This is a review of Postmodern Winemaking by Clark Smith. As I write, according to Amazon in the UK the book has not been released and has a price of £24.95, while via Amazon.com you can get it from partners for various prices from $68.04 to $368.08! I am not sure if it now is properly released or not, but I got my copy from The Book Depository for just under £19.
I did not get on well with this book at all. I understand it is largely based on a collection of articles written for various publications, and my goodness it shows. There is seemingly endless repetition, and many pointers between chapters constitute a vain attempt to make everything seem coherent. If Clark had taken the time to explain everything properly once, the ideas would be a whole lot clearer and it would be a much shorter book.
I am not the sort of person that is intimidated by science – it was a long time ago, but I studied it at university – but I could not make much sense of most of Clark’s explanations, and simply repeating the same things many times helps not a jot. Annoyingly, so many times he prefaced an explanation with the proviso that not everything has been confirmed by science, without saying where speculation takes over from more solid ground.
He also seems to miss the main point about science. It is not there to dot the Is and cross the Ts of his great ideas, and those of other great visionaries like Rudolf Steiner, giving them a stamp of white-coated approval. The scientific method is actually little other than common sense for many people. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence and speculation has proved so many times to be false.
The style is that of a preacher, or a seller of snake-oil, and make no mistake he is selling – both himself as consultant, and his wines. The book is full of poor analogies endlessly repeated. The one that wound me up most was the comparison of micro-oxygenation with homeopathy. Sure, a little oxygen at the right time in winemaking may prevent oxidation at a later stage. But that is to miss the point about homeopathy, where there is probably nothing of the active ingredient in the remedy. With MOx you do actually add some oxygen.
Despite my complaints, I did learn something about modern (I still refuse to use the word postmodern in this context) winemaking techniques – just not as much as I had hoped. I also very much felt myself cheering along when he was encouraging winemakers to be more open about how they make wine, and stop feeding journalists with what they and their marketing people think punters want to hear. If they really think these techniques improve wines, they should have the courage of their convictions. The same applies to older practices like chaptalisation.
Do his ideas work? I have not a clue. The book certainly expressed Clark Smith’s points of view, but the guy is clearly controversial and I am not convinced from the evidence presented. However, I am prepared to keep an open mind.
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