This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Some months since a friend presented me with a copy of "Husmann on the Vine;" and after a careful perusal I am convinced that it is a reliable teacher, and based upon actual experience. In the preparation of his work, Mr. Husmann, however, seems to have ignored the existence of European writers; and as I have reason to believe that the experience of some of the most reliable of the Continental observers may prove of value to some of your readers, I propose contributing an occasional communication giving their views, and shall condense as far as practicable the language of the parties quoted. As doctors differ, I shall give both sides of the subject, when I deem such course warranted, and allow your readers to judge of the merits and demerits of the practice. Our old friend "Horticola" translated "Mohr on the Vine;" and I trust that he may be induced to favor American vigne-rons with a translation of "Mohr on Wine," as this scientific and valuable work should be placed within the reach of those who are not conversant with the German language.
The use of gypsum was known to the ancients, and its addition to wine has the sanction of ages. As experience is a valuable teacher, the use of this substance is worthy of consideration, more especially as the fault of the American wine seems to be the presence of too much acid.
The question of adding to an important article like wine a foreign substance is one of moment. This question was recently discussed by the Chamber of Commerce of Montpelier, and the experiments of Chancel, Berard, and Cauvey were referred to. The wine of Castelnau having been made the subject of experiment, gave the following results:
Weight of Ashes.
Natural wine .......................
. 9.048 grains.
Wine with pure gypsum ..........................
. 2.740 "
Salts contained in the Ashes of the Wine.
Wine with pure Gypsum.
Soluble .. -
Sulphate of potass
Carbonate of potass..
• • • • .040
Phosphate of potass..
Phosphate of lime ... " " magnesia
• • • • .980
• • • • .064
• • • • .064
• • • .084
Silica and sesqaioxyd of iron ..............
These analytical results require explanation. The solid residue of evaporation was burned and the ashes analyzed, as the most simple mode of determining the effects produced by the gypsum; but the results must not be received as given above, for the carbonate of potass represents the su-pertartrate of potass which was decomposed by the process of combustion, and consequently reduced in weight. The analysis settled the most important point this was, that wine heated with gypsum contained no new ingredient, and that the gypsum added may be considered nil, because it is entirely changed into sulphate of potass.
From the action of the sulphate of potass on the human system, the slight quantity contained in wine so treated can have no injurious effect. The action of sulphate of potass, like tartar, is that of a laxative, and the quantity contained in wine so treated can exert no injurious influence whatever.
Count Odart asserts that if gypsum is used in moderate quantity, there could be no injury from it; but it is often used in the most censurable quantity. According to this writer, at the base of the Pyrenees it is added in the proportion of two pints and a half to twenty-two gallons of wine. It is acknowledged that the effect of the plaster is to preserve the wine from acidity, and to increase the intensity of its color.
According to Dr. Dijon (an analogue-of standing), the only beneficial effect of the gypsum is to preserve from acidity the-wines of the south, which are sweet and saccharine and liable to this degeneration.. Wines, according to Dr. Dijon, saturated with gypsum lose none of their good qualities, and may attain a great age, as is evidenced by the wines of Roussinon and Spain; and it would be wrong to call such wines insalubrious on this account, as the. small amount of free gypsum they contain, is actually less than is found in many springs.
According to the experiments of M. Julien, the wine to which no gypsum was added at the drawing of the vat, was quite acid in the month of August, while that which received the gypsum was quite sound.
M. Bergasse (du Var), a proprietor and. wine merchant, and an author of a treatise in which he discusses this subject in a masterly manner, remarks: "I was shocked the first time I saw put in practice a proceeding which seemed to belong to the ages of barbarism, and I even declined, buying wine of proprietors who had made use of gypsum. But when I found that wines treated in this way had a more lively and decided color, and that if the presence: of the gypsum could be detected at the drawing of the vats, the peculiar taste which it gave rise tended to disappear in proportion as the lees were deposited; when, besides, I found that after long voyages there remained not a trace of it, and that the wine possessed a fine color and decided softness, I became persuaded that the gypsum, without doubt, produced good effects under certain circumstances." . M. Joigneau, in La live de la Ferme, discussing the wines of the south of France, says that the gypsum should be added at the time of the crushing the grapes, or immediately after. The proper quantity, according to M. Mares, is four pounds to 154 gallons of wine.
In Rousillon and Nar-bonne the coarse, dark wines for mixing - the dearest and most sought after in commerce - have gypsum added to the vat in proportion of from nine to twenty pounds to 154 gallons of wine.
At the congress of vignerons in 1845, M. Baumes stated that good wine to which gypsum was added loses its body and delicacy, becoming hard, sharp, and astringent ; that it parches the throat and provokes thirst. He condemned it as injurious to health and conducing to fraud.
The advocates for the use of gypsum, on their part, assert that wine to which it has been added is better, of a more lively color, keeps better, and is every way superior to that without such addition. Such is the positive opinion of M. Mares. Over twenty years since, at the congress of Dijon, M. Cozalis Allut maintained that wines treated with gypsum clarified and kept much better than those which were made without such addition. On the same occasion, M. Baume de Nimes stated that they had used the gypsum at St. Gil-les, and since they had done so, the wines of the Cotiere de Vauvert, which were very inferior, were now sought after by merchants ; and he affirmed that the gypsum prevented the ascescence of the wine made from the Bourre and the Aramon.
M. Maumene thus expresses himself on the use of gypsum: "Experience shows that the red color becomes stronger the more the contact of the wine with the skins is prolonged; but under, such circumstances it is necessary to reduce the activity of the fermentation, and gypsum possesses the power of doing so. It transforms the salts of potass in the wine into insoluble salts of lime and soluble sulphate of potass. This change may be of great importance, because many chemists attribute to the tartar or supertartrate of potass the property of holding the ferment in solution, while the sulphate or potass does not possess this power. Finally, the gypsum very often contains a certain portion of carbonate of lime, and this carbonate, in neutralizing the acid of the tartar, assists, no doubt, to cause the deposition of the ferment which this salt held in solution".
The use of gypsum is an ancient practice, is common on the Continent, and has received the sanction of some of the best authorities, and it seems to us worthy of the notice of American vignerons. To the uninitiated we can most positively state that any compounds resulting from its addition will be found innocuous.