The WINEMAKER’S ART
It is said that the great maestro of wine André Tchelistcheff could recall any wine he tasted, that he remembered the expressions of wine as personalities and shapes.
In Michael Chiarello’s Napa Stories, Andre is said to have changed how he tasted wine after he stopped smoking. For decades his experiences came in the shape of a pyramid. When he stopped smoking, his tasting expanded to the shape of a fan.
In the 1980s Grape Grower Rachel Balyeat hosted a special dinner to show my wine photographs to André to ask him – what are they? André said, “the photos showed the jewels in wine.
These photographs of wine through a polarizing microscope, reveal unexpected patterns, shapes and incredible beauty. Some ‘jewels’ are said to portend long life, style, and character. Others may reflect the signature of the winemaker or the spirit of the wine.
Wine’s inside stories have appeared in numerous publications and venues including The World of Fine Wine Magazine, Scientific American, American Wine Expo, Sterling Vineyard, Alpha Omega Winery, Vineyard Vista, Earthrise Retreat Center, Lawrence Hall of Science, Copia, Grgich Hills, Hope & Grace Tasting Salon and in April 2013 Jessup Cellars in Yountville, CA.
TRANSFORMATION: Juice becomes wine
In wine’s creation story, it is evident that yeast adds something essential to the mix of sweet juice, acids, tannins, and pigments. This image illustrates early fermentation of chardonnay. The tiny circles are Montrachet yeast. Yeasts transform sugar into bubbly carbon dioxide and alcohol; the alcohol brings more light to the microscopic display as it changes the refractive index of the fermenting juice. I interpret the light as reflecting spirit and vitality, though technically it’s a lot more.
Through grape’s partnership with yeast, the alchemical transformation of fermentation begins. Yeast loves sugar in the sweet grape juice, chews it up and converts it into bubbly carbon dioxide and spirited alcohol.
When grapes ripen from tight young green berries to plump juicy fruit at harvest time, sugar content increases. Typically grapes are harvested when the sugar reaches about 22-24%; percent sugar is also called Brix. The general rule, for every 2 Brix (2% sugar), 1% alcohol is produced. A wine label that says the alcohol is 12.0% also tells us at harvest the grapes were around 24 Brix. If the ferment reaches 15% alcohol yeasts’ work often ceases.
The Message in the Bottle? Restrained or Opening Up
One of the reasons I became so fascinated by wine, it showed the story of life and our senses. Juice, through the microscope is tiny. From fermentation on the forms transform, become more complex, change, grow, and I’ve even seen clues that a wine is losing its vitality. The cab on the left was about 6 months younger than the one on the right. It was silky and smooth, no flaws, and hints of a long life. Six months later another bottle of the same vintage was looked at and VOILA! bigger softer and more complex forms. What secrets a drop of wine can reveal when you know how to see.
These images of Cabernet illuminate how a wine opens up as it ages. Both are 2002 Rudd Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The photograph on the left was taken when the wine was 6 months younger than same vintage on the right. The younger is more closed and tight while the wine aged for another 6 months has softened and opened up. Both times these are were wonderful elegant wines.
Here are two more cabs, actually “Bordeaux” blends, the 2006 Alpha Omega Proprietor’s Red, ten months apart. On the left is the younger wine which tasted more tannic, and looked it. On the right you can see a softened wine almost a year later. We can capture visual cues to how a wine is aging and developing and they make a great tale to tell – once upon a wine….
THE BOOK: WINE’S HIDDEN BEAUTY - We thought we were sold out but just discovered some copies in the warehouse. So you can still purchase a copy. Though we are planning the second and electronic editions that won’t be for awhile.. Contact us if you are interested in being involved in the next lookbook into the heart and soul of wine.
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SEE MORE IN PERSON APRIL 2013 at Jessup Cellars, Yountville, CA.