Saturday, June 24, 2017

Landscape formation of Val d'Orcia, home of Vini Franchetti's Tenuta di Trinoro

After my visist to Passopisciaro on Mt Etna, I flew to Tuscany for my visit to Vini Franchetti’s Tuscan estate Tenuta di Trinoro. I visited Il Palazzone in Montalcino on the Friday morning and then set off on what turned out to be a beautiful scenic drive through the rolling hills and cypress-tree-punctuated landscape of Val d’Orcia, the area in which the winery is located.  Before describing the visit, I briefly describe the area in which Tenuta di Trinoro is located.

The continued eastward movement of the Northern Apennines has resulted in the creation of a number of long (up to 200 km), narrow (up to 25 km wide), NE – SW-oriented structural depressions on the western side of the mountains in the Tuscany region. These depressions are bounded by normal faults along the margins and subdivided into basins by transfer zones/faults.
Radicofani is one such basin. It is bordered to its northwest by the pre-Neogene (pre-23 million years ago (mya)) bedrock of the Montalcino Ridge, to its west by the Neogene-Quaternary (23 mya to present) magmatic rocks of Mt. Amiata, and to its east by the pre-Neogene  bedrock of Mt Cetona and the Cetona Ridge. It is separated from the Siena Basin by the Grosseto-Pienza transfer fault.

Source: Martini, et al.
The pre-Neogene rocks of the basin are primarily composed of two superimposed thrust units (Martini, et al.):
·       Tuscan Unit
o   Lower portions range in age from Triassic (252.2 mya) to Oligocene (33.9 mya)
o   Exposed rock consists primarily of shelf components and turbiditic, poorly cemented sandstones (Macigno)
·       Ligurides
o   Range in age from Cretaceous (146.5 mya) to Eocene (33.8 mya)
o   Consists primarily of basinal silaceous limestone and argillaceous limestone (marlstone).
The Radicofani Basin began to form on the pre-Neogene substrates during the middle Miocene and “a thick sedimentary pile accumulated mainly during the early Pliocene." The turbiditic sandstone associated with the Tuscan Unit of pre-Neogene rocks appears to be the major contributor of sand for the basin. Other substrate rocks contributed pebbles, limestone cobbles, metamorphic detritus, and some sand.

The basin emerged toward the end of the Early Pliocene and, after a general uplift, no younger sedimentary record is apparent. Magmatism has affected the southern portion since the early Pliocene and volcanic eruptions occurred during the Pleistocene (1.8 mya – 10,000 years ago).
The landscape of Tuscan Pliocene marine basins are characterized by gentle slopes and mostly arable lands with permanent crops. The Radicofani Basin is a Tuscan Pliocene basin which houses Val d’Orcia, home of Tenuta di Trinoro. The Val d’Orcia landscape is characterized by clay-dominated rocks and gentle slopes which have been severely affected by soil erosion processes and widespread earth and mud flows.
The map below shows the general location of Val d'Orcia within the broader Tuscany while the one immediately following shows the location of Tenuta di Trinoro.

While archaeological evidence shows that grapes were grown in the area since Etruscan times, the Val d'Orcia region is not widely known for quality winemaking (As a region, it only attained DOC status in 2000) but that may be about to change. According to Antonio Galloni, "If I had to name the most exciting emerging viticultural area in Tuscany, Val d'Orcia would be it."

Mauro Coltorti, et al., Geomorphological map and land units at 1:200,000 scale of the Siena Province (Southern Tuscany, Italy), Journal of Maps, 7:1, 2011.
Martini, et al., Geological map of the Pliocene succession of the Northern Siena Basin (Tuscany, Italy, Journal of Maps, 7:1, 2011.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Andrea Franchetti and Passopisciaro: Early (and continuing) shapers of the Mt Etna wine direction

According to Nesto and di Savino (The World of Sicilian Wine):
Giuseppe Benanti, guided by the enologist Salvo Foti, had tried in the 1990s to bring Etna and his estate, Benanti, to the attention of greater Italy and the world. But this was not enough. As is so often in history, and particularly the history of Sicily, it took outsiders to bring attention and value to local realities. ... In 2000 Etna's wine industry awakened suddenly. Foreign attention and capital arrived. The newcomers Frank Cornelisen from Belgium, Marc de Grazia from Florence, and Andrea Franchetti from Rome bought vineyards on Etna and became evangelists of its potential (Ed. note: Andrea stipulates that Marc de Grazia came to Etna a little after Frank and him.).
Franchetti comes from a famous and wealthy Roman family that is linked to the Frankfurt Rothschilds. He came to Etna (from his Tuscan estate called Tenuta di Trinoro) looking for high-altitude vineyards where the grapes would mature in the cool of autumn and settled on Passopisciaro on Etna's north face. Franchetti's first wine was a Nerello (Passapisciaro 2001) but, as he states in a personal communication, "I tried to make a Nerello that I liked right away, but wasn't able, until 2005 when I finally started getting it. Since then our Nerello has been, I think, getting better because of new touches in the winemaking."). He began planting Petit Verdot which he blended with Cesanese d' Affile to make a wine he called Franchetti.

In 2008 Franchetti created and sponsored a wine fair called Le Contrade dell 'Etna where the region's producers showcase their wines -- within the contrada context -- to the wine press and enthusiasts. This fair was held at Franchetti's estate for a while and then moved to the Graci estate. This year it was held in the open at Castello Romeo Randazzo in Montelaguardia.

Carlo Franchetti, Andrea's cousin, began growing Pinot Noir grapes on a 45-ha estate called Sancaba located on the borderlands of Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. Andrea became involved in the project and, in 2014, they combined the two Tuscan estates and the Etna holding under a single umbrella called Vini Franchetti.

I had become friendly with Carlo on Instagram and when he discovered that I was going to this year's Contrada, he invited me to lunch at the estate with their other guests on the day of. When Letizia Patanè, Vini Franchetti Export Manager US and Asia, reached out to me with the formal invite, I asked about visiting both the Passopisciaro and Tenuta di Trinoro estates (Brandon Tokash had already been working on setting up a visit to the former but the date and time had not yet been finalized.). Shortly after that initial contact Letizia came back with two potential dates for the Etna visit and indicated that Carlo would be leading me on the tasting in Tuscany on the Friday of Contrada week.

Brandon, Lidia, and I attended the lunch at Passopisciaro and all met Carlo for the first time. We had to dodge a few raindrops (we were sitting outside) but a great time was had by all. It was at lunch that I met Sarah Bray, Vini Franchetti US Brand Ambassador, and found out that she would be the one leading us on the Wednesday tour.

Carlo Franchetti, author, Brandon Tokash, and Lidia Rizzo

Sarah was ready and waiting when we arrived and proposed that we walk up to the higher portions of the vineyard as we conversed. She corroborated the Nesto and di Savino Franchetti Etna origin story. Further, she indicated that 2001 was the first vintage of the Passo Rosso and that Jancis Robinson, after tasting it, thought it was good.

Sarah Bray

Guardiola, a 8-ha property just on the edge of the DOC, was bought in 2002 (Some of the vines are DOC and others are not). Two hectares were planted to Petit Verdot in 2001/2002 at between 800 and 1000 m altitude and another 2 ha to Cesanese d' Affile. These vines were planted at 12,000 vines/ha with 5 bunches/vine. The vines were subjected to green harvests in order to further concentrate their energy. These vines were the source of the Franchetti wine first introduced in 2005. The current configuration of Guardiola is 3 ha split between Chardonnay, Petit Verdot and Cesanese d'Affile and the remainder dedicated to Nerello Mascalese.

Once Franchetti was introduced, Andrea pivoted and sought to make a great white wine from Chardonnay (first bottling in 2007) and Nerello Mascalese wines that reflected their terroir (first bottling of Contrada wines in 2008) . The distribution of vines by contrada, and the individual contrada characteristics, are shown in the figure below.
In pursuing a Chardonnay that rivals Burgundy, Vini Franchetti states thusly: "The harvest is quite fussy, as we pick little portions of the vineyard every day, tasting the berries trailing along the terraces day after day, harvesting only when each individual cluster is ripe."

In order to ensure that any differences in the wines are contrada-specific, the contrada wines are given the same vinification treatment: fermentation in steel vats; malolactic and 18 months aging in large neutral oak barrels; fining with bentonite; and no filtering. The Franchetti is aged in barrique.

At the conclusion of the winery and vineyard tour, we repaired to a conference room where representative wines had been set up for us to taste.

We began with the 2015 Passorosso (Passopisciaro until a few years ago). The grapes for this wine are sourced from 70 - 100-year-old, bush-trained vines grown at altitudes between 550 and 1000 m in the contrade of Malpasso, Guardiola (40% of grapes), Santo Spirito, Favazza, and Arcuria. High-toned red fruit with smoke, leather, and mineral notes. On the palate, bright red fruit, acidity, with drying tannins on the finish.

The 2015 Contrada Rampante was made from 100-year-old-vines which are planted at 8000/vines/ha and yielded 17.6 hl/ha. Herbs. smoke, iron, sweet tar, tobacco, and spices. Good fruit levels but not as focused as I would have liked.

The Contrada Chiappemaccine 2015 was the least complex of the wines I had tasted up to this point. Not very giving on the nose and non-complex on the palate. The 2014 edition of this wine showed fresh red fruit, sweet herbs and spice. Tobacco on the palate.

The 2014 Contrada G was elegant. Smoke, tobacco, leather, and sweet tobacco. Savoriness. Complex, big fruit but balanced by acidity. Silky tannins. Long finish.

The Franchetti 2014 is a blend of 70% Petit Verdot and 30% Cesanese d' Affile. Sarah called this a winemaker-oriented wine. Yields of 17 hl/ha. Fermented with selected yeasts in stainless steel tanks for 10 - 15 days.  Malolactic and 8 months aging in barriques, followed by 10 months in cement and 2 months in bottle. Bentonite fining. Rich, inky, with herbs and smoky barrel notes. Powerful. Not a classic Etna wine but I loved.
This was a lengthy visit and I would like to thank Sarah for the patience she exhibited in the face of interminable questions. Her grace under fire and knowledge of the estate, viticulture, and viniculture contributed significantly to the feeling of completeness we had at the end of the tour. Thanks also to Vini Franchetti management for making staff available, without restrictions, to enlighten us about the operations. And, of course, thanks to Brandon and Lidia for continuing to make my trips to Etna more than worthwhile and for being high-quality friends.

How has Franchetti contributed to the shaping of the wine direction on Etna? First, he was part of the initial group of outside investors who brought the potential of this region to the eyes of the wider world. Second, he showed that a Bordeaux cultivar (Petit Verdot) could be blended with an almost extinct cultivar (Cesanese d'Affile) to make a world-class, non-indigenous wine on the mountain. Third, his focus on the importance of contrada effects, both in the stable of wines that he produces and in his establishment and continuing support for Contrada dell"Etna.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Winery visit with Chiara Boschis at E. Pira e Figli (Barolo, Piemonte)

The grape-filled, grape-stained hands on the cover of Suzanne Hoffman's Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte are the hands of Chiara Boschis, Proprietress of the Barolo estate E. Piri e Figli.

In Chapter Two of the book, Suzanne paints a vivid and captivating picture of the events leading up to Chiara taking the reins of the estate in 1990 and her many stellar accomplishments since then. That story is presented in a condensed form on Suzanne's blog and a link is presented here.

I have always been enthralled by Chiara's wines but had not visited her estate previously. After listening to her presentation on her Cannubi wine at Antonio Galloni's La Festa del Barolo earlier this year, I decided that that was a shortcoming that had to be addressed. When I began putting our mid-May Piemonte trip together, Chiara was the first person I reached out to in order to arrange a visit.

After breakfast at Palas Cerequio, we made our way down from La Morra to Barolo. We approached the cantina and rang the bell, whereupon the door was opened by a smiling Chiara who hugged and kissed us all while, at the same time, maintaining an animated conversation on the phone. Upon her completion of the call she welcomed us once again and began to tell us about the winery and the wines.

According to Chiara, this cellar has been here since the 1700s and was originally built by a Serbian family. She mentioned that Phylloxera and Oidium had killed the vineyards, prompting a big out-migration from the area,. Her generation, she said, was the first to go to University and get a degree.

Today E. Pira e Figli farms approximately 8 hectatres in the Barolo-zone communes of Barolo, Monforte d' Alba, and Serralunga d'Alba to produce a stable of six wines. The sources of the fruit for those wines are detailed in the chart below.

Chiara's parents (Franco and Ida) were the proprietors of the Borgogno estate so, after the purchase of E. Figli e Pira, her brothers were splitting their time between the two estates. Chiara, after earning a degree in Economics and working at PWC in Turin, joined her brothers full-time at E. Pira e Figli in the mid-1980s and the took over management in 1990. It was during this period that she began collaborating with a number of winemakers of her generation to pioneer the vineyard and winemaking practices which inform her current winemaking style.

Chiara's was the first Cannubi estate to convert to organic farming, gaining its certification in 2014 (according to Labor of Love). But she was not content with practicing this only in her vineyard (plus, if you are spray-free, but your neighbor is not, there can be spillover effects). She became an evangelist on Cannubi such that today fully 99% of the producers on the hill are organic.

Chiara is a proponent of biodiversity in the vineyard and has implemented initiatives that showcase her commitment. For example, she has placed 300 bird nests in the vineyard as well as homes for bats and owls. She refers to this as her bugs-prevention system.

In addition to the living-soil practices of organic farming, and the pest-control characteristics of biodiversity, Chiara has an active-measures program for the provision of high-quality fruit to the cellar door. Vines are pruned in the winter (a maximum of 9 buds/plant) and green harvesting (to concentrate the vine's energy into a smaller number of bunches) remains a mainstay of her vineyard management program.

All work in the vineyard, including harvesting, is done manually. At harvest there is a strict selection in the vineyard with grapes not making the cut dropped in the field to contribute to soil regeneration.

After harvesting, the grapes are crushed/destemmed prior to being placed into stainless steel tanks for fermentation (Chiara prefers stainless steel because of the ease of cleaning). Each cru is vinified separately. Maceration is shortened with the cap being managed by punchdowns. The grapes are then lightly pressed and racked over to barriques for malolactic fermentation.

Chiara and Ron

Chiara produces two cru barolos (Cannubi and Mosconi), one blended Barolo (Via Nuova; used to be a cru but, when this named vineyard was incorporated into the Terlo MGA, Chiara trademarked the name and, as of 2014, made a blended Barolo with fruit sourced as shown in the earlier chart), a Barbera, a Dolcetto, and a Langhe Rosso. Chiara has dialed back on the use of new oak with the Barolos spending 2 years in oak, of which 30% is new, and the Barbera and Langhe Nebbiolo spending 1 year each in oak. The Dolcetto sees no oak.

We tasted examples of all of the above wines. The Dolcetto, according to Chiara, is normally on the table as a "farmer wine." The 2016 edition was characterized by red berries and striking acidity. The Barbera Superiore 2015 exhibited dark cherries, spice and vibrant acidity. The Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 was elegant with not too much concentration, chewy tannins, and saliva-inducing acidity. A lengthy finish. This wine was lovely. The Barolo Via Nuova 2012 had a beautiful nose with slight florality and tar on the nose. Tar carries through to palate along with spice. Elegant. Cherry, plum, tar and herbs are the hallmarks of the 2012 Barolo Cannubi along with a waxiness and massive tannin structure. This wine will last for a while. The 2012 Barolo Mosconi showed tar, roses, and a savoriness on the nose. Sweet fruit on the palate. Powerful.

This was a wonderful experience for Ron, Bev, Parlo, and me. The opportunity to listen to one of the change agents in the world of Barolo wine was a treat in and of itself. To taste the fruits of her labor in her cantina was icing on the cake.  Thank you Chiara.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, June 12, 2017

"Bad-Brett" management Part III: Clark Smith's Integrated Brettanomyces Management

Brettanomyces, according to Clark Smith (postmodern winemaking), can allow a wine to show "sultry, profound earthiness" or a "repulsive barnyard stench." And it is this latter characteristic -- the "bad Brett" -- that is of concern to winemakers. Conventional approaches to combating Brett fall into the "contain" or "repair" camps but Clark sees these approaches as falling short of the requirements of postmodern wine. Instead, he has proposed an approach which he labels Integrated Brettanomyces Management (IBM), an approach I describe below.

Clark has taken the position that, given the ubiquity of Brettanomyces, one cannot hope to eradicate it. Rather, the strategy should be one of "suppressing growth by denying it facile growth conditions." And that is precisely the course pursued in the first two legs of the three-legged IBM stool (ashown below). The third leg strives to utilize the capabilities afforded by structured wines to integrate microbial aromas in a supporting role to a varietal-fruit-led aroma without "apparent aromatic expression."

Creating a Nutrient Desert
Clark Smith characterizes the Brett existence strategy as insidious: rather than competing with Saccharomyces during the fermentation stage, it emerges later, during wine aging. The old adage is that if you don't grow, you die. Brett has two growth modes: fermentative and respiratory, the former requiring sugar and the latter, oxygen.

According to Clark, we can assess the risk of Brett fermentation by measuring the levels of enzymatic glucose + fructose:

               < 500 g/l - preferred
               > 1000 g/l = unsafe

It is hoped that primary fermentation activities will result in safe levels of fermentable sugar.

Brett lacks the ability to synthesize many micronutrients for itself, depending, instead, on material resident in the environment. In order to deprive Brett of this growth source, all available micronutrients should be consumed during primary fermentation. Key to this goal is the delivery of "healthy, nutrient rich fruit" to the cellar. The fruit should have enough nutrients to allow a vigorous fermentation by healthy yeast cells. Important considerations (Clark Smith):

  • Fertilize only in deficient hot spots rather than over the entire vineyard
  • Minimize the addition of simple refined chemicals such as DAP.

If the yeast cells have easy access to nutrients -- such as provided by excessive fertilization or excessive DAP addition -- they will not work to make enzymes to digest micronutrients as a food source, leaving them available to be exploited by Brett. According to Clark, "If you feed them Twinkies they won't eat their oatmeal."

The primary ally in suppressing respiratory growth is the wine's reductive strength (Clark defines reductive strength as "the rate at which a given wine can consume oxygen without a resulting buildup in dissolved oxygen.). It has been shown that Brett can metabolize the amino acid proline to meet its carbon and nitrogen needs if oxygen and micronutrients are available in the environment. If the wine maintains its ability to consume oxygen, it will deprive Brett of this very valuable growth engine. Tannins are natural antioxidants given their affinity for binding with oxygen. Tannin content is maximized by actions in the vineyard as well as extraction strategies. According to Mark Downey (Tannin Management in the Vineyard, GWRDC), there is a demonstrated correlation between tannin concentration in the fruit and vine vigor: high-vigor vines have lower tannin levels while low-vigor vines have higher tannin levels.

Microbial Equilibrium in the Cellar
The key takeaway of this leg of the stool is that the natural competitiveness of the ecological system will keep all microbial activity at acceptable levels.
It seeks to play out in the cellar any metabolic conversions to which the wine os prone, so that sterile filtration is unnecessary. Any influence inhibitory to this goal should be dialed back to the point where microbial processes achieve completion.
Based on studies carried out at Oenodev, Smith has come to the conclusion that "our greatest ally in controlling Brett has been the presence of other microbes."

Aromatic Integration
Aromatic integration, according to Clark, occurs in wines of good structure. Structure, as used by Clark, refers to the outcome when macromolecules such as tannins and proteins form into colloids suspended in the wine. Smith sees the size and shape of these colloids affecting the aroma and texture of the wine.

A properly formed colloidal structure is capable of integrating the array of aromas (varietal fruit and vegetal elements, nuts and phenolic aromas, oak constituents, and microbial by-products) into "an aroma that is primarily varietal fruit, with oak, vegetal, and microbial notes in a supporting role as muted, integrated elements."

The process for building structured wines is shown in the figure below.

The figure below shows ring-stacking and polymer formation when anthocyanins and tannins are extracted from the fruit. Tannin are hydrophobic and this ring-stacking protects the innermost elements from the water. Tannin molecules will continue to stack until they are capped at either end by anthocyanin molecules. 

These capped tannin chains are the base of Smith's colloids.
A properly formed tannin colloidal structure is capable of providing a home within the wine for these aromatic compounds. The shorter the tannin chains, the finer the colloids and the greater the the interactive surface area for intercollating these compounds ...
According to Clark, structured wines can carry many times the supposed threshold of 400 ppb of the Brett metabolic marker 4 EP without apparent aromatic expression.

Clark is the first person to tell you that his postmodern winemaking schema has not garnered acclaim from most mainstream enologists. It has been arrived at through careful observation in the real world and those views have been curated in a number of magazine articles and then consolidated in his book postmodern winemaking. There are a number of areas of departure: his view of the colloidal structure of wine and the functio of those colloids has not received scientific blessing; micro-oxygenation is still viewed as an aberration by many winemakers; and his open views on wine manipulation caused great concern at a jointly attended conference in Rioja a few years ago.

If his postmodern views have not yet gained broad-based acceptance, then his schema for Integrated Brettanomyces Management will not be mainstream either. That being said, they do have some internal consistency issues.

First off, it is not clear whether the integration part refers to being integrated into the winemaking process or whether the three elements are themselves integrated. If it is the latter, then that integration is not spelt out in the writings. In other words, what is the seat to which the legs are attached.

Second, if you look at the three legs, the descriptors become less action-oriented as you go from 1 to 3 (Create, foster, achieve) with no specific Brett-related actions required by the winemaker in the third case. As a matter of fact, as laid out, if you adhere to the construct for making structured wines, you will get the benefits of aromatic integration.

Fostering microbial balance is less ephemeral but speaks to the actions that you should not take and seems to be somewhat risky for a naturally risk-averse profession.

It will be interesting to see the future adoption curve for this approach to managing Brett.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Creating postmodern winemaking's structured wines -- after Clark Smith

I had promised that my next post in the series on Brettanomyces would detail Clark Smith's (postmodern winemaking) Integrated Brettanomyces Management schema but I have decided that it is impossible to discuss the topic without providing the reader an overview of postmodern winemaking fundamentals. I provide that overview in this post.

According to Clark, scientific enology starts with the idea that wine is a chemical solution; and it is treated as such, as shown in the figure below.

In this model, wine flavor is the sum of its parts and managing those parts allows control of the whole. Smith sees both the model elements and the approach as being "injurious to wine quality" and identifies a number of instances in the past which hinted at the model's shortcomings:
  • The limited solubility of anthocyanin, as shown in the 1970s work of Riberau-Gayon
  • His (Smith's) ultra-filtration work which shows anthocyanin (molecular weight of 300) unable to pass through a filter with porosity of 100,000
  • As indicated in the figure above, aromatic intensity should correlate to in-solution concentration but micro-oxygenation of Merlot will reduce the bell pepper aromas without a reduction of its pyrazine content.
The path to today's modern winemaking is illustrated below along with the dominant pedagogy. According to Smith, "modern day winemaking has been useful in eliminating gross defects but has done little to promote excellence."

Clark Smith:
From two decades of postmodern retrospection, an aesthetic construct has emerged that not only holds the solution model to be false, but considers the extent to which a wine deviates from "ideal" behavior to be a pretty useful working definition of quality. Solution model behavior is not just incorrect; it is undesirable.
Clark's "solution" to the solution-model problem is structured wines:
In structured wines, ..., tannins, anthocyanins, and other aromatic ring compounds, which are almost insoluble in solution, aggregate into colloids -- tiny beads of various sizes and compositions. It is this fine colloidal structure that allows interaction between the aqueous and phenolic regions in a wine, blending the aromatic properties as if the wine were home to all things.
The elements of this "fine colloidal structure" and the characteristics of a postmodern wine, are illustrated in the figure below.

One of Clark's key concerns around wine colloids is the size to which they can grow -- upwards of 100 nm. While this is not large enough to be concerned about removal by filtration, Clark believes that such a process damages the structure of the colloids, thus rendering them less effective at carrying out the aroma-integration function. 

With this background I will be able to more pointedly discuss Integrated Brett Management.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Bad-Brett" management Part II: Repairing contaminated wines

In Part I of this series on Brettanomyces, I laid out the characteristics of the microbe, the contamination routes, and conventional methods employed in controlling its growth. In that post I also referenced some approaches advanced by Dr. Jamie Goode to fix wines that had been contaminated by Brettanomyces. The chart below summarizes both the "control" and "fix" tactics presented by Dr. Goode in the Somm Journal article cited in the chart.

In his book postmodern winemaking, author Clark Smith posits that "... a revolution is taking place within the winemaking industry. Precepts of the modern winemaking system we were taught in school simply don't support the making of the great wines the market demands, and as a result, some of our most successful winemakers have strayed quite far from conventional dogma." These winemakers are using what Smith calls postmodern winemaking to "... merge all of the wine's flavor into a coherent whole like a well-conducted orchestra producing a unified, soulful voice."

As stated in his book, postmodern winemaking does not seek to throw out all elements of modernity and replace them lock, stock, and barrel with a new canon. Rather, postmodern winemaking uses existing pieces where appropriate and substitutes/adds where necessary. Below I provide a graphic representation of wine production under both the modern and Smith's postmodern schemas. The key extensions of postmodern winemaking are provided in red in the below chart.

Two things to note in the chart above: (i) towards the bottom, the introduction of the concept of Integrated Brett Management (that will be the focus of Part III in this series); and (ii) the box at the top right which is labeled Postmodern Tookit. Some of the entries in that box map closely to the "fix" tactics proposed by Dr Goode. These Postmodern Toolkit/Fix mechanisms will be the subject of the remainder of this post.

Sterile Filtration
Dr. Goode mentioned filtration as the first option on his list and it is widely viewed as the most effective method of removing Brett cells. In this method, the wine is passed through a .45µ filter which captures any Brett cells in the filter mechanism. Clark Smith is not in favor of this approach to Brett removal:
The focus of postmodern philosophy is the creation and preservation of beneficial macromolecular structure. This structure manifests in wine as colloidal particles sometimes nearly as large as a bacterial cell. The benefits of good structure -- profundity, aromatic integration, and graceful longevity -- appear to be lost in sterile filtration, despite the fact that no tannin material may be retained by the filter. While this lack of residue has convinced some of my colleagues that filtration cannot be harmful to wine structure, I do not concur. My hypothesis is that the action of tight filtration somehow disrupts rather than removes structure.
It should be noted that Clark does not provide any empirical data or prior scientific studies to bolster this hypothesis.

Both Dr. Goode and Clark Smith mention dimethyldicarbonate (DMDC, trade name Velcorin) favorably. This product is a microbial control agent  (produced by Lanxess) that is effective at eliminating a broad range of yeast, bacteria, and molds from wine. The product works by penetrating the cell wall of the offending micro-organism and deactivating enzymes which then leads to the cell's demise. The manufacturer claims that the product has no effect on wine taste, bouquet, or color and breaks down completely into small amounts of CO₂ and methanol. The downside, according to Clark, is that this is a "nasty chemical" and must be handled carefully.

Tangential Flow Filtration
Dr. Goode refers to cross-flow filtration and nanofiltration in his list but Clark places those technologies into a class he calls the Tangential Flow Family of Filtration and they are classified based on the molecular weight of particles that pass through the pores.

Filtration System Application Molecular Weight Range (Daltons)
Crossflow Clarification

200,000 - 500,000

1000 - 200,000

Tannin and Browning Removal 10,000 - 200,000

Protein Removal 10,000 - 40,000

Decolorization 1,000 - 5,000

200 - 1000
Reverse Osmosis

50 - 200
Source: Clark Smith, The Crossflow Manifesto, Wine Business, January 2003.

According to Smith, the idea of tangential flow filters developed in the 1960s. One of the major problems with sterile filtration is the fouling of the membrane which occurs when tight pore sizes are used. This fouling prevents the passage of material through the pores. The effective limit of traditional filtration is 0.1µ. Tangential flow filters use the scrubbing action of the flow across the surface of the membrane to keep it clean thus allowing the utilization of ever-smaller pore sizes.

All of the systems mentioned in the table employ the strategy of pumping the wine across the membrane at high velocity. As the wine flows across the membrane it continually scrubs the surface, removing fouling material. The majority of the feed stream does not pass through the filter but is retained upstream and returned to the tank. This stream, called the retentate, contains all of the high-molecular-weight components. The low-molecular-weight material that passes through the filter is called the permeate. A reverse osmosis application is illustrated below.

Reverse osmosis (Source:

It should be noted that, of the tangential flow systems mentioned in the table above, reverse osmosis is the only one specifically noted for Brett removal by Clark Smith.

Fungal-Source Chitosan
A Brett-repair technology that was not mentioned by either Jamie Goode or Clark Smith is fungal-source Chitosan. Chitosan is a deacetylated version of chitin, a compound found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects as well as in the cell walls of fungi. According to Olivier Pillet (Chitosan and Brettanomyces: Origin, Impact, and Mode of Action), "the innovation that led to the use of chitosan in oenology is the process for obtaining chitin from a non-animal fungi source, Aspergillus niger." This process provides natural-source chitosan that is both biodegradable and non-allergenic and has been accepted as an oenological process by both the International Organization of Vine and Wine (July 2009) and the European Union (December 2010).

Chitosan has been documented for its antimicrobial properties which depends on the degree of deacetlylation and its molecular weight. Studies have shown that the homogenous incorporation of 4 g/hl dose of the commercial product (No Brett Inside) will "result in the total destruction of the Brettanomyces populations, or, in certain cases, a significant reduction of the contaminating populations" (Pillet).

These then are some of the tactical tools that can be employed in the fight against Brett. In my final post in the series I will treat Clark Smith's Integrated Brett Management.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Management of "bad Brett": Part I, the conventional approach

Writing about Brettanomyces in Decanter, Linda Murphy stated thusly:
... at best, Brettanomyces can give wine what many believe to be positive attributes that add complexity and depth: earthy flavours of glove leather, smoked meat, bacon fat, tobacco, truffle, clove and other savoury spices. Yet when B(rett) turns bad, it can give wine the offensive stink of barnyard, manure, plasters, wet dog, sweaty horse blanket, mouse droppings and antiseptic.
Remarking about this contrast in character, Clark Smith (postmodern winemaking) stated: "... most connoisseurs have experienced on different occasions both faces of Brett: the sultry, profound earthiness and the repulsive barnyard stench." It is the latter characteristic that is of most concern to winemakers and it is that character that will be the focus of this post.

In a recent Somm Journal article, noted wine writer Dr. Jamie Goode laid out the issues associated with Brettanomyces (Brett) contamination of wines and offered up a number of control measures and fixes to combat same. Clark Smith, in his book postmodern winemaking, takes the conventional view of Brett and Brett management to task and, instead, proposes a schema he calls Integrated Brett Management. I present these competing views in three posts beginning with this one. But first, some background

Brettanomyces bruxellensis falls within the Fermentative class of wine-associated yeasts (the other classes are Basidiomycetous and Ascomycetes), the most dangerous of the wine-spoiler yeasts. According to Woolford, et al., (Genome Survey Sequencing of the Wine Spoilage Yeast Dekkera (Brettanomyces) bruxellensis, Eukaryotic Cell 6(4), April 2007), Brettanomyces bruxellensis is a major microbial cause of wine spoilage worldwide and results in significant economic loss. Brettanomyces is exceptionally dangerous because it has all of the characteristics of Saccharomyces cerevisiae but extends beyond it in that, while slower growing, "it can assimilate a wider variety of carbon choices."  The key characteristics of Brettanomyces bruxellensis are presented in the chart below and its contamination mechanism in the one following.

It was long thought that Brettanomyces contamination was a result of poor hygiene in wineries but contamination persists even in the face of intensive hygiene efforts (Renouf et al., Interactions between Brettanomyces and other yeast species during the initial stages of winemaking, Journal of Applied Microbiology 100 (6), June 2006).  Research seems to indicate that Brettanomyces can enter the winery through sour rot and can then take up residence within the facility and contaminate batches of wine essentially at will. The chart below shows Brett potential contamination sources and pathways. In the case of sour rot grapes, it can be a direct source (that is, mixed in with healthy grapes brought into the cellar) or via bees interacting with sour rot grapes in the field and then bringing Brett into the winery.

According to Clark Smith:
Except in new cellars, Brettanomyces is a ubiquitous organism, a fact of life. Like athlete's foot, one cannot usually hope to eradicate it. Like keeping one's feet dry, control of this organism based on suppressing growth by denying it facile growth conditions is the most realistic solution. Keep in mind that the goal is to facilitate a truce with Brett so a stable condition exists at bottling.
Central to this growth-suppression approach "... is the maintenance of free SO₂ at a level of around 30 ppm at relatively low pH's in order to maximize its effectiveness by increasing the percentage of the free SO₂ that is in the un-ionized molecular form." This approach greatly reduces the number of colonies of Brett that grow on a petri dish but according to Clark, may actually be reducing the culturability rather than actually killing cells.

In his Somm Journal article, Jamie Goode identified a number of actions that can be taken in the fight against Brett. The actions in the left part of the chart below are conventional growth-suppression activities.

Lisa Van de Water (Monitoring microbes during cellaring/bottling, Practical Winery and Vineyard Journal, January/February 2010) recommends testing the wine in the cellar in order to minimize the opportunity for Brett contamination manifesting in the bottle. According to Ms. Van de Water, 100 cells/ml can lead to visible Brett haze in the bottle and the production of small amounts of CO₂. Sensory changes are "profound" with compounds such as 4-EP and 4-EG present manifested by horse sweat and Band Aid odors and a bitter, metallic finish. Bottle variation is common with some bottles showing the clear evidence of "bad Brett" while others show little impact.

Ms. Van de water recommends culturing the wine on media containing 50 ppm of the antibiotic cycloheximide (to inhibit growth of other yeasts) and, if Brettanomyces is present, the culture will manifest white, hemispherical colonies in three to seven days. The culture will, in addition, produce a strong acetic acid smell.

If Brett is determined to exist in the wine at levels between 1 and 50 cells per ml, then we switch to the right side of the chart above and attempt to "fix" the problem. The most common approach has been to pass the wine through a .45µ membrane (this approach can be used both as a control and fix mechanism) but Clark Smith is opposed to this because he feels that filtration disrupts the structure of the wine.

The other wine fixes mentioned by Dr. Goode are identified as key elements of the postmodern toolkit by Clark Smith and so serves as  a bridge between the conventional and postmodern approaches. I will cover them in the next post on the topic.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A visit to the Terra Costantino winery and vineyard (Viagrande, Mt. Etna)

The 2017 edition of Contrada dell'Etna had been an unqualified success. It was well supported by producers and attendees alike and the new location allowed the sweep and scope of Etna winemaking to be displayed to full effect. But it was now Tuesday; and we had wineries to visit. Brandon Tokash had lined up two estates on the southwest flank of the volcano for us to visit: Terra Costantino and Cantine Nicosia. We began the day at Terra Costantino.

We were welcomed upon arrival by Salvatore Spampinato, who was on the second day of his job as Hospitality Manager (I would not have known it was his second day except I asked how long he had been there as a prelude to complimenting him on his knowledge -- and skilled dissemination -- of the characteristics of the estate.). We were joined by Fabio Costantino, the owner, shorty after the start of the tour.

Terra Costantino is a 10-ha organic vineyard located in the Contrada Blandano area of the commune of Viagrande on the southwest flank of Mt. Etna. The estate is owned by the Costantino family and managed day-to-day by Fabio Costantino. Maps of the estate location are provided below.

High-level view of Terra Costantino location on Mt Etna

More detailed view of Terra Costantino location
Located as it is on the volcano's southeast flank, Terra Costantino experiences markedly different climatic conditions than north-slope-resident wineries. First, it is warmer in the southeast than in the north; 4 to 7 degrees warmer, as a matter of fact.

Second, with no protective layer of mountains, the region bears the full brunt of the wind and rain coming in off the Ionian Sea. In the fall and spring, dry winds form over North Africa, pick up moisture over the Mediterranean, and barrel into the Sicilian coast at upwards of 50 miles an hour. These winds are called Scirocco and an event can last from 1/2 day to several days. The wind makes it easier to farm organically as it helps to keep mold at bay.

Third, the southeast is unprotected from the autumn and winter rains but the combination of rapid runoff and early morning sun contribute to its attractiveness as a growing region (especially for whites).

The soils here are described as lavic with low clay content and this profile is thought to provide rich flavor and body for the estate's wines. There are heavy deposits of lavic stone sub-surface and the winery has carved out a number of "exhibition spaces" to show the sub-surface architecture and the manner in which the vines negotiate these almost impenetrable rock layers in search of the water and nutrients that lie below.

The vineyards are farmed organically and are planted to Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante, Minella, and Cataratta with 60% of the vines planted cordone speranato and the remaining Albarello. Rootstocks are Ruggieri and Paulson. Average vine age ranges between 15 and 35 years.

The farm is not a monoculture. Chestnut, olive, and cherry trees are planted all around the estate. Legumes are planted between the rows to aid in nitrogen fixing. An old-style palmento is also located on the estate.

Salvatore leading us into the Palmento

Grapes are harvested based on sugar and acid levels as determined by tasting and analysis. There is a first selection in the vineyard followed by selection at a sorting table in the harvest reception area. In the cellar, cru reds are fermented in concrete tanks of varying dimensions and then aged in barrels. The top whites are fermented in barrels.

Brandon and Fabio just prior to us going into the tasting room

The wines we tasted are shown below.

We started out with the 2016 deAetna Rosata, a 90/10 Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappuccio blend. This wine was subjected to 3 - 6 hours of skin contact after which it was processed like a white wine. It had a Provencal color and showed strawberries on the nose. Great acidity on the palate along with spice, minerality, and citrus rind. A sense of effervescence. A beautiful, powerful wine.

The second wine tasted was the 2015 deAetna Bianco DOC. The year 2015 was not well regarded because of excessive rainfall. This particular wine was 80% Carricante with the remainder divided between Catarratto and Minella. Stems, tree bark, and dried herbs on the nose. Grape fruit and salinity on the palate.

The 2014 deAetna Rosso DOC was 90% Nerello Mascalese from 35-year-old vines yielding 50 - 60 quintals/ha. This wine was fermented in stainless steel where it underwent malolactic fermentation and was aged for between 6 and 10 months. It was aged for an additional year in-bottle. Elegant. Coconut-oil character along with stemminess and bark. Would have preferred a little more structure. Mineral finish. Almost austere.

The 2013 Contrada Blandano is 80% Carricante. Some coconut oiliness, beautiful white peach, rosemary and dried herbs. A Semillon fatness. Salinity on palate and surprisingly low acidity. Could be more focused. Lime and lime rind.

Two consistent features that I noted in the wines of this estate was an oiliness, a feature that I found attractive, and a sapidity. I find the salinity in Carricante whites a pleasing characteristic but thought that it was excessive in the 2015. Not sure if and how much the excessive rain of the vintage played into that. As these vines age, and as the estate continues its work on ever-improving fruit quality, these wines will become even more distinctive over time.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme