Growing interest in minimally processed wines is shaking up the wine industry.
Wednesday, June 20, 2018 - 15:45
(Inside Science) -- About 10,000 years ago, a farmer in Asia noticed that some of his grapes had naturally fermented and liquid was forming around them. He took a taste and found that it was good. We have been drinking wine ever since.
“It predates pottery, for sure,” said Andrew Waterhouse, a graduate advisor at the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis.
Since the farmer's discovery, the basic process of winemaking has remained much the same.
The quality of the wine produced from grapes largely depends on the quality of the grapes and where the grapes are grown. Climate, soil and other environmental factors, terroir in French, play a role reflecting the amount of sugar and tannins in the grapes at harvest time.
The grapes are pressed, and the stems and seeds removed. The result is called "must."
The must is then fermented. If the winemaker does nothing, yeast in the air will begin the process, but most winemakers now use laboratory yeast to control the quality. The fermentation stops when the air supply is cut off in barrels or bottles. If it isn’t stopped the result is vinegar.
The sugar in the grapes is thus converted to alcohol. The wine is then clarified, perhaps with filters, and aged, perhaps in oak. Some wines are quickly bottled and ready to drink immediately. Others, particularly reds, can take 10 or 20 years of sitting in bottles or oak or steel barrels to fully mature.
But as science and new technologies invaded vineyards, the ancient process has seen striking changes.
In many vineyards, fertilizers are now used on the soil and insecticides protect the grapes from insects. The liquid from the pressed grapes is now filtered and sulfites are added as preservatives. Modern methods guarantee more consistent taste. That way wine from Bordeaux grapes usually tastes like a Bordeaux should, as opposed to a Burgundy or wine from another area.
Enzymes are also often added to the wine, and the yeast that eats the sugar and produces the alcohol often comes from laboratories rather than the air around the vineyards.
But in the last 20 years a pushback has roiled the wine industry as the concept of natural, or raw, wine gains devotees. The whole industry is showing signs of rebellion. The goal is to produce wine less like modern megaproducers and more like the ancient Asian farmer.
When making raw or natural wine, the natural chemistry of the winemaking process is unaltered from the vineyard to the bottle. The grapes are farmed organically. Yeast comes from the ambient air at the winery.
“They start fermenting all by themselves. You don’t add any yeast,” said Isabelle Legeron, a Wine Master and an advocate for natural wines in France. No chemicals are added, and the raw wine is not filtered. Sometime the taste is unique. Legeron comes from a family of winemakers in Cognac who use modern methods even though she is an advocate of raw wines.
Those who embrace the modern processing techniques consider the idiosyncratic tastes of some of the natural wines to be easily eliminated, Waterhouse said. But advocates of natural wine insist the wines taste real, the way nature intended.
“If the stuff tastes weird it is supposed to be weird,” said Waterhouse.
Even definitions are murky.
“Pretty much all wine is natural,” said Linda Bisson, professor emeritus at the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. “Very little is done or added with the exception of yeast and potentially nutrients for yeast. Some add other processing aids like enzymes or use an antimicrobial like sulfite."
But, according to Allison Jordan of the Wine Institute, “there is no legal definition or regulations for natural wine. It’s generally a hands-off approach to winegrowing and winemaking.”
“Some winemakers, especially in Europe, have been making wine naturally forever,” said Alan Hirsch, a restauranteur and co-owner of Donna’s, a Baltimore restaurant with an extensive wine list. But it was done without much notice.
The battle actually began by accident. In the 1950s, winemakers in Beaujolais region of France began producing Beaujolais nouveau, an inexpensive red wine, one step beyond grape juice, rushed from the vineyards to the bottles in a matter of months, a process in France called faire pisser la vigne, or making the vines piss. It was a huge commercial hit. It also was incidentally the prototype for natural wines, using natural yeast but adding sulfites as a preservative. The success of Beaujolais nouveau inspired others to develop wines with yeast from the air but without additives such as sulfites. The natural wine trend began growing more quickly in the 1990s.
The Guardian newspaper reports that almost 40 percent of upscale restaurants in London now have at least one natural wine on its wine list. The researchers at UC Davis, America’s pre-eminent wine school, say the natural wine is good if the vintner knows what he or she is doing.
So how do natural wines taste?
To provide readers with seriously considered facts, the author of this story held a completely unscientific wine tasting at Donna’s. Hirsch selected six wines, including three from France and three from Oregon. All were moderately priced (just less than $20), half were natural, and half made conventionally.
A panel of four tasters, people who like and know wine, found most came in close in quality.
None of the judges could detect which was natural and which conventional. The judges liked them all.Filed under
Authorized news sources may reproduce our content. Find out more about how that works. © American Institute of PhysicsAuthor Bio & Story Archive Joel Shurkin
Joel Shurkin is a freelance writer in Baltimore who has also taught journalism and science writing.
Professor (W1) with W3 Tenure-Track in “Medical Physics with focus on Computational Physics” | TU Dortmund University
Coordinator, Engineering Career Services, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | Engineering Career Services, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Visiting Assistant Professor in Physics, Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI) | Marquette University Physics Dept
Nutrition, food safety and local norms among many considerations that aid groups weigh before and during disaster response.
Monday, June 18, 2018 - 16:00
(Inside Science) -- In the wake of a natural disaster a cascade of additional problems may emerge, one of the most critical being the lack of food. With local stocks ruined and supply chains either hampered or destroyed, it can be difficult for a person to simply find enough to eat after a disaster.
Because of this threat, many public and private agencies provide post-disaster aid on both local and much larger scales. The United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency, for instance, says they provided more than 63 million meals and snacks, and millions of gallons of drinkable water to the island of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
However, in the midst of that relief effort, questions began to emerge about what kinds of foods were appropriate after Puerto Rican residents found candy, chips and other snack food in relief packages. So what are the considerations that go into the foods that aid a disaster area? Some of the biggest are nutrition and logistics.Meats, grains, and vegetables
With the normal food supply disrupted, starvation and malnutrition can become serious threats, especially to children and people recovering from injury or illness. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy, for instance, warns that chronic malnutrition in the wake of a disaster can affect a child’s brain development.
Thus, providing adequate nutrition is important. There is no one guide for nutrition, but the Sphere Project, a humanitarian initiative, recommends 2,100 calories per day for an adult (with at least a certain amount of those calories coming from protein and fat) and adequate levels of micronutrients such as vitamin A and iron. FEMA has their own guidelines, which require the contractors who supply the agency with the meals to meet certain calorie counts. In addition, they require contractors to not exceed guidelines for certain nutrients like sodium and saturated fat.
This is where the candy problem comes in. Uriyoán Colón-Ramos, a public health nutrition investigator at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., spent time in a federal aid distribution center in Puerto Rico’s Barranquitas municipality. She said that almost 10 percent of the unique food items delivered may have been snack items like candy and chips, and that much of the food exceeded dietary recommendations on sodium, added sugar and saturated fat.
While it’s possible for an occasional snack to be part of a normal diet or to provide some comfort during an emergency, Ramos said that if that’s the official motivation for including snack food in aid packages, she’d like to see more scientific evidence backing it up.
"I think the main issue is how are these decisions of what is being provided -- how are those decisions being made?” said Ramos. "And how can we better support those decisions so that they respond to the actual nutritional needs of the population?"
In addition to meeting nutritional needs, organizations may also try to meet dietary preferences and restrictions as well.
“We need to provide a lot of meals to a lot of people, but we also need to be culturally sensitive, making sure we’re meeting the needs of the community,” said Laurynn Myers, a program manager at the Red Cross based in Hudson, New York.
They, like FEMA, help organize and distribute food to communities hit by disaster. For such charity-based efforts, meeting the community’s needs might mean matching local cuisine, including meals suitable for people living with medical conditions such as diabetes, and including halal, kosher or vegetarian meals.
“It's really, really important to us that if there's specialized individual needs, that we're taking those into consideration," said Myers.Hot, fresh, and canned
In addition to planning for what types of nutrients and calories to provide, food aid organizations also need to consider what form food aid should take. Hot meals? Canned goods? Local conditions, transportation conundrums and the speed at which the food needs to be mobilized can all affect what is best to provide.
For example, relief agencies like FEMA may require contractors to keep a certain amount of so-called shelf-stable food warehoused and ready to go, so that they don’t have to wait for manufacturing to get up to speed after a disaster hits. Another factor? Power, or the lack of it.
"The most important factors in a domestic response are power and fuel,” said Jarrod Goentzel, director of the MIT Humanitarian Supply Chain Lab.
The lab studies how to better integrate supply chains and the private sector into disaster relief. Electricity might mean better communication, storage and transportation, which make fresher food more easily distributed.
As infrastructure is restored, normal supply chains can start to come back in. Even then, agencies may still be able to help provide food benefits through programs like Disaster SNAP benefits, which provides funding to people who might be strapped for cash during the repair and rebuild process. It can also give local stores, who may have also been hit by the disaster, an injection of funding.
"Disaster SNAP can help needy people get access to the nutrition that they need after a disaster, but it also brings in federal dollars that flow through the grocery retailers,” said Ellen Vollinger, SNAP director at the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C.
Ultimately, said Goentzel, the goal of any disaster relief effort is to get the normal market supply chain working again.
"The best way to scale up food supply after a disaster is to get stores open and shelves full,” said Goentzel.Filed under
Authorized news sources may reproduce our content. Find out more about how that works. © American Institute of PhysicsAuthor Bio & Story Archive James Gaines James Gaines (@the_jmgaines) is a freelance science journalist in Seattle, Washington. His work has appeared in outlets such as Nature, LiveScience, GOOD, Upworthy, and Atlas Obscura. He once had an alligator snapping turtle as a pet for about two hours.