Book review: Wine Production and Quality
Wine Production and Quality is a book by Keith Grainger and Hazel Tattersall. They show how actions in the vineyard and the winery determine the wine quality. Quality means the style, price and taste of the market.
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 and 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.
Wine Production and Quality explicitly connect winemaking practice with quality, price, and profit. Consequently, it’s essential reading for anyone undertaking the WSET Diploma. This wine trade qualification is the gold standard for industry professionals worldwide.
However, the appeal of the book 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. 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.
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 winemaking, 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. I can teach you the basics of this tasting technique in an hour. First, however, you’ll spend the rest of your life practising!
You’ll see how technically excellent wine can still be dull. Next, it describes how wine faults occur and their remedies. Finally, you’ll see how some “flaws” can add interest and identity if present in small amounts. While the best wine communicates a sense of place, that is not always its role.
At every stage, producers need to make 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.
Different sections of the book may have particular appeal depending on personal preference. For example, I’m at my happiest in the vineyard. It’s because without ripe, healthy grapes are essential. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. It’s impressive what wineries can achieve with manipulation, though that comes at an extra cost. Getting it right in the vineyard is the key.
As a frequent winery visitor, I often feel I’ve seen enough wine presses and bottling lines for one lifetime. This book reminds me that such machinery is hugely expensive. Plus, they are also the wineries visible and proud badges of quality. I promise to be more forgiving in future!
Things I didn’t know.
A study of wine is also lifelong learning. There are naturally plenty of items in this book that I have not considered before. These examples must suffice, which I look forward to discussing more on future winery visits:
- Some wineries still coat the inside of their cement tanks with cream of tartar. It prevents the chemical reaction between cement and wine. It is an alternative to the usual glass or epoxy linings;
- the brighter a young wine appears; 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.
The next edition?
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. Of course, it’s speculation, but further questions might then include:
- Cultural differences that occur 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 is wrong, yet some quality wines will be harder to sell in specific 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. However, you need to use about 10 litres of water to produce 1 litre of wine. Hence wineries create massive amounts of wastewater, and methods to recycle it remains 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. However, scientific research is gradually revealing its role, so discoveries with practical applications are possible.
- New Technology. I believe that new technologies based on the Blockchain will transform the wine industry in years to come. Find out more about that here.
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 with “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 isn’t.
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
STOP PRESS 28/05/2017:
Wine Production and Quality has just won 1st prize and awarded “Best Wine Book in the World for Professionals 2017 “ at the Gourmand Awards in Yantai, China.
The competition had 211 entries. Edouard Cointreau, President of the awards jury, described the book as “the one that I will buy for friends and colleagues”.
A fantastic achievement and well deserved!
Addition 30/06/2021: Keith Grainger has a new book out about Wine Faults and Flaws. Check out my review here.