Winemaking: Hands-on or Hands-off?

The two basic “styles” of winemaking can be summed up thusly: hands-on versus hands-off.

The hands-on approach calls for the vintner to involve himself or herself in virtually every aspect of the process, from selecting the yeasts that spark fermentation to the speed of the fermentation to the specific types of vessels used for aging to the ultimate blending decisions.

The hands-off approach involves minimal intervention by the winemaker, with the goal being to make a wine that is an accurate portrayal of its fruit, its terroir and its vintage – in essence, a drinkable snapshot in time.

But when you think about it, even a minimalist approach involves important decision-making on the part of the vintner, and the expression of a preferred style.

The late Max Schubert, who oversaw the making of the legendary Penfolds Grange wine for many years, could never have been labeled a minimalist.

“It’s so essential that a winemaker give some of his personality to his wine,” Schubert once said. “His personality is part and parcel of the wine itself. The greatest wines have implanted in them the ideas of the winemaker as to what they should be. His character is part of the wine.”

It was Schubert’s belief that the wine world risked evolving into a bubble of boring sameness if all vintners followed the same “recipes” and procedures.

“We must not be afraid to put into effect the strength of our own convictions, and continue to use our imagination in winemaking,” Schubert added.

Posted in Wine Cellar Notes
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