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New World Wine Maker Blog - wine

The Three Biggest Health Myths in Wine

Of all the health-related questions that end up in the Wine Spectator electronic mailbag, some get asked with a you-can-set-your-watch-by-it type of regularity. We’ve answered them before, and we’ll answer them again, but I thought I’d address these topics here with the help of Dr. Andrew Waterhouse, professor of enology at the University of California at Davis, to weigh in on the three most enduring topics.

Health Myth No. 1: Wine contains a lot of sugar

Health Myth No. 2: Sulfites in wine cause headaches

Health Myth No. 3: We know what component of wine promotes health

The full blog…
Exploring wine with Jennifer Fiedler of the Wine Spectator

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Let’s get ready to rumble…

In the one corner, weighing in at about 1500 to 2000 producers globally, we have the organic wine movement, going head to head with the new kid on the block, the natural wine producers, of which France alone accounts for about 400 producers. So who do you back in this fight? And let us not forget the greatest contender…the conventional wine producers.

Natural wines are made with minimal technological and chemical intervention in the growing of the grapes and the making of the wine. In contrast, organic wines are defined as wines that were produced from organically grown grapes, but may be subjected to chemical and physical manipulation in the winemaking process. The argument that natural wine producers have, is that wines from conventional producers become uniform. This means that they lack specific regional or varietal character after the winemaker and all his processes and chemicals are done with them. So why are the organic producers so upset about the new natural wine movement?

Organic producers have spent the last 20 years building up the organic brand, putting effort and money into creating quality products, only to have their reputation, in their opinion, possibly tarnished by wines now labelled as ‘natural’. And how many consumers will know the exact difference between these two competitors? Natural wines usually have unusual flavour profiles and are prone to flaws and faults, including oxidation and spoilage. In addition, very little information is available on the ageing potential of these wines. To add to this, organic wine production is subject to country-specific regulation, whereas no such system exists for natural wine…not yet anyway.

So the natural wine philosophy is: ‘nothing added or taken away from the grapes, must or wine’.

Is this the future of winemaking? Is this just a passing fad? Does it have a future? Or is it a real contender?

Cue Eye of The Tiger music…


Elda Lerm is a technical consultant for Oenobrands


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“There is a place I love in Africa, that they call the rainbow land…Chris de Burgh”

I could not help over the past few weeks to realize the challenges that entities may face as a result of diversity…diversity in just about everything, all starting with changes in  DNA. I started thinking about similarities between South African ethnic groups and what lives on grapes (forgive me, but I am pretty parochial as wine is not only my job, but also my hobby…)

South Africa as a multi-ethnic nation has diverse cultures, languages and religions. Eleven official languages are recognized in the constitution. English and Afrikaans are of European origin. Afrikaans originated mainly from Dutch ancestry and is spoken by the majority of white and Coloured South Africans. Though English is commonly used in public and commercial life, it apparently is only the fifth most-spoken home language. All ethnic and language groups have political representation in the constitutional democracy. About 80% of the South African population is of black African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different native languages, nine of which have official status. South Africa also contains the largest communities of European, Asian, and racially mixed ancestry in Africa…I bet you did not know this about our Rainbow nation.

Now I will not elaborate any further on political issues or leadership challenges, as this blog is mostly about the diversity that occurs on the republic of grapes. As winemakers, we are required not only to have a winemaking persona, but also to have personas that reflect our knowledge of chemistry, engineering, consumer behaviour, finance and many others. We are also required to know something about microbes, as they not only occur naturally on and in grapes and wine, but also direct our product in what may be acceptable for the consumer, or not. They may be friends or foes, and their diversity makes it challenging to manage, particularly if you do not know the basic elements that govern their existence…am I starting to sound like a politician?

Anyway, managing complexities efficiently probably start with understanding the magnitude of the challenge. I was utterly amazed when I took the book “Biology of Microorganisms on Grapes, in Must and in Wine”, and started counting what actually occurs on grapes and in wines. Now I am not a microbiologist, and I do not wish to quarrel about physiological differences between Leuconostoc oenos and Oenococcus oenos, but I do think even if some of these are anamorphs of each other, or genetically closely related and the differences insignificant, the diversity is quite darn amazing! The following is a table of “bugs” that occurs naturally on grapes and in fermenting wines and musts (and I did not count the sub-species…:




How many species?
Lactic   acid  bacteria Lactobacillus brevis


Leuconostoc mesenteroides


Oenococcus oeni


Pediococcus damnosus


Weissellas paramesenteroides


Acetic   acid- bacteria Acetobacter aceti


Gluconacetobacter liquefaciens


Gluconobacter oxydans


Yeasts Hanseniaspora  


Saccharomyces cerevisiae




Isn’t this amazing? Not counting strains and sub-species, Lactobacillus has more than 22 genera and species, acetic acid bacteria more than 18, and yeasts more than 26!

And the most important thing to remember, I suppose, is to either educate yourself as a manager that guides this immense diversity (“winemaker”) in the oenological principles, or surround yourself with people who can.

Wish some leaders could learn from this…

Bertus Fourie is a winemaker, turned Enology lecturer and creator of the Barista coffee Pinotage.


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The WINERAM Experience: Episode 2

Episode 2 takes place in Christchurch and the Greater Canterbury Wine Region with focus on Waipara and Pegasus Bay Winery.  Our presenters Jo Holley and Colin West have taken off from Queenstown and the Central Otago wine region and arrived in Christchurch to meet Ed Donaldson of the Pegasus Bay wine family.  From here Ed is going to join our presenters as they check up on the positive progress of Christchurch since the earthquake and explore the greater Canterbury and Waipara region before tasting wine and learning about the second stage of the winemaking process at Pegasus Bay Winery!

Check out the video of this Episode 2 on WINERAM website!

That’s a wrap!


The WINERAM Experience by Colin West



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Clone versus Site: Which is more important?

Yesterday my friend Daniel Dycus recounted a conversation he had the other day with a certified sommelier. Daniel told this fellow he thought grape clone was at least as important as site in determining the characteristics of a wine. The somm told Daniel that he would “sound like an idiot if he said that to someone who knows anything about wine.” Well, Daniel was not sounding like an idiot, because this somm doesn’t know diddly about clones, at the very least.

Simply put, in my experience, clone often trumps site—especially when it comes to Pinot Noir. For example we recently had the experience of moving cuttings from a vineyard in Napa Valley (near Coombsville) to our vineyard in Sonoma Valley (near Santa Rosa). Different soil, different climate, different rootstock, different vine spacing, different trellising, different farming—and yet the wine we have made from this block is recognizably more similar to the wine we made from the older Coombsville site than it is to the wine we make from the Dijon clones of Pinot grown at our site. For that matter, there are reproducible differences between the wines we make from the Dijon clones we grow at our site, differences that I recognize in wines made from the same clones grown at other sites.

That Daniel’s somm friend gets it so wrong is emblematic of a larger issue: a total misconstruction by the supposed cognoscenti of what is meant by terroir. This somm along with scads and scads of other “experts” has been taught that terroir is all about location, location, location. It’s not, and never has been, even in Burgundy.

John Kelly is the owner and winemaker of Westwood Wines, Sonoma California. This blog was originally published on his blog: “notes from the winemaker” on the 12 November 2012.

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High Total Acidity and High pH?! How to handle it…

One of the reasons that grapes have been used to make wine for thousands of years is that they are one of the few fruits in the world that contain large concentrations of tartaric acid. The strength of acids is measured by their ability to shed protons – or more specifically, hydrogen ions (H+). Without going too deep into a chemistry lecture (which I’m sure will lose most of you in a few sentences), when you measure the pH of your wine, you are measuring the concentration of these ions – that’s what the big ‘H’ in pH stands for. The tricky thing to remember is that while pH is a measurement of H+, the formula for its calculation causes the pH to be inversely proportional to the H+ concentration. Thus, as the H+ concentration increases, your pH decreases.

So what is the big deal about pH? Because tartaric acid is relatively strong, it works to keep a wine’s pH near 3.0, which in turn keeps the wine stable against microbes. This is one of the reasons why wine made from grapes has flourished around the world: it doesn’t spoil easily, and acts as an antiseptic. The combination of ethanol and the acidic environment are extremely inhospitable to most microbes. In an indigenous yeast fermentation, after the wine hits 5-6% alcohol, one yeast will dominate the fermentation: Saccharomyces cerevisiae or S. bayanus. After the sugar is depleted, there isn’t much left in the wine to act as a food source for microbes that are capable of surviving in those harsh conditions. Lactic Acid bacteria, if present, will begin to consume the malic acid (transforming it to lactic acid), while Acetobacter species are capable of turning ethanol into acetic acid (vinegar). However, Acetobacter needs oxygen in order to do this, so as long as you keep your containers full, you don’t need to worry much about them.

This year, like in 2010, we saw problems with high pH in many of our wines, but we saw it especially in Marquette. The most likely explanation is that Marquette grown under certain conditions has an excess of potassium, which can drive up the pH. Malic acid concentration likely also plays a role in increasing the pH, since it is a weaker acid that in turn is converted to an even weaker acid (lactic acid) in red wine vinification. In any case, the high pH is worrisome and steps need to be taken to ensure that the wine remains stable.

Sulfur Dioxide Addition. While it is still possible to limit microbes with sulfur addition when the pH creeps up to 3.8, you need to use substantially more SO2 as your pH increases. Most of the sulfur you add to wine becomes bound to sugars and other compounds in your wine. The rest of the sulfur exists as “free” or unbound SO2. At a pH of 3.4, you should aim for 35 mg/L of free sulfur in your wine in order to be sure that it’s protecting your wine against microbial spoilage. However, at a pH of 3.8, you’d need nearly 90 mg/L of free sulfur to get the same protection. Considering that the legal limit for TOTAL sulfur in your wine cannot exceed 400 ppm, one can see how maintaining a high free SO2 rate can quickly make it possible to exceed that limit. Though it’s possible to keep your wine clean with a high pH, it isn’t easy. One should consider a pH greater than 3.8 the breaking point where acidification becomes necessary.

Wine Sensory. The pH has a huge effect on the color of red wine, as it affects the colored pigments. If you start to keep track of your wine color and corresponding pH, it becomes almost possible to predict your wine’s pH based on color alone. A high pH wine will lose the vibrant red tones, and become more of an eggplant purple color. Low pH wines will have a bright pink rim and vibrant red hue. Differences occur between grape cultivar, of course, but generally if you observe the rim of color at the edge of the wine when you tilt your glass, if it’s purple then the pH is high. High pH wines also have a tendency to be described as “flabby” or “flat,” however it is difficult to say whether or not that holds true when the wine has a corresponding high total acidity, like we often see in Marquette. In Riesling, wines with equal sugar/acid ratios can taste sweeter at a higher pH.

Cold Stabilization. Wines with a pH greater than 3.65 should not be cold stabilized. When wines are cold-stabilized, the goal is to precipitate potassium bitartrate crystals so that they don’t fall out of solution in the bottle. Above pH 3.65, this salt acts like an acid. So, by removing an acid from the solution, it causes your pH to increase. However, if the wine’s pH is LESS THAN 3.65, cold stabilization will help to LOWER your pH. Below this point, potassium bitartrate acts as a base, so removing from solution causes the solution to become more acidic. Pretty cool, huh?

What we were faced with this year. The Marquette grapes that were harvested this year arrived at the winery with a pH of 3.6, but also had a total acidity of almost 1.0%! Knowing that the pH would increase during skin maceration (potassium is extracted from the skins), and again during malolactic fermentation, I acidified the must at harvest with tartaric acid at a rate of 0.2%. This brought the pH below 3.5. During Malolactic fermentation, we saw the pH creep up again to 4.0, so we were forced to once more acidify the wine to make it stable.

So here’s where a decision needed to be made: how much tartaric acid should we add? The total acidity was around 0.65%, which is pretty good for a red wine. Adding too much tartaric acid would make the wine tart and unpalatable. If I was working in a commercial winery, these are the options I’d see:

1) Acidify with Tartaric Acid. Aim to get the pH to 3.8, and hope that the tartaric acid additions didn’t make the wine too tart, then avoid cold-stabilization. A rule of thumb to use when acidifying:  1.0 g/L of tartaric acid will generally lower the pH by 0.1 (this is a guideline, of course… to be accurate, always perform bench trials before making a large addition).

2) Acidify with Tartaric Acid. Aim to get the pH below 3.65 and KNOW the wine was going to be very tart, but then cold-stabilize. With this option, the cold-stabilization will further lower the pH another 0.1 to 0.2 points (depending on the potassium bitartrate concentration). Then, working at a pH of 3.4-3.5, we will have room to remove the tartaric acid using chemical deacidification methods. Chemical deacidification comes with the worry of losing some of the aromatics, so bench trials should be performed to determine the amount of additive works best for the individual wine.

3) Blend the wine with a lower pH wine (of course do bench trials to see if you like the blend). This of course is still an option if you choose option 1 or 2, especially if you find the wine is still too tart. Blending is one of the the real arts in winemaking.

4) Use an anion exchanger. However, while an ion exchanger is available on the commercial scale for wineries, the cost of the equipment isn’t practical unless your last name is Mondavi.

We went with option #2. Since we are an experimental winery, blending is not an option. If I went with the first option, the amount of tartaric acid needed to get the wine under a pH of 3.8 made the wine too tart.  The wines were acidified with 4 g/L of tartaric acid, which brought the pH down below 3.6 (and the TA above 1.0%), and they are now chilling  at 28°F. I’m hoping that cold stabilization removes 1-2 g/L of total acidity, and we can use potassium bicarbonate to remove an additional 1-2 g/L.  In the end, I’m hoping that nearly all of the added tartaric acid that was added to the wine can be removed, and we’ll be left with a wine that has a healthy pH between 3.6-3.8, with a palatable TA around 0.6%.

Katie Cook, Enology Project Leader of University of Minnesota, Horticulture Research Center

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