Stopping fermentation versus back-sweetening or juice addition

Thanks for taking the time, Terry.

Among American Riesling makers, I hear a wide range of opinions on the effects of stopping fermentation versus back-sweetening or adding juice. Obviously there are varying kinds of sugar, and arresting fermentation does not leave the same kind of sugar as back-sweetening.

What do Germans say about the issue? Do you think American winemakers would be well served to adopt a policy of always arresting fermentation instead of back-sweetening? In the Finger Lakes, for example, there is a growing group that prefers stopped fermentations, but there remain a good number that take the easier route.

The Zeitgeist has undergone a 180º change in the last ten years, and dosage - or what you’re calling back-sweetening - is now anathema.

This is a foolish misapplication of purism, in my view. But for many young growers who haven’t yet matured into a sensible pragmatism, it is tempting to be categorical on these questions.

I personally do not have a firm position, except to counsel the keeping of open minds and the examining of the evidence in the glass. I think that using dosage to fine tune a wines final RS is often more effective than to try to stop fermentation at just the perfect moment, as judged by the tasting of infantile and still-fermenting cask samples. There is nothing to say a grower can’t keep small amounts of dosage available for each lot that he thinks will eventually be wines with RS. As Peter Jost once told me, “It’s a lot of work, and in the busiest part of the harvest, but there you go!”

I often like the flavors better too, when I have the chance to compare two wines directly. If you don’t have dosage, and you want or need to adjust a wine, your options are inferior and more difficult to apply. You have to blend with a sweeter wine, which may or may not work, and which may introduce a botrytis or even an Eiswein note you may not have wanted.

The most sensible approach, perhaps, is to combine the methods. Interrupt fermentation but also keep some dosage around in case it’s needed - as it often is. But in the final analysis, I’d urge anyone to be skeptical whenever a grower is categorically certain his methods make for wines of greater “purity.” Sometimes this might be true, but the certainty is what concerns me.