GEORGE BALLING: Science’s plan

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This past week I tasted with a regional representative for a California winery we do business with. As these tastings go, the conversation turns to industry trends and developments. We aren’t able to make it to wine country enough to stay on top of all that is changing in our industry, so it is a great way to stay up to date.

I learned from our visitor of one of the most disturbing and frankly kind of silly trends emerging in the business of wine. A company has started that manufactures wine; I am intentionally not calling it a winery. Their approach in producing wines is to take a real wine (one actually produced by a real winery) and a real live winemaker into the lab, performing much scientific analysis on the wine and then based on this data creating a wine that they claim will taste “the same.” What a bunch of hooey!

The very best winemakers have an approach that uses much science, but only when it is combined with great artistry. This is the human element involved in wine that allows wines to be unique. It allows for differences between wineries, appellations, varietals and vintages, making each experience special in its own way and always different, whether those differences are subtle or substantial. Also, whether those changes are for the better or worse, it is what wine should be, in my opinion, and what generates so much passion.

The very best in our business never use a “recipe” for any part of the winemaking process, from selection of yeast to barrels, or no barrels at all. They change the time in barrel, and time the fermenting grape juice spends in contact with the grape skins. They adjust harvest time to grape ripeness, acid levels and all important sugar levels each and every year, and for each varietal they work with. They make adjustments from minor tweaks to major changes all based on what the growing year has to offer. That is their job and the best winemakers do it to produce the best and most consistent wine they can, but I would speculate they never aim or wish for wines to be identical.

Science has its place in all of this to be sure, but it can’t be the only part. It takes just as much, and at times more artistry. Like the best chefs creating food, winemakers who have no art flowing through their veins are destined to fail. Without the “flavor” of human inspiration you end up with bland food or flavorless wine.

Here is the other problem with this new company our friend told us about and their science majors. In order to create the “Xeroxed” wine, can you imagine what they must put in the “brew” to get it to taste the same? Think about what chemicals they add and chemical manipulation they perform to in a sense steal what the real winemaker and real winery so gently crafted. Is that what you want to drink? Not me. I would guess too, that most winemakers or consumers would not go out looking for that either.

This past week we ran into a customer and friend at dinner. He brought the wine list over to me and we looked at it together and came up with a fun plan. We would order a bottle of red for each of our tables and then half way through the meal exchange bottles. We talked of vintage and producers and varietals and region. We chose our wines and indeed switched them so all eight diners could have a go at both wines. What fun! It was a great wine experience, enjoying the nuance of each wine and each diner. Science has no place at that table anymore than it does in trying to produce identical wines. And it should remain so.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.

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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party — a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.

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