Can and should modern-day scientific methods be shoe-horned into the traditional way of making wine without just making a "chemical soup" into a high-tech "chemical soup"?
This is the crux of the matter under consideration by author and winemaker Clark Smith in his collection of thoughts that at times might appear rather provoking, a little mischievous and even heretical to some. Throughout the book, the author's humour shines through thanks to the well-written, descriptive text with gems such as a wine being made "... that had more of a canned tomato soup aroma than the fresh strawberry notes I was seeking."
A lot of this book isn't new per se, but it is compiled and curated and polished into this single volume from many previously-published journal items. The author is seeking to shake an often overly-traditional industry into the future, promoting a belief that he feels would benefit the industry as a whole, through a fairly coarse, plain-talking message. This book is probably going to be "too much" for the casual wine drinker, but those who are involved in the wine industry will, or should, find this message worthy of serious consideration. The more dedicated wine drinker or culinary professional stands to learn a fair bit too, challenging many perceptions and opinions on the way.
The author notes that wine is just like architecture - the aesthetic properties of both are barely derived from their actual composition, yet so many wine buffs fuss about the use of a certain barrel, a certain vine or a certain style. Yet it is how the various "ingredients" are put together that can have the greatest impact on the taste, the most important function of the wine. Many people who are resistant to change are fearful that technology will transform their traditional bottle of wine into a modern-day chemical soup of ingredients, whilst being oblivious that that is exactly what their traditional bottle comprises of. Postmodern winemaking is perhaps just shuffling the deck of cards a little, making the "soup" a better product. Just like any development, there are pluses and minuses and you will still encounter the equivalent of bulk-produced wine and more traditionally-influenced products.
The concepts espoused might sound either far-fetched, radical or just a fairly mundane, obvious being, dependent on your point of view, your openness and your grasp of (possible) reality. You probably won't, or shouldn't, agree with everything the author says and that is no bad thing either. The author wouldn't expect anything less. That said, this reviewer is a little mixed about this book. It is an interesting subject, a fine read and certainly thought-provoking to those who have a vested interest in wine that is greater than just consuming it. The book's relative complexity and its price point may push it out of reach of the general, interested wine consumer, which is a bit of a shame but an understandable side-effect. The author has done, in any case, a very good job in setting out his stall in a fairly plain language.
So what to say? This is a book certainly worth of consideration if the subject in hand makes your eyebrows start to dance, either in shock or with curiosity.
This is a book full of insight drawn from the author's extensive experience. The author's approach is thought provoking and challenges much of the conventional wisdom in the business. The writing style can be a little verbose at times, but overall it is well written. I recommend this book to any wine maker that is serious about improving their wines.