Reproduced: submittal on Micro-oxygenation to Jancis Robinson's Purple Prose:

The result of excessive hangtime is wine with pruney flavors, excessive alcohol and little longevity. Patrick Ducournau's rediscovery of micro-oxygenation provides us today a much more gentle and sophisticated method to refine the hard tannins which characterize properly ripe red grapes. This can be accomplished by a skilled hand without oxidizing the wine and in doing so one can actually extend wine longevity by promoting color and tannin stability.

Why aren't more UC Davis-trained enologists using this technique? Most University professors who train California winemakers do not teach technique because they are themselves ignorant of it. Odd as it seems, they prepare our artists by training them as scientists. But winemaking has more in common with music making than with science -- it's really just a type of cooking. Just as the best musicians and cooks concentrate on technique rather than theory, the making of delicious wine requires an intimate knowledge of how wine actually behaves and responds. So the only training available happens after graduation, and is in practice restricted to individuals who, despite surviving the grueling academic course, are still eager to learn.

When the traditional winemaker was shown the door as part of post WWII modernization, the pre-scientific skills of tending and raising wines were mostly lost. The art of élevage, that is, the refinement of wine in the cellar, is not taught in our schools; modern scientific enology holds mostly that oxygen is the enemy of Cabernet equally as with Riesling. We are only now learning that the introduction in the 1950's of stainless steel and inert gas into Bordeaux along with these German scientific enology ideas was what brought about the fiasco of the 1961 vintage, which instead of being the vintage of the Century resulted in wines of astonishing dryness which are still undrinkable today.

The vineyard is the source of all goodness in wine, just as only the chicken can lay an egg. But we don't ask the chicken to cook the omelette, and the vineyard has too much variability and unpredictability to be a good place to accomplish the intricate work of élevage. There comes a time to pick and do the work more proper to the cellar.

The hangtime approach was made popular by our Australian fellow travelers who use it with great skill to make soft, friendly wines for early consumption in an industrial cellar. These wines "make themselves," as opposed to French reserve methods which begin with wines my Aussie colleague labeled as "mean-spirited," requiring much skillful care and attention in the cellar. But the presence of active, grippy tannin is the essential starting point for great wine.

As you have noted, winemakers over the globe are challenging their own notions of how wine works by experimenting with micro-ox and other postmodern techniques, and they are finding that they are able to fine-tune their structural and textural goals just as the Incas taught the Belgians three centuries ago to use oxygen to refine cocoa into the visceral confection we call chocolate.

Far from homogenizing and standardizing wine, skilled postmodern technique allows each vineyard's characteristics to emerge from a structure which integrates aromas like oak and Brettanomyces into background notes which complement the vineyard character.

These winemakers are shy to speak of their new knowledge simply because MOx is mostly scorned by the sensationalist press, which, by demonizing this useful tool, is not helping.

I applaud your open mind and restrained but active studiousness. The time will come when those First Growths you want us to name will themselves speak proudly of their craft. Meantime I shall continue to record the Modern/Postmodern debate at winecrimes.com.

 

musings: