The kaleidoscope of viticultural and enological choices winegrowers must make reminds us of the complexity of our industry and how rapidly our philosophy and practices have changed as new knowledge is acquired.
To move forward, not laterally, from one vintage to the next, we need to keep Ray Koch’s famous remark in mind, perhaps with a slight modification: “You cannot manage (understand) if you cannot measure.” Our challenges, therefore, in crafting fine wines, include the understanding of the following:
Environmental factors, vineyard management and fruit chemistry
Fruit chemistry and wine chemistry
Wine chemistry and sensory properties
To some, this mechanistic approach may appear to be contra natura, against their philosophical nature and against artistic winemaking. However, a resolution of the above relationships goes to a core belief – that luck is the residue of design. As John Fowles stated, “For what good science tries to eliminate, good art seeks to provoke – mystery, which is lethal to the one, and vital to the other.” However, art and science are supplementary. That understanding will allow us to follow an important mantra: keep things as simple as possible, but not simpler.
In order to optimally use both science and art, we must understand the difference between empirical or observational knowledge, and science-based knowledge. We must know the limits and merits of each. Empirical knowledge is sometimes faulty, because what may apply to one circumstance may not to another. The question is one of relativism. What information is universal, and what information is specific to time, place and circumstance?
As an industry, the distinction between science-based and empirical knowledge is sometimes blurred. What works at one vineyard site certainly may not work at another. We know this intellectually, but sometimes fail to keep this in mind. Another problem with relying solely on empirical observations is that, if two outcomes are similar, we have a tendency to assume they must have a similar cause. This may or may not be correct.
One of the steps that can aid in understanding the relative merits empirical and science-based information is to develop a HACCP plan. HACCP or hazard analysis critical control points, is a system for assuring product quality control from beginning to end, through the identification and monitoring of the critical control points (CCPs) during processing.
Dr Bruce Zoecklein is a Professor Emeritus, Enology-Grape Chemistry Group Virginia Tech.
His Enology Notes are available at www.vtwines.info.