Interesting Article On Alcohol: Paul Draper Featured!

Quite recently, in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, there ran an article entitled “Alcohol Content Is A Spirited Topic.” I mention this because our very own Paul Draper is featured in said article (with photo!), sharing his views on the subject. It’s a great read, particularly if you’re interested in hearing Paul’s thoughts on the matter of contemporary alcohol levels in wine.

I have to confess though, that I felt the article to be somewhat underwritten, in that it seems to me the author missed a clear opportunity which they themselves laid the groundwork for; the other individual the article focuses on is Clark Smith, who is rather well-known for his evangelical efforts on behalf of reverse osmosis; an essentially retroactive method utilized to artificially “correct” wine flaws; namely, high alcohol levels. In the article, Clark Smith is quoted as saying, “Wine is not made in the vineyards anymore than pizza is made in the wheat fields.” Loosely translated (and somewhat expanded upon), what Mr. Smith appears to be expressing is his feeling that “natural” processes do not make the wine, technology does.

This is of course something I feel that Ridge rather vehemently stands in opposition to, and I can’t help but wish the author had made more of the juxtaposition of Mr. Draper and Mr. Smith co-existing in the same article.

Mr. Smith has also written the following: “All wines require fine-tuning just as all other cooking requires the chef, just at the end, to “adjust seasoning.” There are hundreds of ways to do this. Even in a single vineyard, single varietal situation, a good winemaker will divide the harvest into sub-lots which are treated differently — different maturities, different yeasts, different oak — just to provide blending options later on. Alcohol adjustment is just another example.”

I personally find this to be an inappropriate comparison; there is a world of difference between combining naturally produced lots in different combinations to achieve different final flavors, and putting juice through an artificial filter to forcibly extract unwanted flaws that exist because the processes in the vineyard provided less than desirable results. From the standpoint of a producer (Ridge) whose “approach is straightforward: find intense, flavorful grapes; intrude upon the process only when necessary; draw the fruit’s distinctive character and richness into the wine,” reverse osmosis rather seems like cheating to me. To use a musical example, the process reminds me of the current world of digital recording technology, in which a “singer” with little ability to hold a tune at all can be digitally “auto-tuned” to the point of sounding listenable, despite having little to no talent for singing; sure, the final result might be auditorily satisfactory, but it’s both artificial, dishonest, and perhaps worst of all, generic.

In the end though, I don’t mean to go too far down the road of analyzing pros and cons as regards the process of reverse osmosis; what I really wanted to point out was a) this was quite an interesting article, and b) it was doubly interesting to find Paul Draper and Clark Smith co-existing in the same article.

Should you wish to read it, the article can be found here.

Categories: Press Reviews, Vineyards and Oenology, Viticultural Salmagundi

Tags: , ,

2 replies

  1. There is a winery (in)famous for using reverse osmosis routinely to bring overripe wine back down to table wine alcohol standards. I must say that it tastes like what it is, overripe concentrated unbalanced syrup with 14.5% or less alcohol. Unbalanced, unnuanced.

    RO is a fix for a mistake. Better to not make the mistake in the first place. If there is an analogy to be made with cooking, it would be to baking bread. You get the right ingredients introduced in the right proportions kneaded just right, and the bread is perfect as it goes into the oven. If you screw it up and put the wrong kind of flour or too much salt, it’s hard to turn it into a good loaf by running the finished loaf through a magic nuclear glutin/salt adjusting gizmo. Even if there were such a gizmo, one would be hard pressed to call the end product bread. It would be a food-like product.

    By the same token, wine that has been made with grapes too high in sugar and then subjected to the fix of RO is at best a “fixed” wine, and at worst a wine-like product that is similar to, but not really wine.

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