This is truly just the beginning of some thoughts.
My colleagues and I think and speak about reduction
all of the time-- for us, it is one of the most
important questions in winemaking. We are so
much at the beginning of our thinking, so these
remarks are just a first sketch of some thoughts
that are still provisional.
What I mean by reduction: the state in the wine
(or juice) of certain molecules that would very
much like to bond with oxygen but find themselves
unable to do so. Very often, the molecules that
we have in mind are species and variations of
hydrogen sulfide. I am not even sure whether
other species of molecules enter into the effects
that we are thinking about here.
How we bring about reduction: we find that if
we avoid racking wines and extend lees contact,
we can bring them into states of reduction during
their maturation. We find that if we do not
add nutrients (or do not add the full amount
of recommended doses of nutrients) to fermentations,
we can achieve reduction at very early stages
of the wine's life. We find that this kind of
reduction rarely persists in a negative form--
unless a nutrient disaster occurs.
We encourage or pursue reduction in certain
wines (LSB, Babylon, Riquewihrt) to different
degrees and with different end in mind. In general,
we are looking for stonies or salinity, looking
to underline or counterpoise fruit with something
opposite-- but not dirty. We do not want reduction
to go that far. We find that almost always the
reduction that we sense early (say in fermentation)
transforms over time into something more complex
and less easy to identify-- a seamless part
of the wine, rather than a component of it.
Does reduction "cause" "minerality"? The difficulty
of the question is pointed to by the quotation
marks. Let me say only this: it has been my
experience, since first discussing the question
with Jason Berthold in 2005 and 2006, in some
or perhaps all of MY wines, it is difficult
to bring minerality to the bottle without the
wine undergoing at least some degree of reduction.
I might even say in a few number of cases that
the juice or wine did not exhibit any minerality
until the wine became at least somewhat reduced.
Does this mean that the reduction caused us
to sense minerality? Perhaps in some cases.
In all cases? No.
I am much more inclined to say that in the majority
of my wines, and perhaps in the totality, that
reduction performs two roles in relation to
our sensing minerality: 1) it underlines or
emphasizes a complex of sensations that depend
on fruit and the juice, not on the fermentation
or maturation; 2) it neutralizes other characteristics
(e.g. fruitiness) that would otherwise mask
the minerality that is already there.
Lastly, it is important to see that even though
supplying plentiful oxygen during the early
stages of reduction can combat or erase it,
reduction and oxidation are not strictly opposed
to each other in winemaking, and certainly one
need not cancel out (or "fix") the
other. Robert Dentice showed me a quotation
from Anselme Selosse where he maintains that
the coordinate and conjunct oxidation and reduction
of his base wines is essential to his winemaking,
and he illustrated the totally common physics
of this by pointing to the conjoined oxidation
and reduction that take place as a candle burns.
The elaboration of these thoughts has been
spurred by Jesse Becker.
Please see his blog.