Vino! Wire: Wine News

Standing Stone to Release Unfiltered Red Wines

This fall, Standing Stone will release its 2000 cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and Pinnacle. That in and of itself is uneventful, except that these wines will be unfiltered. Standing Stone is standing alone. This is perhaps the first attempt at commercial unfiltered bottling in the Finger Lakes.

The Macinskis and other proponents of unfiltered wines say that filtering removes positive characteristics from wine. With the exception of merlot, Standing Stone reds will forgo filtering. Their colleagues in the Finger Lakes rely on filtering to prevent wines from going bad. Making unfiltered wines is a risk no other local winery has been willing to take.

“People are asking if we’ve gone nuts,” Marti Macinski said. “The Finger Lakes, as an industry, hasn’t considered what is ultimately possible in terms of quality. I fear we could be resting on our laurels, content on consistently producing very good wines that sell at $12” per bottle.

Not filtering wines is directly linked to winemaker insomnia and indigestion. The vast majority of commercial wines are sterile filtered to remove yeast particles, any remaining sugar, and microbiological contaminants. Filtering helps guarantee that wines will be stable in the bottle and not turn funky or cloudy before getting to consumers.

By not sterile filtering, a winemaker increases the chances of re-fermentation, spoilage, and bad smells and tastes. Most notorious of these is what is known as “Brett” an aroma created by a type of wild yeast that in small concentrations smells like a sweaty horse or a band-aid. Most Finger Lakes winemakers view making unfiltered wine as an oenological Russian roulette.

Some wine critics, notably Robert Parker, actually like small amounts of Brett in wine. He, in particular, discourages “serious wineries” from filtering.

Several years ago, University of California Davis enologist Christian Butzke wanted to see if filtering changed wine. He bought several bottles of unfiltered wines, filtered half of them, and asked 12 experienced tasters to pick the unfiltered wines. The average correct response was only 54 percent, little better than random guessing.

Locally, Cornell Enologist Thomas Henick-Kling conducted a panel tasting that concluded that consumers find even low levels of Brett objectionable.

Macinski explained the academics’ aversion to unfiltered wines is part of the culture – their job is to caution the industry to do no harm, and play it safe.

Macinski points towards anyone’s Top 100 wines list, saying that a fair number are unfiltered. Filtering, she said, is a New World technology. Only recently did the European wine industry start filtering and the finest winemakers still do not, she said.

Like the non-filtering wineries in California and Europe, Standing Stone wine will retain its stability by fermenting to dryness, which eliminates sugars that could cause re-fermentation; by aging 18 months in oak, and by regular laboratory analysis.

Standing Stone may not forgo filtering every year, depending on the quality of the fruit.

Standing Stone’s unfiltered wines will cost more than their standard wines, but Macinski isn’t sure how much. She said she’ll be talking with buyers and Manhattan retailers to get a feel for what a “credible” price would be.

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