Is Davis Worth Discussing?


I received some passionate defense of the folks at UC Davis in response to my post on minerality.

I do indeed have serious issues with the manner in which the folks at Wickson Hall comport themselves, which can’t really be dealt with in a single blog. I have to confess a personal disappointment in my alma mater which I hold to a high standard against which it often falls short. I'll just lay down the gauntlet that having graduated “with highest honors” from the program, served as Dr. Boulton’s TA for two years, taught an Extension course for 23 years, and served two years as President of the Trellis Alliance (the wine industry bridge organization), I have found the professors of the Department as a group (with many exceptions) to be frustratingly narrow minded, politically manipulative and disappointingly out of touch with wine production needs and trends.

I started this blog to tell lay wine enthusiasts the truth about what is happening in wine production and to share my personal views of how this exciting area of artistic endeavor is unfolding. The Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis has marginalized itself to such an extent that it is not a player on that stage. I don’t think it’s relevant to pursue such boring matters here. For those of you who are interested in debate about this outmoded institution, I promise to post a general article critiquing the Department within the month at Unless you went to school there, my advice is not to waste your time reading it.

I do want to clarify my opinions regarding minerality.

Poor Kermit Lynch rolls his eyes when this subject comes up, because there's no agreement about what the term means. Tim Patterson rightly echoes this sentiment.

My own definition comes from experiences with Randall Graham in which he allowed me to taste wines which lacked interest in the back palate which he then spiked with a tincture of mixed minerals (manufactured as a soil amendment and containing a mixture of 72 elements of the Periodic Table). The difference was a dramatic increase in energetic "buzz" on the finish. Once my attention was focused there, I have ever since noticed this characteristic in wines grown on living soils -- those with healthy friability, earthworms, covercrops and minimum tillage and chemical applications. That's just my personal observation, and scientific verification will need to follow for skeptics who can't taste these effects for themselves. That's the Universiy's job, not mine.

Randall's tincture (Dirt Booster AUMCO-72 from Natural Growth Inc, Carrollton, Georgia) has proven effective in our sensory work at CSU Fresno, and I would recommend it as a sensory standard for any group pursuing this sensory area.

I think Tim Patterson is a pretty good journalist, but when he concludes his lead paragraph with the self-assured statement that "In fact, the one thing we do know is that it has very little to do with minerals," I have to take exception. Clearly the term minerality has sparked enough conversation to merit scientific examination. Just as clearly, nobody is in a position to announce any conclusions about what's causing the effect. It's way too early for Tim to make any such pronouncement. It would however be fair to say that no simple linear correlation with raw elemental analysis (i.e. atomic adsorption data) has as yet been uncovered. We don't know anything, and we certainly don't know that it has very little to do with minerals.

It surprises me that Tim and Ann Noble would discuss the absence of this term on the famous Aroma Wheel. Why would anyone expect minerality to be an aroma? Mineral ions would not be expected to volatilize and form aromas. But right there at Davis, minerality has been studied for decades. Drs. Noble and Ebeler have failed to honor the well argued views of their neighbor Dr. Michael O'Mahony, who has shown conclusively that the famous theory of the Four Basic Tastes (Sue now grants that there are Five) is a ridiculous and utterly unsubstantiated myth invented without any evidence in the late 19th Century, and that in fact there are probably thousands of tastes.

Much as I admire Jamie Goode's writing, I believe he unfairly discounts to work of Claude Bourgigneon, who believes that while grapevines by themselves don't take up much except potassium and calcium, the presence of micchorizal fungi facitilates the uptake of a much broader range of ions. Furthermore, wines with a high degree of minerality tend in my experience to have more reductive strength, leading to the evolution of those stinky sulfides he alludes to, but that is, in my opinion, an effect rather than a cause.

We are all feeling our way along. Having now read Tim's full article, I reflect that perhaps I deserve to be chided for my characterization of Ann and Sue as offhandedly dismissive in this area. I think we should all welcome any researcher in this elusive realm that shows up with hat in hand and an open mind.




Jamie Goode:


I'm an open-minded sort of guy. I like what you have to say about minerality - which I think may be the key to great wines. I admit to not knowing where it comes from. I have an inkling that in some wines it's partly sulfur compounds, and partly the perception of acidity. But then it might actually be mineral salts themselves. I sort of dismissed Bourgignon because he sort of operates outside the normal scientific process, but this doesn't mean he isn't right. In part, it was because he was so uncritically championed by the biodynamic crowd (and I'm not against biodynamics, just against the failure to apply scientific scrutiny).

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.