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WINE BANTER - By John Haggard - July 2016


Microbial Influences

by John Haggard

Recent scientific studies have been showing that microbes differ from vineyard to vineyard, and many are introduced naturally during the wine-making process to influence the flavors we all enjoy sipping in our wines, and some microbes produce wines that truly are a cut above all others. Some of these microbes are introduced at all parts of the wine-making process, and, now there is a push in the scientific community to identify particular flavors we associate with the wine and the microbes that may have introduced them.

For as long as people have been making wine, we’ve understood that one vineyard with the same varietal and another are not equal, and it turns out the microbes in the soil have their own influence on the clusters and berries creating substantial difference in characteristic on the palate and in the bottle. 

While, as I’ve oftentimes written, winemaking is an art crafted by our great winemakers, and I am not suggesting that they do not have the most influence on the wine that is produced, what is clear, is the age-old assumption that “terroir” is key is most certainly as true.  There is a push now to study these microbes and their influence on flavor further, presumably with the possible assumption that this will be another tool for winemakers to introduce particular microbes during the winemaking process and further shape the wine’s flavors.

While I am a great fan of science, sometimes, I believe, tradition is perhaps a better way to go. In our recent droughts, we discovered that the ancient practices of dry-farming are actually a sustainable way for our winemaking to continue.  In the same way, perhaps learning to look after our land and nurture our aging vineyards instead of “ripping them out” for higher yield production may also be a way to ensure that the vineyards which happen to have those “great microbes” continue to be producing our great wines for decades.

I am not a scientist, and my opinions and my understanding of the new studies are not based on my scientific knowledge. Learning is a continuous process in anyone’s field of expertise. I am becoming more fascinated by the idea that microbes truly are influencing much of the wines we sip and pair with our favorite foods. I just hope this doesn’t lead to “microbial introduction” as some means to manufacture flavor.

 And now to two zinfandels:

Jack Florence 2014 Zinfandel (ret $46) ~ This zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley is in a vineyard which was planted to old St. Peter’s Church budwood. The intense sun exposure throughout the day and cool nights culminate in beautiful dark fruit characteristic. Black fruit flavors give way to intense black pepper flavor. Pair with barbeque short ribs. Enjoy now through 2018, no decanting necessary. For more information on Jack Florence Vineyards, visit

Martinelli Winery & Vineyard 2013 Vigneto di Evo Zinandel Russian River Valley (ret $47)

The Martinelli family have been making wine in the Russian River Valley s ~ nce the 1880’s. Most of their berries are used by other winemakers, but here is one that the Martinelli’s produced under their own label. This zinfandel shows intense bright red fruit accompanied by amazing well-balanced acidity and oak, with hints of orange-rind, wild-fennel, and black licorice. I find this zinfandel truly appreciates time in the glass or aging in the bottle, and it certainly will age at least several more years properly cellared. Pair with slow-roast pork butt.

Martinelli Vellutini Ranch Zinfandel 2012 Russian River Valley ret $ 65+

This zinfandel is another produced by the Martinelli family and shows amazing dark fruit characteristics which also mingle with ample licorice fennel and herb. This zinfandel is deserving of a hearty rack of lamb. The aging capacity for this zinfandel, properly cellared is more than seven years. This wine earned 92 pts from Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate and Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. For more information on Martinelli Winery, visit


John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, Sonoma Wine Tasting in Duncans Mills, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open Thu, Sat, Sun and Mon: 11am – 5pm, Fri:  11am-7pm (Local’s Night, Friday, 4-7pm, and you don’t have to be a local to join us).