Hemicellulase, cultured yeast and GoFerm

Nowadays, everybody’s talking transparency, especially when it comes to what they put in their bodies. Wine has largely resisted this analysis, because most of us still envision winemaking as a romantic, pastoral endeavor—bottled grapes and sunshine, straight from the vines to you. Over a month ago, I wrote a column attempting to rectify this, and I challenged local winemakers to release a list of the ingredients they use to C-VILLE. No one responded. So I sent e-mails to a dozen local winemakers, getting back four nos, three yeses, and the rest no replies. Matthieu Finot, the winemaker at King Family Vineyards, delivered his no in person. “It is,” he told me, “a very, very touchy subject.”

And with good reason. Most consumers, without a chemistry degree or a working knowledge of enology, will be tempted to assume that non-grape ingredients are automatically bad, but that’s not the case. Virginia winemakers aren’t doing anything unusual or uncommon in the way they make their wine. Nor is there anything unhealthy about these ingredients (although about 1 percent of the population is allergic to sulfites). To a large extent, this is how wine is made, and has been made for a long, long time.

A little knowledge, etc: Most consumers, without a chemistry degree or a working knowledge of enology, might assume that the non-grape ingredients in their wine are automatically bad.

Wine drinkers should know more about how that wine is made, but it’s the winemakers themselves who may benefit most from a little introspection. “Additives are like a drug,” Linden Vineyards’ Jim Law told me in an e-mail. “Once you start and get hooked, you feel that you have to do it, and don’t question why.” Ingredient labeling might force winemakers to look harder at what they do in the winery and, most importantly, how they grow their grapes. As Finot pointed out, “There are a lot of grapes [planted here] that are not very suitable to Virginia’s terroir.” If the right grapes are planted in the right soil, much less work needs to occur in the winery. In this way, additives like acids and tannins are less ingredients than they are corrections. Law likens this to a chef using spices to hide bland vegetables. “It is much easier,” he wrote, “to fix problems in the cellar than to address the challenges in the vineyard.”

Ultimately, the goal for most, if not all, winemakers is the same: to make great wine. The fact that some wineries did not want to participate in this experiment doesn’t mean they’re hiding something. Those winemakers who chose to answer my call, on the other hand, should be commended for their boldness.

Here then is what, in addition to grapes and sunshine, is in some of our local wine:

White Hall Petit Verdot 2007
1. Hemicellulase (an enzyme also used commonly in baking)
2. Tartaric acid (found naturally in wine, a preservative, it also gives wine a tart crispness)
3. Yeast starter nutrient
4. Cultured yeast
5. Yeast food
6. Grape tannins
7. Inactivated yeast derivative
8. SO2 (Sulfur dioxide also known as sulfites)

Lovingston Pinotage 2006
1. SO2
2. Color Pro enzyme (stabilizes color and helps extract the grape’s tannins)
3. Cultured yeast
4. GoFerm (yeast food)
5. Diamonium phosphate (nitrogen, acts as yeast food, ensuring that fermentation is fully completed)
6. Fermaid K (nitrogen)
7. MBR 31 (malolactic bacteria, which causes malolactic fermentation, a secondary fermentation that converts malic acid to lactic acid and is a common way to give wine a rounder, softer taste)
8. Opti-Malo (a catalyst for malolactic bacteria)

Linden Claret 2004
1. SO2
2. Yeast food
3. Malolactic bacteria

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