Old Country Bread

LeadDog's picture

 One day I decided to use my plastic proofing basket that the dough always stuck in to make bread.  I had read that high hydration breads tend to stick in these baskets so I figure if I did a normal 67% hydration bread that it might just work out alright.  I had some bread flour left over and thought I would just use that for the dough.  The flour wasn't enough for the simple formula that I had come up with so I said to myself no problem I'll just add in a little bit of my home milled flour.  It was a winter night when I mixed it up and the house and water were cold.  I had left out dough on the counter over night before when the house is cold and it rises just right during the time I'm sleeping.  That is what I did with the first loaf that I made this way.  When I got up in the morning it had fully raised so I baked the bread.  That bread had such a wonderful flavor I just had to figure out what I had done to make it taste that way.  I started looking at bread books and reading about breads that were similar in technique to the bread I had made.  In the end I came to the conclusion that I had combined two different techniques to make my bread.  I think if a person would translate the names of these breads from French to English you would get Old Country Bread but I'm not sure.  Here is a picture of the last loaf that I made, I think it is just beautiful.

The Dough

Ingredient Metric Imperial Baker's Percentage
Bread Flour 438 grams 15.46 oz 85.05%
Whole Wheat Flour 77 grams 2.72 oz 14.95%
Water 345 grams 12.18 oz 66.99%
Salt 10 grams 0.35 oz 1.94%
Preferment 67% hydration 129 grams 4.55 oz 25.05%
Total Flour Weight:
515 grams

Percentages are relative to flour weight (flour equals 100%) and every other ingredient is a percentage of this. Flour from the starter is not counted. This recipe was originally in grams and has been automatically converted to other measures.


 The only question after I had made the first bread was could I do it again or would the discovery be lost forever?  I have made the bread four times now and the last bread is very close to the first bread that I made so I feel that this is what makes it taste so good.

The starter is a 100% whole wheat starter kept at 50% hydration.  When I want to make bread I take a piece of it and feed it bread flour and water at the 67% hydration level.  This is done in two builds at 8 to 12 hour intervals because I want the starter to be fully active.

The dough is mixed up in the evening so it can be put into the refrigerator over night.  First I take and mix the preferment in with cold water and our water is cold because it is winter.  Possible alternative is to use ice water.  Then I mixed in the flours and salt.  The dough was mixed until the gluten had developed.  I then put the dough into an oiled bowl and rolled the dough around in the oil to coat it.  I put a plate on top of the bowl and placed it into the refrigerator.  The dough had a couple of stretch and folds done to it that night.  The next morning I take it out of the refrigerator and look at the dough, it hasn't raised a bit.  I place the bowl on the table and go to work.  When I get home from work the dough has raised about half way, the house way really cold that day.  I place the bowl in a warm water bath to help get the show on the road.  Three hours later I shaped the dough and placed it in the proofing basket that is first oiled then dusted with rice flour.  I let the dough proof in the basket for almost two hour.  The basket was placed into a warm oven with the light on and covered with a tea towel.

Cooking is done at 460°F for 45 minutes.  First the oven is heated up to 460°F with a cooking stone in the oven.  When the oven is ready I inverted the dough over onto some parchment paper then slashed.  I love how the slashes turned out on the last loaf they remind me of bamboo leaves and very artistic.  The dough is then placed in the oven and covered with a roasting pan lid.  I cook the bread covered for 30 minutes then I remove the lid.  The bread has a nice deep redish brown color to it that I really like.  I heard somewhere that the darker brown colors of a bread's crust has more flavor.  This bread looks like I have cooked it to long but there is nothing wrong with the flavors of the bread.  When I grab the bread out of the oven the crust is crisp but when squeezed it cracks and gives way to the soft crumb underneath it.  The whole house fills with the aroma a wonderful toasty wheat smell, cutting the bread will have to wait until tomorrow  when it has cooled down.

Still some new areas to explore by using different whole grain starters to make this bread.  The adventure in exploring bread has only just begun.

353 users have voted.


rossnroller 2010 January 16

So, in comparing your "old country bread" with my/David's "pain de campagne", we have the same proportion of starter, but otherwise there are significant differences in the dough composition. Most notably:

  • you use 15% whole wheat flour; I use 9.5% whole-grain rye
  • your dough is 67% hydration; mine is 72%
  • These differences notwithstanding, I suspect the most significant difference - the one that most affects the qualities of the bread itself - is your technique. It sounds very intriguing, but unfortunately, I can't envisage a way of replicating it at the moment, because it's summer here and the inside temperature of my place is around 30C! That's annoying, because I was looking forward to trying out your bread and comparing the flavour, texture etc with mine (and with other similar breads I rank at the top of those I have made so far - do love this type of bread).

    I could use iced water of course, but the post-fridge-retardation cold-temp bulk proof is the stumbling block. Room temperature here is way too warm right now. Oh well, this will have to wait until winter, but it will be the first one I try once the ambient temps get down enough.


Millciti's picture
Millciti 2010 January 17

Or maybe you should call it Rustic Winter New Country Sourdough... It looks really yummy!  I like your wheat-like slashes.   Thanks for sharing, I will definitely give it a try, since I will have no problems with the right conditions!    We too, are deep into Winter here, and my bread has been benefitting from longer cooler rises.  I have been so busy lately that I only seem to have time to peek in or lurk.  But I have still been baking and my bread has been fabulous lately.

Ross, try using a Cooler or Ice chest with a rack and an Ice pack to retard the loaf.  If it is too cold you can crack the cooler open just a little bit.  By the way Ross, I will try and post my Almost White Recipe soon, just for you!  Can you get Durum Flour or fine Semolina where you are?



rossnroller 2010 January 17

Hi Millciti

I've got so many breads I want to try, I'm OK waiting for winter conditions rather than going with the cooler or ice chest - but thanks for the suggestions.

Yeah, we can get most flours here. I have semolina and durum semolina (not durum flour, though - must check on availability of that) and have made breads using both - and yes, please do post your 'almost white' recipe!

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 17

 Pain a l'Ancienne is found on page 191 in BBA and according to online translators is French for old bread.  This is where I got the idea for cold water.  Let me give the details for what mixing with cold water and storing in a cold refrigerator does to the dough.

The technique by which this bread is made has tremendous implications for the baking industry and for both professional and home bakers.  The unique delayed-fermentation method, which depends on the ice-cold water, releases flavors trapped in flour in a way different from the more traditional twelve-stage method.  The final product has a natural sweetness and nutlike character this is distinct from breads made with exactly the same ingredients.

This bread shows us another way to manipulate time, and thus outcomes, by manipulating temperature.  The cold mixing and fermentation cycles delay the activation of the yeast until after the amylase enzymes have begun their work of breaking out sugar from the starch.  When the dough is brought to room temperature and the yeast wakes up and begins feasting, it feeds on sugars that weren't there the day before.  Because the yeast has converted less of the released sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide, a reserve of sugar remains in the fermented  dough to flavor it and caramelize the crust during the baking cycle.  ...  While this delayed-fermentation method doesn't work for every dough, ... used appropriately, it evokes the fullness of flavor from the wheat beyond any other fermentation method I've encountered.

 @Ross now you get to start playing around with different whole grains and the percentages that you put into a bread to see how it impacts the flavor.  I too make breads with about 10% whole rye and like them.  The lower hydration was to keep the dough from sticking to the plastic basket.  BBA's Pain a l'Ancienne is 79.6% hydration.  Now you see what makes the flavors isn't the cold fermentation so give the bread a try.  I know I'm going to be having some fun trying different whole grains and percentages to white flour.  I have red and white winter wheat, spelt, and rye.


Right now I'm changing my starter a little bit and feeding it a combination of different flours.  This will be interesting to see how it impacts the flavors.

rossnroller 2010 January 17

Didn't take much, did it? Will try this lovely-looking bread v soon. I'll use iced water, retard overnight, then reduce the bulk proof time to about 3 hours (in the middle of a heatwave here - any longer and it will be over-proofed), and confine the final proof to about an hour or a bit more. So, won't be duplicating your method exactly, but as close as I can.

BTW, I don't know why you say that "what makes the flavors isn't the cold fermentation." Going by the BBA quotes you've posted, the cold fermentation does contribute significantly to the flavour. Isn't the overnight retardation followed by the slow cold bulk-proof the main difference between this and other similar breads? Just curious - interested in your clarification on this...



LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 17

 I'm thinking that there isn't any fermentation going on as long the dough is freezing cold.  The fermentation is delayed until the dough starts to warm up.  One thing I curios about is how long a person can leave the dough in this cold state before you need to warm it up and how that would impact the dough.  BBA doesn't give any mention about this time consideration.  My starter is out getting built up for another loaf of this bread.  I put some whole grain flour into the starter and will try different whole grain flours in the bread.  When I get comfortable with making a good loaf along these lines I might see what 36 hours in the refrigerator does to the dough.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 January 18

... "what makes the flavors isn't the cold fermentation," he is referring to Peter Reinhart's statement that, "... When the dough is brought to room temperature and the yeast wakes up and begins feasting, it feeds on [color=red]sugars that weren't there the day before[/color].  Because the yeast has converted less of the released sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide, [color=red]a reserve of sugar remains in the fermented  dough to flavor it[/color] and caramelize the crust during the baking cycle...."    Now, because the icy water would not completely render the dough in freezing temperature, I would tend to agree with you that, while there may be little fermentation, there is still some happening (once flour hits that water, it's all happening...).  But I think Peter Reinhart (and LeadDog) say what they said to make a point that,

(1) on day one when the dough was first mixed with the icy water, the sugar had not been released in a big way for the yeast to feast on (feasting = fermentation), 

(2) that the feasting happened more when the yeast was woken up; 

(3) that in the short, room temperature, warming up stage of fermentation, the yeast could not consume all the sugar that was present, and

(4) that the remaining sugar was left to flavor the dough.

And that is why dough made this way is more "sweet," however subtle that may be, than dough made with other method.

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 18

 shiao-ping funny thing is I did a search on Pain a l'Ancienne to see how long the dough can be kept in the refrigerator before the dough needs to start fermenting.  I came across your first post on here, I think, and my comment about if you thought you got more flavor doing the bread that way.  Seems this thread has come full circle now.  I stubbled into this flavor part of making bread while working on a totally different problem for my bread making.

Fermentation in cold temperatures is like you said either very slow or not at all.  We do a cold soak on crushed grapes at work before we start the fermentation.  It is generally felt at below 40°F there is no fermentation going on.  Either way it doesn't really matter because I'm after the nice flavor it makes by doing this.

Next batch of starter is just about ready to go for the next round of Old Country Bread.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 January 18

... how long the dough can be kept in the refrigertor before it needs to start fermenting (and be baked eventually).  You know the famous No-Knead method leaves their dough in the fridge for anything up to two weeks!!   And that's using IDY.  Before we answer your question, we can look into (and I know this is a different question but, I think, related) how long can a starter be left in the fridge untouched (and still be alive and happy).   Many variables are at play here: what is the starter culture as a % of flour added (ie, how much food is there for the culture), what is the hydration, and what type of flour is used.   For our dough that you are asking, I think the issues are somewhat similar.   But I bet if we go the full two weeks the dough would not be very "strong" in the sense that there may be some sort of degradation in the gluten structure.  But I don't know.  We need an expert like Debra Wink to answer this question.   Suffice it to say that a few days (3 - 4) should be safe and benefitial.  Look at that beautiful bread Johnny had turned out using the flexible sourdough timetable that SourDom suggested.   

On the subject of flavor, I really don't know if there is an universal standard of superior flavor.  More and more I am undecided.   My neighbourhood just recently has had a French-style village bakery open.   This morning I went with my son to have their plain sourdough and what a lovely bread that is, a classic Pain au Levain type of bread.  The sourness is there, but almost undistinquishable.  The flavor is so "creamy."  I am not kidding.  The acidity is almost all lactic acedity.   Now, to an American, this sourdough is probably a fail.  To many Australians, it is probably a fail too.   I love this bread whole-heartedly.   But this doesn't mean anything.  It just means that [b]that[/b] is my taste for flavor.  More and more, too, I find if something hits you in the face in the first instance chances are that that won't be long lasting.   If a bread looks plain, but when we chew on a piece of it the aroma and flavor compounds continue to unfold and linger as we chew, surely that is a good bread.   And this bread, chances are that, cannot be made in a hurry.  This is where I think you have the right idea....  a [b]slow[/b] fermentation (and towards that end, controlling the dough temperature, using ice water, etc) is a key.  Or, may be it is at the starter level that we have to go [b]slowly[/b] - a few feedings and refreshes perhaps, instead of just one.

Just a few thoughts.


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 18

 BBA in the Grace note says it can be kept in the refrigerator for three days.  It is possible that is in reference to the pizza dough you can make from that formula.  It will be interesting to see what happens when I start leaving the dough in the refrigerator longer.  You are right there are many variables that can impact what is going to happen to the dough.  Right now I'm going to keep it simple and make one change at a time.  This time I'm using some ideas I picked up from MC's interview of Gerard Rubaud.  I used whole grain flours in my starter so they make up 30% of the flour.  

Yes there was a bread that I think you referred to in your first post that Johnny made that I'm going to look at.  When will I have time to read all of this stuff?  But it is fun exploring these areas of bread making.

Flavor is as varied as there are people.  Being in the wine industry we study peoples palates so I know that one style doesn't fit all.  I imagine that many different types of bread can be made this way and the acids can be controlled by the type of starter one uses.  Someone just needs to work the details out.

mondomama 2010 January 18

 Fascinated with the cold mixing & fermentation process and the possible effects on flavour. I've been enjoying reading this discussion.

 I'm pleased with my bake today and can't wait to cut into the loaf.

mondomama 2010 January 18

Well, I was going to be self disciplined and wait until tomorrow to cut - however, husband came home and helped himself.  Needless to say I was pretty quick on the crumb shot as otherwise there may have been none left!

This bread is delicious. Crust is full of flavour, crumb moist, chewy, tasty and with a depth of flavour.

Thank you LeadDog for this recipe. One to be tweaked and practiced and enjoyed as a staple bread in the week I think.

Unfortunately my camera isn't the best and this image flared out a bit. The colour is much more buttery with gorgeous wholemeal flecks. 

rossnroller 2010 January 19

I would have responded before now, but didn't notice your post for some reason.

Yes, I understand the points you make. I had looked up the relevant parts of The BBA soon after reading LeadDog's statement about the cold fermentation not "making the flavours". I think any difference in opinion/perception here is merely a matter of phrasing. I guess I should have added the word "indirectly" to my comment that the cold fermentation "contributes to the flavour." Anyway, thanks for the extra detail!

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 January 25

You said in this post,

In the end I came to the conclusion that I had combined two different techniques to make my bread.

One technique is the cold fermentation (or delayed fermentation) as in pain a l'ancienne.  What is the other technique? 

And by the way, pain a l'ancienne means [color=blue]bread in the old style or in the old way[/color] as was explained to me [b]here[/b].


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 26

The other bread is pain de campagne also found in BBA.  This bread, in BBA, had 15% whole grain added to it and that is what I did to my bread also.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 January 26

... to make a bread.   I surprise myself how little we need to do with regards to a dough to make a good bread.   I mean, your first bread in this thread where you left the dough on a counter in a cold winter night with a couple of sets of folds the next day and final proof, the bread turned out beautiful.   Look at this Light Rye & Light Wholemeal bread, there was no kneading, only one set of S&F's of 30 strokes during 1 hour bulk, followed by 6 hours proofing!  My actual hands-on time with the dough was very little.  Look at how much volume there is in the bread.    Of course this is only possible in a levain bread because acidity in the levain helps with the gluten and gives the dough strength.  This method would not be workable for a normal yeasted bread. 

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 27

I agree it is amazing how little work a person needs to do to make really good bread.  The last loaf that I made that contained barley flour turned out to have lots of volume.  The dough was put in the fridge for 24 hours after mixing.  Then after it was taken out of the fridge it was another 23 hours before it was baked.  I worry about over proofing and making to much acid but the bread turned out fine.  It made me think my starter is weak but it will triple in size when I feed it.  I'm really off in areas that I didn't ever think were possible in fermenting  the bread.

Tonight I'm mixing up my next version of bread with barley flour.  I had lots of comments here at work how flavorful the last bread with barley flour was.  I'm going to try to get a little bit more acid flavor in the bread then I'll be happy.

rossnroller 2010 January 27

Of the different techniques I have tried, though, I haven't really figured out the effects of each on the final bread beyond a few basic observations. I find myself enthusing over this bread, then that bread, and it seems that my new 'favourite' is whatever I've just tried! 

Like many, I suspect, I've gotten into the habit of taking notes on every bread I bake, but although this certainly assists in tweaking and fine-tuning particular breads, it isn't an accurate record of the details of flavour, texture etc. Words are hopelessly inadequate to the task of accurately and meaningfully describing flavour. How do you recall a sensual experience without engaging the senses involved in that experience? Well, you can't. Poetry and lyricism are the modes of language that come closest in the hands of a skilled exponent, but really, you have to rely largely on memory, and with the endless varieties and techniques of bread-baking, if you keep trying new breads and bake twice or more per week, that's some ask!

Anyway, you've gotta be grateful for this sort of dilemma, and I am! Sourdough is so forgiving, and once you get the hang of it and develop 'feel' you can almost guarantee gorgeous bread time after time. Almost...start thinking it's you who's responsible rather than a marvellous tradition inherited through centuries (ie: the process and a good recipe), and the gods will step in and smack you down. They gave me a sharp reminder of that recently with LeadDog's Old Country bread. Another lesson learnt!


shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 January 27
... in my starter.   People talk about bread being made up of 3 (or 4) basic ingredients - but as far as I am concerned there is only ONE key ingredient, and they are the little beasties in the starter.  If you know them well, you’ve got beautiful bread.  They are the ones who make (or break) the bread!   People talk about bulk fermenting so many hours or proofing so many hours, these talks are potentially meaningless if we do not understand the circumstances surrounding which the hours of bulk or proof become necessary.  Formulae are important only to the extent that they act as guidelines, and nothing more.  Formulae exist for people like us who have not yet fully grasped the principles on which the workings of the little beasties are based.   Once we figure out the principles, we need no formulae or guidelines. Do you know what "moving target" means?  I don't.  I mean I cannot articulate what it means.  But I think I roughly know what it is for or how it can be useful.  Fermentation is a "moving target" in that it moves with your ambient temperature, dough temperature, what food the beasties are fed, at what quantity, what frequency, how much hydration there is to make sugar (starch) available to the beasties... etc. etc.   From one formula we cannot see a pattern or any pattern, but if we compare many formulae, we can start to see some pattern. When you are moving from this formula to that formula, do you stop to try and see if there is any pattern emerging?  Like Helen Hunt’s “What Woman Wants,” we want to get inside the head of where it all begins.  To me, sourdough bread is all about the starter, the CPU of computer in a bread.As for flavour, I am with you. 
LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 28

Working in the wine industry I see lots of people who think the winemaker has a great impact on the out come of the wine.  The real truth is it is the beasties that do all the hard work to make wine and they get no credit.  Shiao-Ping your post is right on target.

dimitry1 2010 January 28

This is so true, on my first few bakes I followed the recipe to the T and my bread was starting to fall before I placed it into the WFO. Each starter works in a different ways one is fester than the other, so although the instructions are a good starting point but we need to know and feel our dough. Bread baking is like playing a violin you have to hear the music and feel it there is no guides were to place your finger you just become one with the instrument, likewise with the bread you need to feel the action and respond according.



shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 January 28

... the great wine makers are those who know how to let their beasties do the work.  The wine makers are just assisting on the side.  Without knowing their beasties well, they cannot assit them properly.    

rossnroller 2010 January 28

Just want to clarify that when I referred to "a marvellous tradition inherited through centuries (ie: the process and a good recipe)", 'process' includes everything to do with baking sourdough - including the starter! Maybe that word could be interpreted as interchangeable with 'procedure' - but I was using the term broadly. And of course, I agree that the starter is vitally important, but I think it's over-stating the case to contend that once you understand the nature of the yeast, all else follows and you can simply use intuition to bake wonderful bread.

I agree with Hamelman that bread baking is not an art - bakers are artisans, not artists. That is, baking is a craft rather than an art, and the good baker's task is to learn every aspect of that craft and apply it in the cause of baking great bread. That craft encompasses the entire process of bread baking, within which there is certainly much scope for 'creativity' and self-expression (as Shiao-Ping demonstrates time after time with her bakes). However, to privilege one part of that process - the starter - as the key to the entire kingdom is to demean the rest of the process in my opinion.

Sure, with wine-making, bread-baking and any fermentation process, the yeast is the unsung hero - the winemaker, baker, cheesemaker etc get all the accolades! But without the rest of the process, and the expertise that goes into it, the final product would not exist! Further, while the yeast is of primary importance, the importance of the artisan who oversees the rest of the process cannot be denied. Surely, it is the input of the baker or winemaker that makes the difference between an average or good bread/wine and an outstanding one?

I have baked enough nice bread now to have a good idea of some procedures and formulae that work. (Also, cooking has been my main interest for many years, and I believe some intuitive aspects are transferrable to other modes of cooking - like baking...note: I rarely weigh anything in my cooking, but that's a different conversation!). I have two good, healthy active starters that have served me so well I feel great affection for them - we all love our starters! However, to use an extreme example to illustrate the point, put my starter in the hands of a tremendously informed and talented baker who has a lifetime of experience feeding his/her intuition (as well as his/her starter!), and it is likely that they'd produce a better bread than I. The reasons are obvious.

Further, in my view, while intuition is another vital ingredient in the bread baking/wine making process, that is not to say that accurate measuring of ingredients in some way implies that the baker who uses scales is necessarily less intuitive than the one who mixes by instinct. There are times in the process at which my intuition kicks in: for example, adding flour or water to tweak a dough consistency, or deviating from a recipe to alter bulk proof times due to the influence of ambient temperature, or altering oven temperature to get the crust I want. I weigh all my ingredients, though, and take notes in relation to each bake so I can replicate a bread I particularly like, or change aspects of it to improve it. This is part of the craft, and of my working to further develop my understanding of it - and that doesn't negate or undermine the intuitive element of baking. In fact, I believe it enhances it, because you're starting from a position of proven strength each time you bake. The basic mix taken care of, that allows room for intuitive input to add that special elusive 'X factor' that is present in all truly outstanding bread. And here, we conjoin in our views, for we are entering a realm of mystique that makes baking (and all yeast-based produce) so fascinating, and so exciting.

Most interesting discussion. Enjoying it.

shiao-ping's picture
shiao-ping 2010 January 28

We are on the same page.  I agree to ALL your points.  Maybe the difference is only at the degree of emphasis.   I'd be the first to trot out a calculater and to measure all ingredients to one-tenth of a gram if I can.   All elements in the process are important.   On the other hand, we also know that these can be flexible too.   You said it yourself that sourdoughs are very "giving" - we (the bakers) may not do great every time but the bread seem to turn out fine each time.  Maybe I should say we (the bakers) are as important as the beasties - we are the one who overseas the "process."


p.s. Not "giving,"  I meant in my head "forgiving."


rossnroller 2010 January 28

Hahaha - yes, we always seem to end up in agreement. Any variance in views is probably a function of communication. Written communication does have its weaknesses.

Like you, I reckon all parts of the process are important, as is baker intuition and of course quality of ingredients. And yeah, fortunately, SD is indeed pretty forgiving! If it was a precise science rather than a flexible process with a mystical element, it would be less accessible for most of us, less tantalising, and altogether less enjoyable!


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 28

 Oh I just have to say something about winemaking.  The key to making great wine is to start out with the best grapes.  The winemaker's job is to keep it from turning to vinegar.  The winemaker can have an impact on how a wine turns out but not as much as people think.  In the industry it is common to hear that the grapes account for 75% to 85% of the way a wine turns out.  I think there is a link there to bread making.  You can't make great bread with bad ingredients.

When I make wine I don't view myself as a winemaker but as being on the anti-vinegar patrol.  Great discussion glad to be able to read other peoples thoughts on these issues.

rossnroller 2010 January 28

LeadDog, it may well be correct that "the grapes account for 75% to 85% of the way a wine turns out", but isn't the brillance of the finished tale in that other 15%? And isn't this where the winemaker excels or otherwise?

What makes a great wine classic great? Great grapes, of course, and I would think extraordinary natural conditions, such as the right soil and a special micro-climate on the side of a hill that gets exactly the right amount of sunlight or whatever to bring out the very best in the grapes...but isn't the expertise of the winemaker also vital to the finished product?

To return to Dimitri's violin analogy, a Stradivarius in the hands of an amateur violinist is probably going to sound pretty good, but only a virtuoso like Yehudi Menuhin is going to be able to truly conjure the magic out of the instrument.

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 28

 In my opinion there are some really great wines made by ordinary winemakers because they have good grapes to start with.  Also in my opinion there are very few outstanding winemakers that can make the magic happen to a wine that will take it above and beyond what an ordinary winemaker will have done.  So yes there are some great winemakers but not as many as you think.  There are to many winemakers that will say the wines really just make themselves.  The real skill of the winemaker is being able to handle problem batches of wines and keep them so that they can be sold to market as wine and not vinegar.  Have you ever noticed some wineries sell vinegar?

rossnroller 2010 January 28

I'm not one of those who thinks there are a lot of good winemakers around. As with anything, mediocrity rules, and the extreme exceptions - both good and bad - are at the tapering outer ends of the bell curve. Yehudi Menuhins only come along once in a while!

To be honest, I think Australia does good cheap-end and mid-range wines extremely well, and in my experience there are not many instances of 'vinegar' here unless you get a corked bottle or are buying wino swill under $5 (and even at that low price, there are plenty of palatable ones around...especially in cleanskins, where you can score some outstanding bargains).

But to clarify, you're not saying that the legendary acclaimed winemakers are just lucky enough to be working with top quality grapes? I'm not a winemaker as you are, and know little about the details of the process - perhaps the role of the winemaker is far more passive than I imagine?

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 28

 Yes some legendary winemakers are honest enough to tell the grower that it is the grapes that make the wine great.  There are bidding wars over the grapes of the top vineyards because the wineries know that they can make great wines from those grapes.

I have had the honor to work with a winemaker that could do the magic with the wine but he still gave lots of credit to the vineyards and the grapes.

When I said vinegar I meant vinegar.  The bottles have right on the label red wine vinegar and it doesn't sell for as much as a bottle of wine.  Other wineries sell their bad wine to distilleries to be made into high proof alcohol.  The role of the winemaker can be very passive when it comes to the wine but they do have a lot of other duties that are very important and keep them busy.

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