While traveling last week, I attended a tasting with a group of sales people from one of our distributors. I was asked to explain what I mean when I say that our wines are naturally produced. I noted the important ‘Natural’ steps in Tadeo’s winemaking at Neyers, starting with the absence of any added yeast. We begin with the yeast that is trapped on the grape’s surface when the fruit is harvested, and go from there.
In the next stage, our interests shift to the secondary, or malo-lactic, fermentation, a step involving bacteria rather than yeast. Tadeo controls this using only the bacteria that grow naturally in the vineyard and cellar. We use no winemaking additives during the fermentation to enhance the color or aroma; the oak flavor that is part of our winemaking comes naturally from the 60-gallon French oak barrels used to age the wine. Our wines are clarified naturally by settling in storage containers. And when it comes time for bottling, we don’t treat the wine with any stabilizing products. (We do follow a winemaking practice as old as wine itself, and add a small amount of sulfur dioxide at bottling. The amount of sulfur dioxide that we add is about 10% of what the law allows.) We have never fined a wine at Neyers. We have never filtered a red wine.
Winemaking at Neyers is a natural process, I told this group of salespeople. What’s the alternative? There are plenty, and they involve using any of the enormous number of products known as winemaking aids. By chance, I returned home to find a catalog from a local winemaking supply house. It presented 114 pages of non-natural additives commonly sold to winemakers. Here’s a (brief) sampling:
1. Enzymes added to the grapes to increase juice yield, color and aroma
2. Laboratory-designed yeasts to add aromas, flavors and alcohol tolerance (you can actually buy one that gives your wine the aroma of a Mango)
3. Artificial nutrients to extend the life of the yeast and enhance their vigor
4. Laboratory designed malo-lactic bacteria that work under adverse conditions
5. Nutrients for these laboratory-designed bacteria
6. Powdered tannin to speed up the fermentation and correct for off grape odors
7. Liquid tannin to reduce the effect of rotten grapes
8. Polysaccharides to reduce browning and improve color
9. Clarifiers and stabilizers to insure chemical and physical stability
10. Post-fermentation tannins to prevent oxidation
11. Oak chips, oak shavings and oak powder, to avoid the expense of oak barrels
12. Clarification agents to artificially clarify the wine before bottling
13. Manufactured acids to raise or lower the acid, or to adjust the pH
14. Filtration aids that can remove anything down to the size of a colloidal suspension
I’m no health nut, but I am a chemist. To me, reading through this catalog was a bit scary, and served as a reminder to be even more careful about what I drink. It also strengthened my resolve to continue down the path of naturalness that we started on over 20 years ago when we began to farm our Conn Valley vineyards organically. This resolve has been reinforced as a result of Barbara’s 20-year association with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, and my twenty-plus years with Kermit Lynch. Know what you are drinking!
July 27, 12
Bruce Neyers , Neyers Vineyards