Few aspects ring more passionately for lovers of WineSmith wines than their obvious minerality. The source is pretty clear -- living soil. In a recent Wines and Vines article, Tim Patterson reports that “the one thing we do know is that it has very little to do with minerals.”
In support of this silly conclusion, Tim interviews pundits Ann “Aroma Wheel” Noble and her colleague, analytical chemist Sue Ebeler of UC Davis. Both admit they are unable to make sense of the analytical data on this subject. Amazingly, Tim accepts this professed cluelessness as proof that minerals are unrelated to minerality.
I’ve been pursuing the mysteries of minerality for ten years now, most recently with an open-minded group of CSU Fresno investigators. It’s a tricky problem. Atomic absorption data of the elemental content of organic vs conventional wines hasn’t so far yielded simple linear answers as to what minerality is. On the other hand, the sensory data is pretty clean. In other words, minerality quite obviously exists, but we don’t presently know how to measure it.
Here’s what I’m pretty sure of. There is a characteristic minerally finish to wines which is strongly associated with living soil practices (earthworms, cover crops, abandoning pesticides or herbicides). It has been described as mineral energy, mineral electricity (as it resembles electric current in the throat), and also the flavor one has in the back of the throat after eating half shell oysters or when driving home from the beach. It’s similar to saltiness, but more complex and persistent. For those who want first hand experience with minerality, I've picked out some of my own wines strong in this characteristic into a wine flight that demonstrates what I'm referring to and put a special offer on my webstore.
We don’t see this characteristic in wines from grapes grown using the methods of petroleum agriculture – bare soil, pesticide use, no earthworms present in the soil. These wines end in the mid-palate, and have a short, blank finish. They also don’t age well.
We Grapecrafters have a healthy respect for minerality for several reasons. Mosel rieslings, strong in this sensory characteristic, can age 30 years, whereas Californian and Australian rieslings die like dogs within five years. Second, when we micro-oxygenate (a process which involves continuous sensory and analytical testing for the wine’s ability to take up the oxygen without signs of overwhelm, such as a rise in dissolved oxygen, aldehyde creation or open fruit expression), wines with minerality tend to take up much more oxygen than their dead-soil counterparts. Third, minerality imparts a liveliness on the palate and a lengthy flavor persistence that sets living soil vineyards apart from other New World wines.
Pre-empting discussion is the favorite ploy of the pundits of UC Davis. These folks did not receive media training in their scientific curriculum. They’re just busy people with well-defined self-proclaimed research agendas largely unrelated to any practical needs of winemakers and unanchored in observable phenomena. In general, they display impatience with educating the public and tend to chose end runs around serious discussion of challenging issues.
Science operates through hypothesis testing. In layman’s terms, you give an idea the benefit of the doubt, play with it, and see whether it gives back anything productive. Sorry Ann -- you get precisely nowhere if you don’t play. That doesn’t disprove effects the rest of us clearly see.
The pre-emptive ploys of UC Davis “experts” manifest all over the scientific community. We haven’t really investigated the agricultural effects of phases of the moon, or biological effects of high tension electrical power lines. But lots of lazy (or financially interested) scientists use the smokescreen of “inadequate evidence” to divert attention from their own ignorance.
Tim, you’re a good journalist, but this time you got suckered by the pros. You’re not the first. But you appointed them “experts,” and all they’re really telling you is they really aren’t. Don’t buy into this nonsense. The oldest trick in the book is denying a phenomenon exists because you can’t explain it. It’s an amazing ruse -- the dumber you are, the more you get to deny.
Our trials at Fresno State are at least inquiring into the nature of this obvious phenomenon. Meantime, take heart – the sky is blue whether Ann Noble can see it or not.