end of the spectrum there are people who get away with bad winemaking practices, because they have a cool cellar, have wine that is not prone to pinking, have a naturally low bacteria count in their wines, have naturally low Brett counts and other blessings. The impact of moving to another cellar where things are not the same as at home, can, however, be disillusioning.

Count your blessings, because you do not know, what it is you don’t know.

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