France should leave ‘industrial’ wines to the New World - Mas
Tuesday 29 September
Making big volume wines and trying to compete with the New World at low prices is not the way forward for France.
Speaking to the ever-passionate Jean-Claude Mas today, it was clear that despite the creation of the new vin de France which allows inter-regional blending, wines aimed at the mass market are not what France needs.
He said, “You have to be realistic. For example, if you want to make cheap leather goods you make them in Korea or China. If you want to make industrial-scale wines you make them in Chile, Argentina or South Africa where the costs are much lower. This is not suitable for the Languedoc. We are unable to make good quality wines at high yields. It would only reinvent the bad days of 30 years ago.”
While we don’t want to go back to the past of insipid reds and an overflowing wine lake, many would disagree with this, saying France should compete and the rise of inter-regional blending could create much more powerful brands, which win back some of France’s dwindling market share.
Mas doesn’t see this as a winning strategy for France or the Languedoc. If it wants to be viewed as the best wine producer in the world, it should let the New World do what it excels at while France should aim at the £5.99 and above market and, concentrate on quality.
This is probably unrealistic. France can make good value wines at entry level and it should be allowed to do it. If people are introduced to decent French quaffers at the start of their wine drinking life, it is likely they would be happy to work their way up the price ladder within the French category. At the moment a £5 French wine usually disappoints. Hopefully the creation of vin de France might see them competing with the likes of Gallo?
As an aside Gina Gallo has finally married Jean-Claude Boisset. I’m looking forward to a white Zin/Pinot blend in tetra pak sometime soon.
While Burgundy growers are claiming 2009 is going to be a good year, it could potentially have been ruined by growers picking too early.
Christophe Chauvel, chief viticulturalist at Albert Bichot said, “The vintage looks beautiful but just because the grapes looked nice that didn’t mean they were ripe. On 17 August the white grapes in Corton Charlemagne were already golden. The black grapes were already turning blue and looking ripe on 3 August.”
It is claimed the regulatory body in Burgundy, the BIVB, was too hasty in declaring an early start to the vintage and growers rushed to pick. Although sugar levels were sufficient, the seeds and skins were still unripe in some cases and there will be some producers with some ‘green’ wines and hard tannin this year.
Check out my youtube video of Philippe de Marcilly, commercial director at Albert Bichot, and his thoughts on the early harvest. I’ve just set up my you tube wine channel Check it out. I’ll be posting videos from my travels and tastings around the wine world. Need to steady my filming hand but I’ll be tracking down top names in the industry and asking them tricky questions.
After years of believing there were seven Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis, it turns out that’s not entirely true. It appears there are eight. The one that got away – La Moutonne – sits between Vaudesir and Preuses and has largely been ignored by the wine books.
All two-and-a-bit hectares of this steep south-facing vineyard are wholly owned by Burgundy negociant Albert Bichot. The ruling body of the French appellation system, the INAO, ratified it as an official appellation in 1945 but an official decree was never published. Nothing like a bit of French bureaucracy to complicate things.
The vineyard gets its name from Cistercian monks at Pontigny Abbey, which owned the vineyard until 1791. Apparently the wine gets its name from these non-abstemious monks who claimed, “after drinking this wine, one jumps like a little sheep.”
This is a little gem of a marketing tool – the forgotten Grand Cru. Most PRs would kill for such a USP. Come on Bichot.
Fudging the smudge pots
I’ve been telling all my wine students that grape growers in Chablis burn smudge pots/use aspersion systems to minimise spring frost damage. Well most growers haven’t for the past five vintages. Speaking to a viticulturalist at Bichot, it appears they have become redundant, as frosts are less common – global warming perhaps? In the eight Grand Cru vineyards, frost prevention methods are still used but in less prestigious vineyards, the cost of frost prevention isn’t justified.
New Zealand Pinot Gris is a “force to be reckoned with”, according to Villa Maria’s chief winemaker.
Considering there was hardly any Pinot Gris planted in the mid-1990s that’s a turn up for the books. There are now more than 1300 hectares planted – an increase of more than 800ha in three years. Consequently, most of the vines are pretty young and that means we haven’t seen the best yet.
Alastair Maling MW waxed lyrical about the potential of Pinot Gris at a Villa Maria event last night. “New Zealand Pinot Gris is coming together but it is still evolving. It is a very young variety in terms of planting. With vine age, we will see more concentration of flavour.
“At the moment we have to wait late for physiological ripeness so that’s why we have such high alcohol. With vine age, we will be able to pick earlier with the same flavour intensity.”
Germany vs New Zealand
When it comes to Riesling, the Kiwis are learning that they can emulate the Germans. New Zealand has the natural acidity to leave a little bit of residual sugar in their Rieslings and produce wines under 11% - or even 10%.
Maling admitted, “We were not making good Riesling back in the mid 90s. We used to pick the fruit late and were afraid to stop the ferment early but we have grown and we are prepared to experiment.”
Villa is now stopping its Riesling fermentations early, leaving a little bit of unfermented sugar in the wine and keeping the final alcohol level low.
Maling had the courage to put his Taylor’s Pass 2007 Riesling alongside Donnhoff’s Riesling (Nahe) and it stood up well. While it lacked some of the complexity of its German rival, it was lean, clean and characterful. It has high acidity and a low pH, which makes the wine seem drier than it is (27g/l residual sugar). And with 10% alcohol, it ticks the low alcohol box.
If the Kiwis can introduce the consumer back to low alcohol, off dry Rieslings, there may be hope yet for Germany. And yes, I am an eternal optimist.
Kevin Judd is in London promoting his new venture Greywacke (pronounced Greywacky). After 25 years with Cloudy Bay, Judd says he wanted ‘more time with the gum boots on and less time running reports’. But he admits it means starting from scratch again. He’s having to do everything himself – he’s the winemaker, marketing director, and IT man rolled into one.
The 2009 vintage is his first and, in the words of the Beatles, he’s getting by with a little help from his friends. He’s sourced fruit from ‘people he knows’ and has rented winery space from mates at fellow Marlborough producer Dog Point. Many of his former colleagues now work at Dog Point and it’s become affectionately termed the ‘Cloudy Bay retirement home’. Even the gardener and accountant are ex-Cloudy Bay.
In the first vintage of a new venture, you’d imagine he’d have kept things simple with a Sauvignon Blanc and perhaps a Pinot Noir. But no. Judd has made seven different wines. There’s a barrel-fermented Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and a botrytised Gewurztraminer. He’s made a Sauvignon Blanc in barrel with wild yeasts and will put two-thirds of it through malolactic fermentation to soften the harsh malic acid to softer-tasting lactic acid. It’s a Te Koko-esque approach, he says.
Judd’s first offering is his 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. It’s grassy, gooseberry-ish with heaps of lemon citrus and mouthwatering acidity. There’s about 4-5 grams of residual sugar giving a fuller mouthfeel.
He may be starting from scratch but with a quarter of a century heading up the country’s most prestigious wine operation, he’s certainly got things off the ground quickly. David Gleave MW, MD of Liberty Wines has taken on his wines, he’s just got a Danish importer, looks set to gain distribution in Hong Kong and Tokyo, and is on his way to the US next week to talk to a major distributor. Doors open for you even in an economic crisis if your name is Judd. And deservedly so.