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Postmodern Winemaking

by Clark Smith


Postmodern Winemaking

September 2014

Four Ways to Make White Wine  Access to this article requires a subsciption.


Most but not all contemporary white wines focus on freshness and purity rather than embracing aromatic integration through refined structure, soulfulness and graceful longevity.

I love modern Mosel wines so much that I cannot keep them in my cellar. I buy them, I drink them. But I believe there is an aesthetic difference between the beauty of these wines and the profundity of great Cabernet. Would you rather have lunch with actress Angelina Jolie or philosopher Bertrand Russell?



Postmodern Winemaking

July 2012

UC Davis Shows Off New Developments  Access to this article requires a subsciption.

This year’s Recent Advances in Viticulture and Enology meeting addressed a wide spectrum of issues fundamental to the postmodern view.


Postmodern Winemaking

March 2012

Sulfur Dioxide Basics Revisited  Access to this article requires a subsciption.

Distribution Free SO2 pH
Thirty-two years ago my first published piece, printed in the inaugural issues of the University of California, Davis, Extension’s Enology Briefs,1,2 concerned the basics of conventional SO2 management. A table I worked out with pencil and paper in a Shields Library basement can still be found tacked up on winery lab walls throughout the United States. There are omissions I have since regretted, and it is high time for a rewrite.


Postmodern Winemaking

February 2012

Showstoppers From SIMEI and Enovitis

CLICK PHOTO TO PLAY VIDEO: See the VITECO Cane Pruner in action.
Who loves you? During Thanksgiving week 2011, 48,000 winery personnel and growers from 90 countries gathered in Milano (that’s Milan, Italy, to you), as they do every two years. SIMEI is the world’s largest wine equipment show—four times the size of the annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Occurring in the third week of November, SIMEI attracts hardly a single American. So I sacrificed my turkey dinner with family to tell you all about it. You’re welcome.


Postmodern Winemaking

January 2012

Adjusting Acidity With Membranes

California has just survived its most challenging vintage in decades—almost as difficult as a typical vintage anywhere else. Until recently, acid adjustment in West Coast wines consisted of deciding whether to add to the must one gram per liter of tartaric or two. Even our high pH/high TA (titratable acidity) challenges were mostly high potassium problems that were overcome by the nerve-wracking but effective practice of lowering pH with even more massive tartaric bumps, followed by precipitation of a blizzard of cream of tartar.


Postmodern Winemaking

December 2011

Some Like It Hot

Wine alcohol levels have certainly climbed. Elin McCoy’s survey of California wine labels indicated a rise from 12.5% in 1971 to 14.8% on average in 2001. Australian Wine Research Institute figures show the same trend for that country’s wines based on actual analysis: from 12.8% in 1975 to 14.5% in 2005.


Postmodern Winemaking

November 2011

Wine's Lunatic Heroes

Much of the charm in a career making wine in America is the imperative for pioneering. European oenologues enter an industry hidebound in tradition, with winemaking procedures, styles and markets thoroughly entrenched for centuries. Their science, though certainly scholarly, possesses a self-congratulatory tone, as if to answer the question: “How can it be that our wines are so damn good?”


Postmodern Winemaking

September 2011

Thinking Like a Grape  Access to this article requires a subsciption.

After reaching the summit of his academic career as department chair of California State University-Fresno’s Department of Enology and Viticulture, Bob Wample shocked the industry by leaving his seat to jump into private practice. “I saw an entirely new level of thinking about vineyards and needed to dedicate myself to implementing it instead of just talking about it.”


Postmodern Winemaking

July 2011

Pressing Matters: A Postmodern Tale  Access to this article requires a subsciption.

Post-World War II winemaking has hosted more alterations in wine production practices than the previous six millennia combined. Surely, we imagine, this has got to be a good thing. But to declare that we have actually progressed requires that what was gained outweighs what was lost.


Postmodern Winemaking

June 2011

Integrated Brett Management

It’s high time I post my views concerning this beast and its handling—as usual somewhat at odds with modern enological thinking. For winemakers interested in bypassing sterile filtration when possible (count me in), Brettanomyces management is the central problem facing the making of serious wine.


Postmodern Winemaking

May 2011

Natural Wine Nonsense

The consumer has never had it so good. We have 20 times the choices we had two decades ago, and incidence of poor wines has nearly vanished. If what you are after is drinkable quaff, you will find it more consistently and cheaply than ever before.


Postmodern Winemaking

April 2011

Phenolic Chemistry And Winemaking

This month we confront the greatest fear of modern winemakers. That would be chicken wire.


Postmodern Winemaking

March 2011

Liquid Music: Resonance in Wine

Annual revenues for music worldwide exceed those of pharmaceuticals.1 Brain scans of listeners deeply moved by a musical piece show activity in the same cognitive areas stimulated by sex and addictive drugs.


Postmodern Winemaking

February 2011

Latest Power Tool Nails Winemaking  Access to this article requires a subsciption.

Seldom appears a new winemaking technology with benefits so compelling that it promises to shift the entire industry.


Postmodern Winemaking

January 2011

Biodynamics and the Limits of Rationalism

The same modern science that ushered in an era of sound winemaking has left us in the tall grass when it comes to producing soulful, transformative wine styles to excite today’s competitive market. Modern agriculture also has left many winegrowers dissatisfied about the dangers that chemicals may present to workers and the environment.


Postmodern Winemaking

December 2010

Mountain Magic: Extreme Terroir

If anyone deserves the title of Terroir Extremist, surely it is Gideon Beinstock. After some 35 years of experience at the Sierra Foothills’ 2,500-case Renaissance Vineyards, one of California’s highest and most remote sites, he has now moved a mile down the road to a certified organic home vineyard that turns out one of California’s top Pinot Noirs in absurdly tiny quantities from an unlikely mountain glen. Ren¬aissance has been declared “California’s best-kept Cabernet secret” by the likes of wine critic Matt Kramer, and even petulant writer Alice Feiring reserves praise for his Clos Saron wines.


Postmodern Winemaking

November 2010

Speculations About Minerality

Some of you are already wincing. No topic has wrought more confusion and ruffled more feathers among dedicated enophiles than the incessant bandying about of the lofty sounding “M” word. For some (myself included), asking whether minerality exists is like asking whether the sky is blue. Yet for many, the term isn’t nailed down.


Postmodern Winemaking

September 2010

Astringency And Harmony In Tannins

Just as the heart of rock and roll is the beat, the foundation of the soul of wine is texture. In this column, we have often discussed the connection between fine colloidal structure and the aromatic integration that leads to soulfulness. Beyond this physical feature, great wines are tuned in to harmony, a human preference that we hold in common. For the postmodern winemaker to work in this medium requires both technical expertise and artistic sensibility.


Postmodern Winemaking

August 2010

New World Identity: Terroir Reformation

We’ve all seen it coming. European wines are sold based on place, New World wines on varietal. As a result, Europe’s designations are more consumer-friendly, while those from the Americas remain a confusing science project. The time is approaching to convert our industry into a real business by identifying and promoting just what our regions offer.


Postmodern Winemaking

July 2010

New Power Tools for Winemaking  Access to this article requires a subsciption.

“When the water of a place is bad, it is safest to drink none that has not been filtered through the berry of a grape or the tub of a malt. These are the most reliable filters yet invented.”
—Wendell Phillips, English novelist, 1835-1902


Postmodern Winemaking

June 2010

Vineyard Enology: The Power of Showing Up  Access to this article requires a subsciption.

While winemakers will typically mouth the platitude that wine quality happens in the vineyard, Kay Bogart has actually walked the walk. After 15 years on the winemaking side, she approached her boss, talented winemaker Mark Lyon of Sebastiani, with a request to focus herself in the field—but not as a viticulturalist. “Vineyard enology” (VE), as she termed it, focuses not on growing grapes but on making sure they contain the right ingredients to make the intended wine. What follows is largely what Kay and I worked out while she directed the vineyard enology program at Vinovation from 2000 to 2005.


Postmodern Winemaking

May 2010

Grahm's Prophecies Come to Fruition  Access to this article requires a subsciption.

Søren Kierkegaard famously remarked that life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards.


Postmodern Winemaking

April 2010

Oak Reconsidered: Its Seven Functions

My postmodern definition of winemaking is: “the practical art of touching the human soul with the soul of a place by rendering its grapes into liquid music.” If grape flavors of origin are primary, what is the role of oak?


Postmodern Winemaking

March 2010

Building Structure: The Tool Kit

So now we’re pregnant. In our first two columns about Postmodern Winemaking, we touched on its history, its general tenets and its usefulness in growing and making age-worthy wines. I explored the role of good colloidal structure in aromatic integration, soulfulness and longevity, and stated the principles necessary for obtaining the ideal building blocks for stable colloidal structure.


Postmodern Winemaking

February 2010

Creating Conditions For Graceful Aging  Access to this article requires a subsciption.


Every wine has one of three purposes: to delight, to impress or to intrigue. Generous, pleasant wines make us smile (the “yummy” style). Big, impactful wines with aggressive tannins and high alcohol are designed to blow us away (the “wow!” style). The rise of these styles in recent years parallels the growth in popularity of comedy and action/adventure films over dramas.



Postmodern Winemaking

January 2010

The Solution Problem: Overcoming Enology

“Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘Alright, you can have a telephone, but you’ll lose privacy, and the charm of distance. Mister, you may conquer the air; but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline.’”

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