Yes, I had a tease in my last posting so I might as well get it off my chest. But please, read between the lines because this is not a negative article. It’s just factual!
What am I talking about? Well, my beloved Burgundy. What else? There are few people on this planet that have consumed more Red and White Burgundy then yours truly. Partly because I was lucky and partly because of my drinking habits. All roads lead to Burgundy is how the old saying goes. It certainly did in my case. It’s the wine that inspires me even today and it was the inspiration for launching my own label. I hope you all remember this first paragraph but if it’s only a sentence you absorb then it should be the next one. The greatest wine experiences I have ever had and the greatest wines I have ever tasted come from the Cote d’ Or, that magical place more commonly known as Burgundy.
Now that you know my true feelings, why not consider a few not talked about facts and answer this question before we explore them together: Is Burgundy the greatest place on earth to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay? I have pondered this question over and over and I come to the same conclusion: NO! Why, then, after my comments on how great the wines can be, would I have the gall to make such a statement? Because it’s true.
First and foremost, Burgundy rarely achieves what we consider ripeness, phenolic or any other such type you would care to expound. We hear a lot about phenolic ripening so I’ll stay there for a minute or two. This term, set forth first I believe in Bordeaux (can’t even find a decent meal in Bordeaux), is hog wash. I have made wines from green seeds, half green seeds and fully brown seeds. I have made wine when the stems were green, half brown and fully brown. The point is one size doesn’t fit all and that approach has led us down a dark path to some terrible wines. I may be getting off the subject some but it’s because of this attitude we have winemakers producing wines that are overly acidified or adding tremendous amounts of water for what they call “re-hydration”, spinning off alcohol, adding super yeasts, and taking whatever grape varietal you’re trying to make out of its flavor zone. How does this all equate to Burgundy, that magical place I talked about in that first paragraph? Burgundy never has to spin off alcohol because it rarely achieves enough ripeness. Once in a blue moon does it acidify because it has plenty of acid. They would never consider adding water…to re-hydrate what? Burgundy has what I call “Sun Envy”. We, on the other hand, have an over abundance of Sun. They do not have irrigation (not needed) and it’s against some stupid law (for another day)! They get over 15 inches of average rain fall and therein lies the problem. In most vintages, they just don’t get enough sun to ripen or achieve adequate finished alcohols. So what is one to do? Add sugar, that’s what. This age old process is called chapalization and it’s against California wine making laws (also ridiculous). Not that we need to do it. But sometimes I wonder what politicians are thinking. So, Burgundy, in order to achieve balance of fruit vs. acid vs. tannins vs. alcohol, adds sugar to achieve harmony and a finished product that is well…drinkable!
Now, I will shock you. Thank goodness for chapalization! Because of this process, Burgundy has achieved some of the greatest wines ever made. But without it, is it the best place to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay? I have tasted more bad Burgundy in my day than good. The same can be said for every wine making region in the world. But when you add price into the equation then it becomes magnified. The expectations are rightfully higher and when not delivered the disappointments are glaring.
We talked about “Terroir” (place). The difference in quality is just meters apart from one another in vineyard terms. There is a universal acceptance that one vineyard is Grand Cru and one is not, just paces away from one another. Is it always so? No! Is the addition of sugar bolstering the mystique of Place? Without the ability to do so, because of existing law, I can’t say. But it is a legitimate question unless you’re in Burgundy or around an overzealous bunch of collectors who feel they know all and the question should not be asked labeling you a nefarious person, so damn the facts! Lively discussion about such things is healthy and the downplaying of this subject is only harmful. Perception is reality and when you have bought in to one way of thinking and have invested so much time and credibility to that subject, it’s hard to admit a mistake. All I’m saying is this place, known as Burgundy, left on its own without the use of sugar would be, well, mediocrity. The California cool climate regions can make wine without sugar, acid, cultivated yeast and induced malo conversions. The only thing we need is water, which during the growing season is not overly abundant I’m afraid. But it comes from our own aquifers and is indigenous to the land. So it is not artificial and is still in “place”. It’s one man’s opinion, but, I stand by the facts.
In closing I want all to know…I LOVE BURGUNDY…and always will. I am grateful to the many friends I have there and their great abilities and their willingness to make world class wines. I hope they never change the rules because in the end it’s what’s in the glass that’s important!
Cheers to all,