Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery

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By in wine education Comments Off on Wine as Cultural Artifact

Wine as Cultural Artifact

Here’s a thing to ponder: wine is a cultural artifact. Wine is something observed in a scientific investigation or experiment. Simply put; wine doesn’t present itself in nature.

Contrary to what some zealots will tell you, wine doesn’t want to make itself. Wine is a point on a scale of decomposition; winemakers preserve (though not indefinitely) the juice of grapes on a journey towards spoilage and decay.

The very act of harvesting grapes inserts the human in a way that ensures any resulting product becomes an artifact. Even if the vines aren’t tended during the growing season, even if commercial yeasts are not used; even if enzymes and sulphites aren’t added and the wine is bottled without stabilization or filtration, wine is still a cultural product.

The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote extensively about myth–the stories we create and share as a kind of cultural binding agent, fortifying our societal groups and communities. Lévi-Strauss’ writings on honey myths and mead are pertinent here: a honeybee’s hive that is nestled in the trunk of a tree can start to ferment without any human intervention, the resulting alcohol oozing into the hollow truck. This is a natural process. This is nature. However, when a human takes the same honeycomb, extracts the sugary liquid, and sets it to ferment in a wooden barrel thus creating mead, this is culture. Intentionality on the part of the human takes something from nature to culture.

Lévi-Strauss was a structuralist too. He acknowledged that elements of human culture can only be understood by way of their relation to a broader system. Humans make and drink wine not in isolation to other cultural practices; humans also market wine not in isolation to other cultural practices. Affirming our kinship with the natural world means acknowledging our roles and effects within it. Seeing ourselves as part of our ecosystems, and not merely observers of them, is key to understanding how to do (and be) better. This is especially true of the climate crisis; if we don’t see ourselves as part of the problem, it’s incredibly difficult to see ourselves as part of a solution. Humans, in our desire to both create and maintain culture, make wine. We should, therefore, absolutely question and reassess how our industry’s practices impact the ecosystems we are all part of. Seeing wine as an artifact of culture means shouldering the kinds of responsibilities that might evade our attention when wine is viewed solely as a product of nature, or of ‘natural’ processes.

By in wine education Comments Off on Towards a better world of wine

Towards a better world of wine

Vine tying in spring

While some wine drinkers will be familiar with organic wine and the criteria necessary to label it so, other wine terms like ‘natural’ and ‘low-intervention’ have a more recent history in BC. This not only makes these terms trickier to define, it also leaves a lot of room for greenwashing and misrepresentation. Our advice? Learn about your favourite wine region, and ask pointed questions at your favourite wineries. 

With just cause, conventionally-produced wines–made with grapes from conventionally-managed vineyards–are subject to increased criticism. The productivist model is rarely sustainable, and these wines tend to be both less good for the environment, and for the people who drink them. The good news is that a growing number of wineries are committing to more sustainable models in the vineyard, and in the cellar. ‘Natural’ and ‘low-intervention’ wines, for example, are increasingly popular alternatives to conventionally-made wines. Producers in centuries-old wine regions are rejecting the narrow rules of their appellations to create young, fresh wines with low ABVs, funky labels, and a short shelf life. In many parts of Europe and the US, natural and low-intervention wines are almost mainstream. Natural (or natty) wine bars are popular in big cities like New York and Berlin. Even bars and restaurants in smaller cities like Victoria cater to a growing number of wine drinkers who are embracing a greater diversity of wine styles and tastes. But what exactly is natural wine? And what about low-intervention wine? And how, for that matter, do they differ from organic or even biodynamic wines? Let’s break it down:

For now, there is no internationally recognized definition or classification system for natural or low-intervention wines. This is, in equal part, cause for celebration, and concern. On one hand, wine growers and winemakers are free to create products without having to adhere to strict top-down rules about how they manage their vineyards and make their wine. On the other hand, ditto. Natural wine is an unregulated term that was born out of a distrust of established wine norms, wine industry additives, and rigid production methodologies (which are particularly challenging for small producers).

Generally speaking, natural wine is produced without the addition of, well, anything except grapes. Grapes (which are usually grown using organic methods) are picked, and ferment “naturally,” which is to say without the addition of yeasts, water, enzymes or bacteria, carbohydrate matter, or even sulphites (SO2). Perhaps controversially, some natural winemakers do allow for sulphite additions (it is worth noting that sulphites occur naturally during fermentation and that making a sulphite-free wine is impossible). There are no powdered tannins added to natural wine; no fining agents; nothing other than the grapes themselves. Barrels are often sidelined, too, in favour of more neutral concrete, steel, terracotta, or even plastic. As with any other wine, individual natural wines can range from exceptionally delicious to downright undrinkable. Low-intervention wine and natural wine are often used interchangeably, but theoretically at least, low-intervention wines allow the winemaker a little more latitude when it comes to additions in the winery and cellar.      

Organic wine production is strictly governed in most wine-producing countries, including Canada. Wine growers and winemakers work with certification bodies to ensure accountability and transparency in the vineyard and/or winery. Soil health and fertility is of critical importance in organic viticulture. The big no-nos are GMOs, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. In the winery, winemakers must ensure any additions make the certification grade.  

However, it is important to mention that the certification criteria for organic wine changes from state to state—there is no global standard for organic wine. If you purchase one wine labelled organic from Portugal and another labelled organic from Oregon, they are likely to have been made under two different circumstances of certification. For example, USDA-certified organic wines cannot contain any added sulphites. This is not true for wines labelled organic in BC. Another key consideration for BC organic certification is the differentiation between how the grapes are grown and then, how the wines are made. In effect, two certifications are required (one for the vineyard and one for the wine production space) before a BC winery can even use the word organic in their labelling. 

While robust and resilient farming practices and soil fertility are at the heart of both organic and biodynamic wine, biodynamic wine production often exceeds the minimum requirements for organic certification. The Biodynamic Association defines biodynamics as a “holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition.” Demeter, the global certification body for biodynamic wine, ensures integrity in the vineyard, as well as in the winery and cellar. 

It’s an exciting time for our wine-producing regions in BC, and a doubly exciting time for wine drinkers who choose to support local. Given the nebulous nature of some wine terms (especially when they appear in a winery’s marketing strategy), the best way to get to the bottom of what’s in your glass is to visit the wineries in your area. Ask questions about the climate (and how it’s changing); ask about vineyard management; weed control, and grape varieties. Ask about practices in the winery and cellar. Since more than a passing interest in chemistry is required to understand wine making processes, ask why as well as what: What are sulphites and why might a winemaker need to add them? What are commercial yeasts and why are they more important in some climates than others? Invoke a childlike curiosity to complement your adult drinking age and with any luck, learning to drink better wine will be the work of a lifetime.

By in tasting room events, things to do in courtenay, winery news, wine education Comments Off on Private Virtual Tastings in December 2020

Private Virtual Tastings in December 2020

We are very excited to offer virtual wine tastings in December 2020. Enjoy a private guided tasting in the comfort of your own home over Zoom or Google Meet. Virtual tastings are possible in all provinces that allow direct to consumer wine shipments from BC. We can also host a tasting for multiple households simultaneously; if you are unable to get together with your friends and family in real life this holiday season, we can help… all for the love of Vancouver Island wine!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Head to our online store to preorder your wine selection for delivery (6 bottles minimum). If you have friends and family in other houses/provinces who want in on the action, let them know what bottles to order and we’ll ship tout suite. Live locally? You can also pick up from our store on our open days in December.
  2. Once you’ve purchased your bottles, contact Katie (katie@beaufortwines.ca) to secure your preferred date and time for your virtual tasting. Katie will then send you a Zoom or Google Meet invite.
  3. On the day of your tasting, the choice of what to open is yours! A winery representative will host your tasting, guiding you through 1-5 wines (again, the choice of how many bottles to open is entirely up to you). Assemble your family (or your friend bubble) in the comfort of your own home with bottles, glassware, and your favourite wine snacks. At the elected time, we’ll call in and guide you merrily through your chosen tasting bottles.

While our wine store WILL be open on three weekends in December, we will NOT be hosting tastings on-site. Virtual tastings will last a maximum of 1 hour (depending on the number of wines tasted). Please ensure you have downloaded (and tested!) the appropriate meeting app. A good internet connection, that is capable of supporting video, is essential. Virtual tastings are FREE – all wine orders placed between October 15th & December 20th (6 bottle minimum shipment) can opt to add-on a virtual tasting. Virtual tasting appointments are limited. T&Cs apply.

By in wine education Comments Off on Wine Tannins

Wine Tannins

Tannins are organic polyphenolic compounds that occur naturally in things like leaves, wood, nuts and certain fruits. Part of a plant’s defence mechanism, tannins are bitter tasting and astringent – in the natural world, they make things less tasty, and therefore less desirable, to both humans and animals. This allows the plant in question to establish itself and proliferate before someone (or something) gobbles it up.

If a wine is described as having a tannic structure, it will have had some contact with grape skins, seeds and stems during wine-making. Likely too, that it will have spent time aging in wood, for oak is rich in tannin. When it comes to tannins in wine – red wine – it’s a case of balance. Wines that are overly or aggressively tannic will dry your mouth out in a single sip; like you’ve just sucked the sleeve of a velvet smoking jacket. Tannins, you see, have this wonderful ability to dry out proteins – that dry, almost furry feeling in your mouth comes as a direct result of tannins going to work on amino acids in your saliva. Conversely, red wines with lower tannin levels can lack complexity. Since a major part of wine’s intrigue is what happens on your palate when you taste it, a little bit of astringency, a little bit of bitterness and certainly a little bit of ‘furriness’ is no bad thing, especially when you’re pairing red wine with food. It’s easy to counteract (or limit the effect of) tannins on your palate by pairing wines with protein rich foods. Fats also facilitate balancing tannins on the palate. Tannins are essential for a wine that’s intended for the cellar. Wines with no tannins, low tannins, or a ‘soft’ tannin profile will typically not age well at all.

Tannins in white wine are, usually, negligible. With a few notable exceptions (whites that have had extended maceration, and whites aged in wood), white wines are made in a way that limits the transfer of polyphenols from grape skins, seeds and stems to the actual juice.

And so, for a little experiment… cut open a new black tea bag and sprinkle the contents on your tongue. Chew on the dried leaves for a while before spitting it out. Note that furry sensation; that intense dryness and astringency; that bitterness and brownish residue on your tongue and teeth? Tannins!