Donkey & Goat

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Why Tecate is Greater Than?

I had a great lunch last week with two wine buyers I know and respect.  One is based here in the Bay Area and the other based in New York.   Among the many topics we talked about, we couldn’t help but turn to the recent column in Forbes titled, “Why Tecate is Greater Than Orange Wine.”  We all agreed on two things:

One, Richard Betts is correct in stating many orange wines are not very good.  Of course, we also talked about many other large groupings of wine that are not very good. (Sonoma Pinot was mentioned as another example – not by me.)  That said, our second agreement was that there are many orange wines we love and that are delicious.

I reread the article on my ride home from the city and thought about my first logic class, specifically, (I had to look this up to remember)  Aristotle’s 13 Sophistical Refutations. Whether Aristotle was a wine drinker or not, his logic pertains in defense of orange.

1. Petitio Principii (Begging the question) Mr. Betts provides a flawed, as well as pejorative definition of orange wines in which the definition entails the conclusion he makes about orange wines. (The widely accepted definition of orange wine is wine made from white grapes with skin contact. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_wine for example.)  It is not required to allow oxidation nor volatile acidity development to create an orange wine. Kombucha,  made from tea and sugar, is not made via extended skin contact with grapes. Perhaps the flavors from the Brettanomyces bruxellensis  often found in Kombucha is what Betts got mixed up with.

2. Amphibology (Ambiguous from uncertainty)  Another flaw in Mr. Betts argument is his insistence that orange wine diminish terroir.  He feels one can make the same wine in Texas as Friuli.  But he has not tested this theory, it is simply a “feeling.” I have a feeling I’ll win the lottery today – sadly this feeling doesn’t make it true.

One can argue the opposite point, that making orange wine increases terroir. Many wine writers think terroir characteristics are hidden by invasive and intensive winemaking.  What could be less intensive then leaving the wine with their skins?

From my own experience,  the Roussanne we make into Stonecrusher struggles to ferment when pressed before fermentation.    Without skins, the nutrient deficit is so great, that fermentations lasted months on end.   Allowing the wine to ferment on the skins solved this problem.   For me, the terroir speaks most clearly though the skin contact.

3.  Cum hoc, ergo propter hoc (With this, therefore because of this)  Mr. Betts continues his argument with quotes from several influential wine personalities whom I admire.  One person, as quoted,  equates open top fermentation with oxidation issues.   One can make oxidative wine in an open top fermentation vessel – one can also make it in a closed top fermentation vessel.  Wine releases CO2 during fermentation.  CO2 is heavier than nitrogen and oxygen, the main component of air, and thus the CO2 creates a protective layer on top of the grapes.   (I do fully agree with Mr. Betts on recommending St. Vincent, David Lynch’s great wine bar/restaurant in the Mission. It’s a great place for wine and a bite to eat.  And full disclosure, even a better place to try our Grenache Blanc.)

4. Equivocation (To call by the same name) The pairing example is an example of Ignoratio Elenchi (irrelevant conclusion). Suggesting that pairing a Radikon with a Petrale Sole makes you a “dipshit” doesn’t mean the Radikon is a bad wine.  It solely means that it is a bad pairing.   Similarly, pairing a young Barolo or a Napa Cabernet with Petrale Sole would also make you a “dipshit,” but it does not make either wine inherently bad.

Anyway,  enough said.   I am going to chill a bottle of Orange wine tonight and enjoy it!




  1. Hi Jared,
    Thanks for this. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and rigorous demand you apply here.

    I wanted to respond briefly to your point about terroir. I’ve been researching for a long feature on use of skin contact (to varying degrees, not just ‘all the way to orange’) in white wines. My research has included extensive tasting through California and Oregon renditions (both from bottled final blends, and barrel separated lots), reading of scientific articles, and talking directly with winemakers both while tasting, and about their experience and interest with using the technique.

    There are a couple of things that have come up that I thought I’d mention here, and will get into further in the write-up. I hope you don’t mind if I geek out with some of this. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. This is also my way of saying, “dude, your blog post, cool.” Like, I am reveling in the good stuff with you.

    Scientific research has shown that increased skin contact raises the aromatic profile on the final wine. This seems obviously true from experience with actual wine, as you mention too. But the relevant point is that we can think of the aromatic presence of wine coming from multiple sources–the grape itself both in terms of aromas that are present before fermentation and remain unchanged by it, and those that occur during fermentation but are still from the particular grape; then also aromas that occur specifically from the fermentation process rather than being particular to the grape. My point in bringing this up is that what scientific research has found is that it is the aromas from the grape itself that are increased from extended skin contact during fermentation. Again, this is obvious but making it clear is relevant to your point about terroir, I believe.

    The reason the aromatics increase is that there is a higher concentration of these aromatic and potentially aromatic compounds in the skin than in the pulp. Science has also shown that how these compounds develop depends on how the plant grows in the vineyard, as the various stresses and conditions the plant experiences lead to various chemical responses in the plant, and we know those chemicals show up in what we taste and smell. What that means is that skin contact on wine makes more available to us the effects of the vineyard on the fruit–growing thicker skin from early sun exposure, developing higher potassium or nitrogen from older vines or soil type, or what have you.

    It’s also clear though that varying durations of skin contact *during* fermentation can work against this too. I know you’ve been doing experiments in the winery on duration of skin contact and seen the change in bitterness levels in the wine flavor as the presence of alcohol extracts more phenol from the skin. The phenolic presence would seem to imbalance the other flavors after some point, so a winemaking choice has to be made to find the balance between showing more from the terroir versus losing the terroir under bitterness. Though this seems to vary by grape type too. This is also part of why I’m excited to taste your wines this week–I’m interested in seeing how you’ve been working with all of this.

    Here’s a quicker version of everything I’ve just said. I tasted from barrel, tank and egg with Hardy Wallace of Dirty & Rowdy this week (god, it was fun). We tasted from Semillon split into three lots. About 80% of the fruit was left on skins and fermented in a large stainless steel tank. The rest was put direct to press into a concrete egg. After fermentation, the 80% was then split into two with half going into neutral barrels, and the rest staying in stainless. We tasted each of the three lots. The vineyard this fruit comes from is gravel right on the river’s edge. There was a noticeable difference in the flavor of the wine from the three different lots with the skin contact lots offering much more wet gravel rock flavor than the pretty though very light straight to press lot. With semillon the bitterness worry wasn’t there.

    The quick way to put it is that the skin contact lots just tasted more like being in the vineyard than the wine without skin contact.

    This is NOT to say you can’t have terrior without skin contact. Of course you can. This IS to say, (which you as a winemaker already know, but in some writing I’m not sure that some people do realize), technique is relevant to terroir, and thank god for that.

    Would love to hear your thoughts. Cheers! Thanks again for your post.

    • Thank you for your post. Lots of interesting ideas here. I do think the soil/vineyard have a direct relationship to whether skin contact will work or not in addition to grape varietal. Quick example – Stonecrusher works well from Ellen Ridge – the soil is extremely limited in terms of nutrients. Fenaughty, east of Ellen Ridge, is a richer soil. We don’t like the skin contact on roussanne there.

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