Paul Draper has thrown down the gauntlet. A recent letter by Mr. Draper reads in part: “We refer to Ridge winemaking as pre-industrial and hope to encourage other fine-wine producers to voluntarily entrust their customers with a list of their ingredients.” Though not a provocative suggestion on the surface this should be considered a challenge to all competitors, follow suit in the transparent production of “fine wine.” Wineries that are significantly larger or smaller than Ridge represent different sectors of the wine market and different quality levels, while they should give serious consideration to the wisdom behind Ridge’s efforts at transparency, Mr. Draper’s letter suggests that they can be excused for abstaining from listing ingredients. Wineries in direct competition with Ridge however, should consider following Ridge’s example unless they have something to hide.
While “fine wine” is a relatively subjective term, there can be no confusion about the esteemed few producers sitting at the very top of the mountain, quality is quality. Setting aside the supreme importance of terroir and respectful vineyard practices as given, top tier wines are most often the result of traditional winemaking. Would anyone argue the methods that continue to produce the most rare bottles of Burgundy? The distinction between tradition and modernity in winemaking is especially important in the New World because the rich history of traditional Old World winemaking is, by definition, not fully applicable. Traditional winemaking (regionally & varietally based) is studied by all winemakers but because these methods have been born out of the dirt of European terroir they are not calibrated to work with the same precision on New World terroir. The rise of U.C. Davis early in the winemaking history of California spoke to this reality and suggested that a scientific approach to traditional techniques would be the best way forward in the New World. As a result, winemaking in California has evolved into a hybrid of modernity and tradition; some adhere closely to tradition while other seek to take advantage of all the wonders of modern science.
Wineries seeking to produce “fine wine” in the traditional sense, seek to express the individuality and full potential of their land through a chosen grape. As Ridge now shows, the ingredients for great wine are almost as simple as the definition. Land, grapes and man. Within the hybrid system of the New World however, many legally allowable and safe modern techniques are available to winemakers in order to rescue, enhance or otherwise manipulate wine. While these techniques can be assets for both customer and producer they can also obscure one important fact for said customer, that the land was not up to the task in some fashion. Would you consider a wine that had Ultra Purple or Velcorin to be worthy of “Grand Cru”status?
The challenge has been presented.
Read the suggestion for transparency in Ridge/Paul Draper’s own words:
Pricing on high end blue chip wines is more important than ever. Between general backlash from too many years of “greedy” pricing (especially due to losses incurred on the 2010s), Latour leaving the en primeur machine behind and the new government austerity measures being enacted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, high-end Bordeaux is facing changing times and an identity crisis of their own making. Gone are the halcyon days of setting prices that best suit the Chateau. With skittish speculators and austerity bound Chinese being pushed toward lower price points in order to adjust to their new realities, a few reality-based Chateau owners (a rare breed) are calling for “reasonable pricing and a brisk sales campaign to show that Bordeaux still knows how to offer good value to its traditional markets.” When the second wines of 1st growth Chateaux are looking more appealing than their counterpart Grand Vin, something needs adjusting.
Clos de la Marechale is wine that is no longer made by Faiveley since the end of their metayage agreement with J.F. Mugnier. Made now by Mugnier, the quality of the Marechale parcel has suffered in recent years.
But this is the 1969 effort from Faiveley and it is delicious! With near brilliant clarity, the healthy aged color progresses from brick to apricot to salmon to a watery rim. The nose shows some alluring funk w/ a leathery masculine lean. Sweet, sweet, sweet on the palate. Fruit macerated in brown sugar, sappy & tertiary. Living its golden years now, this wine has clearly reached the apogee of its capabilities. As only a quality product can, this bottle has thrived in its old age by developing that most mysterious and attractive of wine profiles, antique burgundy.
General consensus about the vintage seems to be that there is very little actual consensus. What has so far been agreed on is that Pomerol, where the early ripening Merlot allowed for harvest ahead of early October rain, has produced the highest quality and most consistent set of wines. Otherwise, the results of the vintage for each chateau seem to be a microcosm of the wider world in that, generally, “the haves” will have (good scores) and the “have nots” won’t. Terroir and human input are of utmost importance in a difficult vintage and those with the most resources find themselves in the best position facing this en primeur campaign.
This reality is summed up by Ch. Lafite technical director Charles Chevallier who reported that the chateau “had to manage every single block” as a result of the weather and that it took a reported 450 people to pick Châteaux Lafite and Duhart Milon in 9 days. “Such expense – for manpower and optical sorters – is what saved the vintage and explains why there is not a hint of green to be found in most wines.” This is echoed by another of the “haves,” Jean-Rene Matignan technical director at Pichon Baron, and put thus in his vintage report: “This will go down in Château lore as the vintage where we had to fight on all fronts.” The last important piece for these gentlemen and their colleagues, as they strive for success in the 2012 vintage, is pricing of the wines en primeur. “Appropriate pricing” will dictate the sales momentum and consumer interest that Bordeaux garners throughout the rest of the year.
Two further interesting sound bites:
-Sweet wines struggles mightily, Châteaux d’Yquem, Rieussec and Suduiraut have confirmed that they will not release grand vins in 2012.
-Malescot St. Exupery technical director Jean Zuger has admitted to the use of reverse osmosis on some tanks to concentrate the must; his admission can be taken as a hint that this is not an isolated practice.
Read the full articles:
Franco Biondi Santi carried on the legacy of his family with great passion from his famous Il Greppo estate. In the 1800s when sweet whites were the specialty of the region Franco’s great-great grandfather began making the first dry reds with Sangiovese. It was not until two generations later that Franco’s grandfather was credited with “creating” Brunello di Montalcino as we now know it. It is said that Brunello di Montalcino was invented by his grandfather, perfected by his father and defended by Franco. Read the articles below to further illuminate the life of this Italian icon.
About 3 years ago I had a revelation almost exactly like the one spoken about in the attached article, it was sparked by a 1/2 bottle of 2005 Marcel Lapierre Morgon. As with any most memorable bottle, recollection of the Lapierre calls up not only the character of the wine but also everything that was swirling around my own little microcosm that afternoon, while the wine lasted. It was a perfect crisp, clear, sunny fall day, I had just gone for a ride through the country and I was out on my parents back deck with my girlfriend. Leaves were gold, red and brown but had yet to begin to fall in earnest.
The wine was vibrant, balanced and in harmony, not only with itself, but with the day, the weather and my mood. It so seamlessly blended with the moment that my personal world of wine became more complete that day.
Beaujolais has gotten a bad wrap from the marketing bonanza sparked by the ubiquitous Beajolais nouveau. “What began as a quaint local custom of celebrating the harvest each fall by making a fruity young wine with some of the new grapes became a worldwide marketing phenomenon that changed the way many in the region grew their grapes and made their wines.” But as I can attest there is so much more to the Gamay grape and the Beaujolais region, read the article below and if you haven’t already, give Beaujolais another chance.