The Smell of Fermenting Grapes

To die for.

At first, the odor hanging over the valley is vaguely like rotting fruit. Well, it is rotting fruit, sort of, but what I smell is the fruit and the juice, not the yeast. Many of the wineries we visit will be crushing and fermenting and pumping and filtering new wine. The odor of grapes and fresh juice and new wine is everywhere, pouring out of vats, in spills on the floors, in trucks driving from the vineyard to the winery with their ripe cargo.

Digression follows. The grape juice used for wine is very sweet and very fragrant. As a percentage by weight of the solution, you get approximately half as much alcohol as you had sugar to start with. A wine that is 10% alcohol, which is low by modern standards, had 20% sugar. A wine that is 12.5% alcohol started life as grape juice with 25% sugar. That's a lot of sugar. (I assume that the wine was fully fermented to dry, or very nearly so. Dessert wines with residual sugar are not dry, but the arithmetic is the same. 1% alcohol requires 2% sugar; and then add whatever sugar is left over.) And high alcohol content makes a more fragrant wine, so the grapes must be very sweet. End of digression.

In any case, the odor of fermenting wine, especially red wine, is cloying but not sweet, heavy. It travels far on the wind. I can catch a sniff of it driving by a winery from downwind, or from a passing truck. Just a hint of a few crushed grapes, but it gets my attention.

This is one of those savory smells that stays with you forever. At first, it is so strong that it's objectionable. I want to stay away from it. But when I leave it, I crave it. I can't remember it exactly, but I'll recognize it when I smell it again. The sense of smell is like that, maddeningly vague and impossibly precise at the same time. The tiniest hint of the odor, years later, on another trip, in a different place, makes my mouth water.

If you were a flower child of the sixties, you know another smell like that, don't you?

Comments and flames to the author:
"Why use logic when there's a flamethrower handy?" Hey, go ahead. I didn't exactly leave the gloves on when I wrote this.

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All contents copyright (C) 1985,1995,2001, Richard Landau. All rights reserved.
Revised: 2001/01/29