What are Amber Smart-Wines?

In Georgia, the cradle of European winemaking, amber describes white wines which are fermented and produced in the traditional manner in so-called Qvevris (amphorae) with the must. This traditional wine style inspired a modern wine movement which spread throughout all winegrowing countries. This movement is characterised by nothing less than a complete rethink on the part of winegrowers who have dared to approach the preparation of wines free of any dogmas and in a radically different manner.


A new movement

It is so diverse, young and dynamic that it defies any generally valid definition. It covers various wine styles, which are described among other things using the terms orange, raw or natural - albeit these terms are also not definitively or clearly defined. This development process continues apace and through learning from one another and through people’s own experiences leads to ever newer approaches. The majority of those winemakers who concern themselves with these traditional vinification techniques are also advocates of bio-organic or bio-dynamic viticulture. It is only logical that grapes that are produced in this manner are further processed in an equally gentle manner.
The product we know as ‘wine’ is just an intermediary product during its transformation from sugar to vinegar via alcohol. The alcoholic fermentation conserves aromas in a temporarily stable state.

The attempt to retain this state as authentically as possible is something the majority of wine-growers attempt to achieve. Those who have joined this movement, whether consciously or not, do it without the technical cellar aids that have become very popular; hence these types of grape juices or wines are frequently

  • processed without sulphur;
  • spontaneously fermented, in the case of white wines frequently with the must;
  • bottled unfiltered or without being clarified.

One of the masterminds of this movement, Prof. Rainer Zierock, went as far as bringing the young wine in the wooden crate back into the vineyard for one or several years so that it would then, whilst exposed to wind and weather, ripen towards its full maturity.

Amber encompasses all those wine products offered by Smart-Wines that function in accordance with bio-organic or bio-dynamic principles.


We wish to really emphasise the fact that Amber does not perform any evaluation of the wines based on their quality but merely should facilitate a clear distinction between our conventional partners and those partners who produce bio-organic or bio-dynamic wines (including those who are starting to adapt towards these methods).


What do our wineries have in common?

The wineries of our portfolio running under the Amber name, work according to clearly defined bio-dynamic and bio-organic methods and have had themselves certified as such or are in the process of becoming certified. They belong to the traditional organic organisations of their country and the independent organic associations, such as Fred Loimer who belongs to the “respect-BIODYN” group.


Other producers rank among the bio-dynamic pioneers of their region such as Elisabetta Foradori in Trentino or Tenuta di Valgiano in Tuscany, who cooperative to a key extend in the production of cellar guidelines of their association (Demeter Italia). Or Corte Sant’Alda, the first Demeter-certified winery in the Valpolicella region.


The one thing all these winemakers have in common is the fact that their wines rank among the recognised best wines of their respective region, and this was before they even had any organic certification. In spite of these merits they have proceeded and are proceeding in their work, in a cosmopolitan and curious manner, and hone the quality of their wines.


We can also adopt a different approach

A vineyard, however much people like to bucolically transfigure it - is a monoculture. Breaking it up, creating a healthy “living habitat“ for diverse flora and fauna and simultaneously improving working conditions for themselves in their environment are the goals pursued by the Amber winemakers.


The vines become more tolerant of environmental influences due to the conversion to organic cultivation:

  • the weather that has become increasingly extreme in the past few years: the vines are clearly much better able to cope with drought stress and excessive rainfall;
  • Biodiversity helps to combat pests as it ensures in a vineyard that is full of life that pests are kept in check by beneficial insects;
  • the healthy “immune system" of a strong plant is less susceptible to fungal diseases.

A vineyard is just a temporary item on loan which should be conserved for future generations. The winemakers therefore feel obliged to go sparingly on resources and to work more sensitively and with more care in the vineyard.

Ultimately these winemakers were able to recognise that their wine became more balanced and harmonious following the conversion to bio-organic or bio-dynamic winemaking methods. ”

The path is the goal” as we learn in Homer's work Odyssey, and our Smart-Wines Amber also view this in much the same light.

Glossary

Natural Wines, Vins Vivants, Naked Wines:

The generic terms for all wines whether red or white (orange) which are produced with the lowest possible amount of cellar-related work. The terms are not uniformly defined; they will be termed as Natural Wines throughout the text.

The winemakers do not strive to make any corrections to the different factors in this process:

  • The acids (neither the addition or extraction of acid is desired). The ideal maturing time of the grapes is also selected according to the acid content and the type of grape.
  • The tannic structure, ideally only influenced by the maceration time, possibly through the fermentation in wooden casks. Here there are the most diverse technical tannins in powder form, and there is hardly any taste (“pineapple reed tannin") which cannot be applied; they generally ensure a more mature taste of the wines.
  •  No clarification – wines are clarified to precipitate proteins and/or polyphenols. Proteins cause the wine to be turbid; polyphenols can taste astringent and bitter.
  • The alcohol content should not be increased through being chaptalised or higher concentrations, nor reduced through vacuum evaporation or use of a spinning cone column.


Natural wine:

The term was coined by the VDN, Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer (Association of German Natural Wine Auctioneers), solely for wines for which the alcohol content was not improved by the addition of sugar to the grape must or the young wine.  The natural wine auctioneers have been included in the VDP (Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates).


Ecological = bio-organic & bio-dynamic:

Original terms for different production methods for agricultural products – i.e. in our case: grapes.

The regulations of different federations, associations and schools applied for the soil management, fertilisation and conservation. Only in recent years have the different organisations also concerned themselves with the guidelines for the steps following the grape production, i.e. for the cellar. For instance Demeter Associazione Italia implemented such regulations in 2013.

Winemaking in accordance with these standards waives the use of herbicides (to combat weeds) and insecticides (to combat insects). Fungicides (used against mould) are selectively authorised and the quantities permitted are limited, whereby sulphur preparations are considered unproblematic. To date no alternative has yet been found for copper, the only preparation permissible to combat Peronospora in bio-organic and bio-dynamic winemaking. The quantities that are mixed in are very low compared to past quantities. First tests with an homeopathic copper dosage have progressed promisingly.

In both cases vegetation between the rows of vines is stipulated to protect against erosion and as a habitat for beneficial insects.

Chemical synthetic fertilisers are forbidden in both cases.

The bio-dynamic winemaking method according to Rudolf Steiner views the vineyard as an holistic organism. This should be strengthened, the surrounding environment should be improved in overall terms for flora, fauna and humans. In this case the faith in the effectiveness of the measures plays a decisive part, even the moon phase calendar of Maria Thun is considered.

The “respekt-BIODYN“ group stipulates guidelines which are based on biodynamics to a large extent (including the moon calendar) but have a more pragmatic orientation based less on faith and more on experiences gained in the past.


Orange Wines:

By the term “Orange“ we mean white wines which have attained a more intensive colour and tannin yield than is otherwise the case with white wines due to various factors during the processing of the grapes.

A longer maceration is performed or a longer maceration time of the must is observed for the vast majority of these wines.


Additional factors include:

  • oxidative processing of the grapes and/or the must;
  • no or late sulphurisation;
  • no clarification or precipitation of the must;


The fact that these wines are spontaneously fermented comes as a matter of course for the majority of these winemakers.

In the case of the containers which can be potentially used for the fermentation all the standard and common fermenting vessels.

  • Stainless steel, cement or GFK tanks;
  • Wooden casks of different sizes made of different woods;
  • Amphorae, Tinajas (Spanish Amphorae, Tinajas (Spanish for clay jugs) or Qvevries
  • An ever increasing number of unusual containers are also coming to the fore:
  •  “Barrels” that are chiselled from one stone;
  • Stone troughs, reminiscent of sarcophaguses;
  • Cement or concrete “eggs”
  • Pyramids of the most diverse designs


RAW – Rare Artisanal Wines:

Originally the name of the largest trade fair for Natural Wines. Nowadays people like to use RAW as a synonym for these very wines.


Sulphur:

An element that naturally occurs in wine, however it is produced, i.e. a sulphur-free wine is a paradox. Sulphur occurs in a very large number of foods. People who eat 100 grams of fish, meat, varieties of cabbage vegetables, peanuts or beans, lentils, and peas will generally consume a much higher amount of sulphur than is present in a bottle of wine.


Why is sulphur present during the preparation of wine?

Sulphur that is added (in general as SO2) fulfils several functions in the vinification process:

  • Oxidation protection through its reductive effect;
  • Antimicrobial; protection against the activity of various microorganisms;
  • Enzyme repressive & colour preserving;
  • Neutralises unwanted fermentation aromas.

 
The second point in particular is called into question by fans of natural wines, as the neutralising of these aromas (especially acetaldehyde) can simultaneously also reduce the complexity of the wine. In slight concentrations acetaldehyde can contribute towards a more complex aroma.
Some wines such as those produced by Chateau Musar or Vega Sicilia, have a considerable maturing potential of 30, 40 or even more years, owing the longevity of their fruit aromas exactly these fragrances.


However, some winemakers go to such lengths in refusing to apply technology that they can no longer guarantee the biological stability of the wines produced by them under normal transportation and storage conditions: A certain wine is, for instance, only sold to those customers who can guarantee an uninterrupted cooling chain of max. 15°C . Such a wine is also ultimately nothing more than an artificial product that is artificially “kept alive” by a technique that is more or less completely excluded from the manufacturing process.

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