Book review: Wine Production and Quality
Wine Production and Quality shows how actions in the vineyard and the winery determine the quality of wine in terms of its style, price and taste for the market. Its authors are Keith Grainger and Hazel Tattersall.
In fact, I’ve learnt a lot from Keith during our shared winery visits. Meanwhile, it was Hazel that assessed me for my AWE membership. I mention this to show their excellent credentials, but also to declare any personal biases in this book review!
Wine Production and Quality brings together previous books that Keith and Hazel had each written separately. Now expanded and revised, it is a modern addition given that the world of wine continues to change rapidly.
It also fills a gap in the literature. While there are many books on wine, the connections between winemaking and its resultant quality, price and profit are not always explicit.
In so doing, this book is essential reading for anyone undertaking the WSET Diploma wine trade qualification, which is the gold standard for industry professionals worldwide. However, it’s appeal is far broader than an industry textbook. It’s a fascinating read for anyone curious about the wine in their glass. It covers the art, science and business of wine.
The writing is clear and concise. Technical jargon is minimal, and there are lots of anecdotes and examples. Hence you can read it as the journey from vineyard to glass, or dip into it for reference and reminder.
These days, wine tourism is big business. If you’ve ever visited a winery, then this book explains what winegrowers do, and why each one does it their way. Moreover, it highlights all the factors and decisions which make every winery unique. You’ll get a lot more from a winery visit if you read this book first.
The book divides into easily manageable sections. Part 1 is about wine production. It begins with nature; vines, climate and the soil. Then it covers the impact of terroir and the work undertaken during the vineyard year. You’ll meet different grape varieties, vineyard techniques, pests and diseases and how all these interrelate. From the harvest, it moves on to how the winery processes the grapes into wine. It explains Red, white, rosé and sparkling wine making, then maturation and bottling. It also has some of the main variations used in these processes that create different styles. There’s a real insight into what happens when things go wrong and need intervention.
Part 2 discusses how both tasting and analysis evaluates wine quality. Even in these days of hi-tech, tasting is essential. Hence the book uses the WSET Diploma tasting technique to explain how to do it and what it reveals. I believe I can teach you the basics of this tasting technique in an hour, but you’ll spend the rest of your life practising!
You’ll see how technically excellent wine can still be dull. It describes how wine faults occur and their remedies. You’ll see how some “flaws” if present in small amounts can add interest and identity. While the best wine communicates a sense of place, that is not always its role.
At every stage, producers need to take decisions. Their operating context and the winemakers’ values will constrain what is practicable. The book makes weather, chemistry, tradition, regulation, finance and customer influences easily understandable.
Obviously, different sections of the book may have particular appeal depending on personal preference. For example, I am at my happiest in the vineyard because without ripe, healthy grapes the winery faces an uphill struggle. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, though it is amazing what wineries can achieve with manipulation, though at extra cost.
As a frequent winery visitor, I sometimes feel that if I’ve seen enough wine presses and bottling lines for one lifetime. This book reminds me that such machinery is not only hugely expensive, but they are also the wineries visible and proud badges of quality. I promise to be more forgiving in future!
A study of wine is also lifelong learning. There are naturally plenty of things in this book that I have not considered before. These examples must suffice, which I look forward to discussing on future winery visits:
- Some wineries still coat the inside of their cement tanks with cream of tartar to prevent chemical reaction between cement and wine. It is an alternative to the usual glass or epoxy linings;
- the brighter a young wine appears in the glass; the higher the acidity tends to be;
- Tonneliers make “Château” barrels with thinner staves than their “export” counterparts. As well as being lighter, this allows more oxygen ingress, which softens tannins and encourages aromatic development more quickly.
Doubtless, scientific research and market behaviours will continue and result in new challenges and opportunities. So there may come a time for the third edition of this book. It’s speculation, but new questions might then include:
- Cultural differences in wine tasting. There are differences in wine evaluation that are not down to technique but rather to cultural norms and experiences. For example, Georgian wines have received different evaluations from home-grown judges compared to their “international” counterparts. Neither are wrong, yet some quality wines will be harder to sell in certain export markets because of taste biases. Does that mean we risk losing tradition and variety to meet globalised taste expectations?
- Environmental practices. Wine doesn’t usually have water added to it, but you need to use about 10 litres of water to produce 1 litre of wine. Hence wineries create massive amounts of waste water, and methods to recycle it remain embryonic. And what do you do with the pomace left after fermentation? Some may become fertiliser, some distilled into brandy. How about biogas?
- Meanwhile, some of the effects of soil microbial life on the vine are still unknown. Scientific research is gradually revealing their role, so new discoveries with practical applications are possible.
So in conclusion, this book is scholarly without being dull, it’s fascinating without getting over-technical. It shows that wine quality is really about making a product that has “fitness for function” in its target market. And it never forgets that winegrowing is a business and needs to make a profit to be successful. Making wine is, in essence, a simple activity. However, making quality wines that people will pay for, want to drink and then buy again is anything but.
As such this book comes highly recommended, a masterclass in communicating the diversity of wine.
Wine Production and Quality (Second Revised Edition)
Keith Grainger and Hazel Tattersall
328 pages, March 2016, in Hardback or e-book formats
Published by Wiley-Blackwell RRP £65.00. Also available at Amazon
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