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Does That Bunch of Grapes Look Anxious?

If you're a devotee of small producers or high-end wines of any kind, most likely you've heard the phrases "reduced yields," "dry farming," "nutrient-poor soils," "high vine density," and more. These practices are regularly employed by many of the world's best winemakers, and they all have a single goal in common: to stress the vine.

It is now common knowledge (and common practice) that vines pushed to the edge of their tolerance for many environmental factors generally tend to make better wine -- more concentrated, more complex, more tasty.

This is not just supposition, there's actually some science behind it, and I was reminded of this recently by an interesting post on Harold McGee's blog, News for Curious Cooks. Scientists have actually measured higher levels of various flavor and color compounds in grapes from "stressed" vines. Many of the vine stress techniques (not to be confused with "stress positions" used by the US Military during interrogations) described above are associated with sustainable, or organic viticulture.

Harold's post is most interesting, however, because he mentions a recent study in which Syrah vines which received pesticide treatment actually produced even MORE of some desired compounds. The running hypothesis?: pesticides are stressors on the vine too in certain situations.

Read Harold's full post.

Comments (2)

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
12.31.06 at 12:31 AM

I think 'balanced' is a more appropriate term ( and idea ) than 'stressed'. As vineyard managers we try to get the vine to focus its energy on fruiting not growing more wood or leaves. We use techniques to, when needed, absorb some of the vines excess energy. Stressed implies the vine is unhealthy and this is not the goal of our management techniques. We are attempting to balance the vines 'fruiting' and 'vegatative' urges.
If we expand our view of flavor development to be based on 'balance' and not 'stress' we can view the findings much more rationally. In McGees report he does mention the vines had already shown the signs of water stress, ie the vine may be in a stressed or weakened state. The addition of the pesticide may have increased the phenols not because it was in itself a stressor but because it relieved some stress ( the whole idea behind using them ) on the vine and brought the vine back into 'balance'.
Sorry, 'stressed vine theory' is a pet peave of mine.

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