La revue du vin de France (RVF) reports on a session during Vinexpo (June 19, 2013) focusing on the Chinese approach to wine. Moderated by RVF editor Denis Saverot, the discussion extended beyond questions of taste differences to the definition of quality and the potential of the Chinese market.
Senior RVF taster Olivier Poels indicated that top French wines were sought out for prestige, “not at all for their taste.” He suggested the Chinese prefer tea with food, turning to alcoholic beverages later in the meal. Acquiring a predilection for wines of quality, Poels concluded, “requires a long apprenticeship.” He was also critical of many Chinese wines, saying some harvest when grapes are still green, and that many wines are riddled with faults or “undrinkable.” It will take another 50 years, he claims, for China to produce “true terroir wines with a soul.” Mei Hong, a wine buyer living in Burgundy, countered with the observation that new middle class Chinese consumers “drink for pleasure and seek to educate their palates.” Saying the situation is positive and evolving rapidly, she remarked that “China is vast and very diverse – there is not a single Chinese taste but an infinity of perceptions.”
This optimistic view was tempered by Stéphane Derenoncourt, consultant to many estates in Bordeaux and elsewhere. He said that he had encountered many Chinese in the wine business who “did not even know what they were selling.” Saying that he is approached twice a month to consult in China or for Chinese-owned properties in France, Derenoncourt indicated he refuses such offers because the projects are motivated by the aim of making money rather than “the desire to make wines of quality.” Furthermore, he does not want to see certain Bordeaux appellations transformed into “Chinatowns.”
On the central question of taste, it was reported that French and Chinese subjects were given the same molecule to evaluate. The French identified strawberry while the Chinese recalled pineapple. It turns out that the molecule is found in both: each group recognized a fruit found more commonly in their own culture. On the other hand, it is clear that perceptions of tastes differ significantly. Given the intensity of the exchanges, RVF concludes that these questions warrant additional debates.
Chinese magnates, Decanter reports, are transforming the Bordeaux real estate market as they acquire estates “throughout the region.” The magazine claims that, according to sources, “between 40 and 50 properties” have Chinese owners. They cite Cheng Qu of the Haichang Group, who now owns eleven wine-producing estates. Decanter says that the motive of such investors is “the desire to supply increasingly sophisticated Chinese consumers.” Richard Shen Dongjun, who heads Tesiro, a jewelry chain with 400 outlets, acquired Château Laulan Ducos (Médoc) in 2011. His intention was “to create a chain of stores under the name of the château” and “stop selling the wine in France.” The article suggests that the Bordelais seem generally to “welcome this influx of investment” although there are “murmurings.” Estate agent Maxwell Storrie-Baynes points out that Chinese own only 0.5% of the 8,000 châteaux in the region, saying their presence is “a blip on the radar.”
Wines & Vines reports that a French firm, Advanced Track & Trace (ATT), has created and patented a “digitally unique identification” method which is being used by companies in numerous industries.
The key element is a Seal Vector® with a specific mark allowing the product to be traced “during the journey to the end user.” The magazine reports that the seals contain pixilated codes and “are affixed in visible and hidden form.” These codes are impossible to copy and print, becoming unreadable by scanners.
Another version of the label, Seal Vector Titanium©, combines both a Seal Vector® and QR code. The consumer is able to scan the seal with a smartphone and connect with a database, thereby confirming “that the wine is genuine or fake.” Philippe Mathevon of ATT explains that the Seal Vector® can as well assure that neither the shipping case nor the bottle has been opened by positioning the sticker “in a strategic location” on the capsule or box. The article points out that the winery could embellish the information to be viewed when the seal is scanned to include the history, winemaker or blend. Members of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois “are well underway with the adoption of Seal Vectors” as is specialist transporter Bordeaux Wine Bank.
In a second article, Wines & Vines discusses other companies offering authentication technology. Sleever International produces “heat-shrink package sleeve labeling” which incorporates anti-counterfeiting elements. Their clients include Georges Duboeuf, Boisset, and the Piper Heidsieck group. Holoptica provides a unique, synthetic DNA marker combined with holographic markers. eProvenance, which has offices in Bordeaux and Burgundy, originally focused on protective transportation but has added “anti-tampering capabilities.” Their “multi-part system” consists of a sensor to monitor temperature, a tag inside the bottle’s punt, a “tamper-evident neck seal” and a tool to read the seal’s code. Château Palmer in Margaux was “the first to adopt” the firm’s “Perfect Provenance” program “for wines going into select restaurants in the United States.”
Wine Business Monthly summarizes the findings of a Dutch journalist and consultant, Cees Van Casteren, who has investigated use of the term “minerality.” Van Casteren, they state, found the word appearing in ten percent of the tasting notes in Wine Spectator, ahead of “fruity, oaky, acidic or floral.” This pattern also occurred in Decanter. The journalist conducted a survey at the Wine Professional Trade Fair in Amsterdam, querying “connoisseurs” as to their understanding of the term. 92 percent “associated it with the notion of terroir,” he found, and 85 percent linked it to white wines and, specifically, wines from the Loire, Burgundy and Alsace. Van Casteren discovered, however, that none of those participating in the survey “managed to truly define minerality, and none thought it could result from winemaking techniques or the use of sulfites.”
Ed. For perspective, readers may want to review articles referring to “minerality” in earlier editions of the Chronicle.
Wine Business Monthly discusses a new version of the “aroma wheel” originally developed by Ann Noble of the University of California-Davis. Members of the University’s Department of Viticulture & Enology have created a similar multicolored wheel-shaped diagram “after extensive analyses of Brettanomyces yeast strains and their by-products in wine.” Even though Brett is viewed primarily as a spoilage yeast, it may contribute attributes some tasters find appealing. Researchers tested 83 strains utilizing Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) as well as Gas Chromatography-Olfactory (GC-O), which employs human subjects to identify “sensory descriptors, their intensity and their likeability.” The wheel divides sensory traits into twelve categories. “Animal” markers are wet dog, sweaty/sour, urine, fecal, barnyard and horse whereas “Spicy” descriptors are clove, chili powder/red pepper, black pepper, root beer/sassafras and cola. The article notes that “Brett detection threshold levels can be highly variable,” pointing out that whether its expression is judged positively or negatively can be “subject to individual preference, personal history and cultural perspective.”
La revue du vin de France (RVF) and other publications report on a storm on July 23, 2013 with hail, strong winds and flash flooding. Estimates of damage vary, RVF says. The initial official report indicates that from 1,700 to 2,000 hectares [4,200 to 4,940 acres] experienced damaging consequences, or approximately 35% to 40% of the vineyards of the Côte de Beaune. They state that regional authorities, on the other hand, put the affected area at 1,350 hectares [3,335 acres] or the equivalent of five percent of Burgundy’s total vineyard surface. Jean-Louis Moissenet, president of the syndicat of growers in Pommard, claims 90% of vineyards situated mid-slope between Beaune and Pommard experienced damage compared with 70% of those on the slope between Pommard and Volnay. The BIVB provides the following estimates of destruction: Volnay, 30% to 70%; Pommard, 50% to 70%, notably the premiers crus; Beaune, 10% to 90% depending on the parcel; Aloxe-Corton, 30% to 50% and particularly the premiers crus; Meursault, especially in the north, 5% to 40%. The 2013 harvest volume on the Côte de Beaune is expected to suffer a significant drop.
Ed. Photographs taken during the storm can be viewed on the RVF website.
A summer hailstorm on August 2, 2013, reports WineSpectator.com, hit Entre-Deux-Mers, St.-Emilion and Castillon, stripping vines “bare of leaves and grapes” and shredding the wood “in an area that is quickly becoming southwest France’s storm alley.” Château Bonnet, a well-known estate belonging to André Lurton, saw significant damage. An area of “almost 30,000 acres of vines” was affected, half of which has suffered “more than 80 percent crop loss.” According to WS, government assistance is unlikely for growers “already walking a financial tightrope” because of the challenges facing generic Bordeaux. Véronique Barthe, owner of Château La Freynelle, says the majority of growers do not have the means to buy grapes and cannot afford insurance.
An article in Wine Spectator relates new research about a stone pressing platform from Lattes, a town south of Montpellier once known as Lattara. The press has been dated to circa 425 BCE and was first “identified by archaeologists as an olive-oil press.” Chemical analysis conducted by Patrick McGovern of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania has recently found “wine-specific compounds in the limestone of the press” [tartaric acid/tartrate] which match those in nearby clay jars or amphoras. Grape seeds were also discovered buried alongside the press. The stone press is similar to those pictured in Etruscan artwork. On the website of the University, Penn Museum, McGovern explains “we know that the ancient Etruscans lured the Gauls into the Mediterranean wine culture by importing wine into southern France.” He theorizes that the Gauls set up their own production to meet demand, probably “by transplanting the domesticated vine from Italy” and seeking expert guidance from the Etruscans.
French publication Le Monde announces that the respected Guide Bettane et Desseauve des vins de France has elected Michel Chapoutier as “Man of the Year” in the 2014 edition. They signal in particular his role in biodynamic viticulture, which he initiated when he took over the family company in the early 1990s. The two authors, Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve, call Chapoutier the “most important proprietor on the hill of Hermitage” who has also developed noteworthy projects in Roussillon and Australia.