Winemaking has a number of white elephants in the field of research. There are constantly new things we have never thought about, but there is one subject my greatest professor Dr. Ken Fugelsang would constantly extoll as the hidden secret, the force, the excaliber of winemaking. He said that if you were to get an “A” in his class, this was the one thing you absolutely had to understand.
In talking with winemakers in the future, I would find that yes, this is a subject of massive consequence and little understanding.
It’s really important and mysterious.
I’m intentionally not telling you what it is for build-up.
OK! OK! I didn’t mean to annoy you!
Reductive potential, there, I said it. But what is reductive potential? (By the way, doesn’t “reductive potential” sounds scary? From here on out, let’s call it R-P.) This is the deep end of winemaking science. Unfortunately, I can’t describe this in purely lay-man’s terms, so we’re going to have to get a little science-y here: reductive potential is the ability of the wine to add electrons/hydrogen atoms to molecules in solution. Don’t worry, that’s as science-y as we’re going to get. The issue is that this ability has far-reaching consequences on the wine.
The first and foremost consequence is flavor. It’s a pretty simple concept, all the flavors in the wine are the result of lots and lots of types of little molecules, chemicals that react with our senses. The issue is that if you add or remove a hydrogen atom, they change character, and maybe they don’t react with your senses anymore, or maybe molecules that didn’t now do. This means that the R-P is going to dictate how active different sets of flavor chemicals are.
This is where things get crazy. This means to some degree, the flavors of the wine are not a product of the fruit. (Oh snap!) Or to be more specific, the way the flavors of the grape are expressed is very much in the hands of the wine-maker. R.P is a product of the acidity of a wine, the amount of poly-phenols (a chemical group that mouth-drying chemicals belong to) and the amount of sulfur dioxide, as well as other anti-oxidants that may have developed in the wine. The winemaker can add or remove all of these components at will, with a gamut of things he can add.
However, that’s all I know, and R.P. has far-reaching consequences: pretty much everything we as wine-makers do will have an impact on R.P., so the things we do to the wine won’t only have the intended effect, but also secondary effects due to the change in R.P.
As I advance as a winemaker, I may be able to say more about this. And hopefully I’ll be a good enough a writer to explain it clearly, but as this cutting edge of the field unfolds in front of me, maybe someday I’ll be grasp it a little more entirely. This is just a synopsis, but unfortunately, it’s all I’ve got in this young stage of my career.