April 30, 2006

Reading Peynaud

I just finished reading Emile Peynaud’s classic book, Knowing and Making Wine. If you’re seriously interested in making wine, it’s simply a must read.

This book was written more than 20 years ago, so naturally some of the information is dated. But much is still current and, knowing the influence this book has had on winemakers all over the world, it’s not surprising how common many of Peynaud’s techniques are in modern cellars.

Before reading this book, I had the idea that Peynaud was a modernist in terms of wine philosophy. You know, better wine through science. And that’s true, the book goes into great detail about scientific advances in all aspects of wine production. Peynaud clearly believed in the ability of science to assist quality wine production. He refers to it as “knowing” the wine more fully.

But what strikes me most about the book is Peynaud’s philosophy of discretion throughout the process of quality wine production. He conveys the notion that you should do no more than is absolutely necessary to produce the highest quality wine possible. That’s hard to argue with.

One example – “The Age-Old Practice of Using a Starter Culture” section on page 104. Here Peynaud talks about beginning the harvest by starting a small fermentation “with or without yeasts added” and using that to innoculate the others as grapes are harvested and processed on the crush pad.

Of course, on the following page he describes “Modern Innocuation Techniques.” But it’s up to you to decide what to do. Peynaud simply gives you the information to make your decision. He’s the messenger of science-based wine making techniques, not necessarily advocating for their use in making laboratory “Frankenwine.”

The other most fascinating thing in this book is Peynaud’s practical, even obsessive, tips about cellar organization and efficiency. He writes about what shape of fermentation tank is best, which to avoid, how to arrange your cellar, how to process the grapes…essentially everything you need to know to make high quality wine on a small scale, or industrial quality wine on a massive scale.

It’s a tremendously helpful read for any winemaker, professional or amateur. And it’s surprisingly readable despite the sometimes stiff translation from the French. Even serious winelovers would do well to give this a go, if they desire a comprehensive yet concise view of how wine is produced.

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