“Reductive winemaking can create interesting and quality wines,” says Casey Di Cesare, winemaker at Scheid Family Wines. However, there’s a marked difference between “reductive winemaking” and “reduction” in wine.
Reduction generally means aromas created or held in the absence of oxygen. “It refers to the presence of a group of compounds that are quite smelly and contain sulfur,” says Jamie Goode, wine writer, lecturer, wine judge and book author. “These compounds are produced by yeast during fermentation, especially when yeast don’t have enough nutrients or are stressed.”
Common aromas associated with reduction are cooked or rotten eggs, onions or garlic, sweet corn and rubber. “There’s a whole range of them,” says Goode.
But in terms of reductive winemaking, “it’s doing everything in your power to limit the exposure to oxygen in the making of and storage of wine,” says Di Cesare. This, he says, can result in the preservation of pleasant aromas—such as in a fresh, fruity Sauvignon Blanc. “But it’s a delicate balance not to go too far and create a potential fault in your wine.”
During bottling, it’s important to be as reductive as possible, says Di Cesare. “We do everything we can to limit oxygen exposure…to allow the wine to develop gracefully in bottle. Having extraneous oxygen exposure leads to premature aging of wines and development of [unpleasant] oxidative characters.”
Reductive winemaking can also help preserve color in red wine. “Tannins can be oxidized and ‘fall out’ of the wine,” says Di Cesare. So, to preserve tannins and stabilize color during fermentation, the winemaking team at Scheid are trialing a new punch-down regime. “One lot with and one lot without inert gas during punch-down. We’ll track color throughout fermentation and after fermentation to see what color benefits we get.”
David Ramey, owner and winemaker of Ramey Wine Cellars, often utilizes reductive winemaking in his Chardonnay program.
“For us, whites are elevated [racked] anaerobically [without oxygen], aside from the slight amount of air allowed through the oak barrel staves, which is offset by the oxygen ‘scavenging’ of the yeast,” he says. “Wine sees less oxygen if aged sur lies in stainless steel, [or] slightly more if stored in concrete or clay.”
These oxygen-depriving techniques can create what’s often referred to as a “matchstick” or “flint” aroma in Chardonnay. It’s a common note in the white wines of Burgundy.
“People tend to think of small levels of matchstick as desirable,” says Ramey. “It’s really an artifact of the cellar, not terroir.”