Book review – Authentic Wine

Authentic Wine, toward natural and sustainable winemaking by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW, (University of California Press) Est NZD 40.00 (I purchased from Amazon $37 delivered)

This book deserves to change the way people think about wine. Authentic Wine is written by two people well regarded for their impartiality in wine matters.

Natural wine has been a hot topic in the wine media lately and much of it written without much substance so it is great to see this book has been published and even better to read it and find it is just what is needed to put the whole discussion into perspective.

Authentic Wine seeks to present a balanced discussion about issues, challenges and remedies along the winemaking continuum from the large producer of highly processed and altered wine to the small winegrower who claims his wine is natural.

The introduction discusses why the book is even needed and highlights that the wine industry is at a fork in the road. The further we move wine away from a natural product of the vineyard to a processed beverage based on grape juice the more we risk the wine industry losing its credibility or authenticity. Accountants may not see this as an issue but here Goode and Harrop explain why people should care.

I expect this was difficult book to write. Where to start and finish and what to put in or leave out? It does cover a logical sequence. They discuss the diversity of wine and terroir, before moving on to look at agriculture/viticulture practices including organics, biodynamics and sustainable winegrowing.

The winemaking discussion follows and looks at when to intervene in the winery or not and the implications of doing so. Does this action make it a more natural wine or a less natural wine? The answer depends on what you believe a natural wine is and how much you want the vineyard character to come through in the wine. The views of international winemakers offer valuable insights here and throughout.

There is some quite detailed discussion on yeasts, ripeness, alcohol levels and wine faults. Some of which gets quite technical but certainly not beyond anyone interested enough to read the book. For an untrained winemaker like myself, it highlights some of the complexities and trade-offs when making decisions in the winery.

A chapter on wine’s carbon footprint highlights the challenges and keeps things in perspective regarding where the real cost are and what gains can be made.

A final chapter covers marketing authentic wine and presents a few challenges to the wine industry, including the wine trade, asking where the industry is heading and some suggestions about what it might need to do the protect its authenticity.

There is nothing fancy about this book’s presentation. No glossy pages just good solid information.
Is it relevant to the NZ wine industry? In a global market, yes it is very relevant. NZ already leads the world in its sustainable winegrowing programme but globally consumers do not really understand what it means for them. There is a great opportunity for NZ wineries to tell the authentic wine story. Most of us are already a long way there but we don’t tell the wine trade or consumers.

I would recommend this book to anyone who cares about wine, where it comes from, how it is made and how the market is changing. Anyone who feels pressure to follow a certain wine philosophy will feel much more confident in making their own decisions after reading this.

Grasshopper Rock authentic wine?
Grasshopper Rock is very much in the authentic wine camp. Here is a brief summary.
  • We planted vines in 2003 because we were interested in the concept of Grand Cru
  • We chose a site which is as far south as Pinot Noir is grown.
  • Our vineyard is 8 hectares (20 acres) of Pinot Noir and we produces just one wine
  • The site is very special. Low rainfall (300 mm), long sunlight hours, late ripening slowed by cool nights and high diurnal temperature range. Soils have low water holding capacity.
  • The site and meso-climate means we can farm close to organically.
  • We achieve perfect ripeness in the vineyard through a near ideal meso-climate and good viticulture management.
  • Grapes enter the winery in top condition after careful hand picking at the vine.
  • Winemaking is focused on allowing the wine to show the character of the vineyard. This means minimal intervention but also protecting the wine against external threats.
  • The vineyard is little more than a farm and we use an off-site winery (VinPro) shared with others winegrowers.
Everything we do is focused on consistently producing high quality Pinot Noir which shows the unique character of the vineyard in a sustainable way. Sustainable means protecting the soil and the environment in such a way that there will still be a sustainable vineyard here long after we are gone. Sustainability also means protecting the jobs of about seven people. This means if we need to protect vines against a pest or disease which will damage the vintage then we will act in the most environmentally friendly way.
Grasshopper Rock is accredited by SWNZ as a Sustainable Winegrower.

Read more about Grasshopper Rock’s land and vines.


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