Noteworthy news in the world of wine with an emphasis on France!
Compiled & edited by Roger C. Bohmrich MW
Jancis Robinson devotes a column in the Financial Times to “the great vine decline.” Speaking to “worried vignerons” during her recent visits to taste the 2011s in Burgundy and the Rhône, she discovered heightened concern regarding maladies affecting grapevines. They include esca, a disease of the wood which seems “more likely to affect old vines.” Leaves and stems can shrivel during the growing season, leading to “sudden death.” Two other diseases raising alarm are eutypa dieback (or eutypiose), recognized for some time, and the newer botryosphaeria dieback or black dead arm (BDA). These maladies appear to be spreading between regions and varieties. Despite research and monitoring, she notes, “very little is known about how and why” the maladies are becoming more widely dispersed. The author cites one observer who contends the spread could be connected with more vigorous rootstocks.
Sulfur dioxide is a universal additive in the wine production process. A column by Curtis Phillips directed at winemakers appearing in Wine Business Monthly – but of value to wine professionals generally – points out the importance of the accurate calculation of molecular SO₂, which the author says is “actually protecting your wine.” Sulfur dioxide exists in various forms: dissolved sulfur dioxide gas, or molecular SO₂; unbound or bound sulfite or bisulfite ions, termed free SO₂; and bound bisulfite. Added together, these constitute “total SO₂.” The writer says many winemakers overlook the fact that it is molecular SO₂, not free SO₂, “that provides protection from spoilage microbes.” Moreover, the molecular SO₂ in solution is governed by the level of free SO₂ and, critically, the wine’s pH. Phillips notes that it takes ten times as much free SO₂ to suppress microbes at a pH of 4.0 as compared to a pH of 3.0.
The 2012 Classification of Saint-Emilion, announced officially on October 29, 2012, is being challenged in court by three properties, reports La revue du vin de France. The three estates are Croque-Michotte, Corbin-Michotte and La Tour du Pin Figeac. The article points out that the previous classification of 2006 was annulled after it was contested by properties which had been declassified. The spokesperson for Croque-Michotte is quoted as claiming there have been “technical and legal errors.” Jean-Luc Dairien, director of the INAO, responded that the plaintiffs are free to challenge the procedures. He added, however, that this sort of legal action poses “problems of credibility, not necessarily for connoisseurs but for new consumers,” particularly in new markets such as Asia. The 2012 Classification will remain in effect until and unless the tribunal rules otherwise.
Wine Spectator, in their Vintage Report 2012, offers a preliminary assessment of three French wine regions. They write that, in Bordeaux, challenges included “under-ripe grapes,” mildew and rot; nevertheless, “decent wines” could be made if yields were kept low and the fruit properly sorted. In Burgundy, the season was marked by frost, hail, poor flowering, mildew and other excesses. Yields were reduced by 30% to 50% or more. Despite these vagaries, quality in their opinion appears to be “very good” on the Côte de Beaune to “outstanding” on the Côte de Nuits. “Expect higher prices,” they advise. In the Rhône Valley, the Southern Rhône was sun-filled with drought in some localities. The Northern Rhône struggled with mildew. Harvest, though, was “marked by dry, sunny weather and well-timed rains.” Overall, the Rhône enjoyed favorable conditions and “vintners are positive.”
La revue du vin de France (RVF) says that the French are “irritated” by the “Champagne” selected to toast the inauguration of Barack Obama. On the menu of the luncheon to celebrate the occasion, the sparkling wine is listed as “Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvee Champagne, California.” Technically, RVF writes, the wording should be “California Champagne” or “Champagne of California” in a single block without a comma. The difference might appear to be slight but goes to the heart of the sensitive issue of appellations protected by France and the European Union. RVF indicates that the agreement between the EU and the United States signed in 2006 prohibits U.S. vintners from using the word “Champagne.” However, the rule does not apply retroactively, and producers such as Korbel are allowed to continue labeling their products as “Champagne” provided that the name appears in direct conjunction with “California.”
Bourgogne Aujourd’hui also reports what they describe as the “premier cru effect” in the Mâconnais. They cite the official appeal submitted two years ago for elevation of certain climats in the appellations of Pouilly-Fuissé, Pouilly-Loché, Pouilly-Vinzelles, and Saint-Véran.
Currently, the vineyards of the Mâconnais are not entitled to either premier or grand cru status. The article points out some believe the absence of superior classifications has a bearing on a lack of notoriety of the region. Growers in the four appellations hope to attain greater recognition and correct an “historical injustice.”
A commission formed by the INAO will decide which parcels will have the right to premier cru status. The six members may take three or four more years to reach their conclusions.
The small 2012 harvest will be “fatal” to more than 200 vignerons in Beaujolais, according to Bourgogne Aujourd’hui. The size of the crop, around 400,000 hectoliters versus 850,000 hl in a normal year, will accelerate the demise of some domaines, particularly those “already in difficulty,” according to Thierry Saint-Cyr, Secretary General of the Union des Vignerons du Beaujolais. The threat will be mitigated to some extent by an increase in prices.
The article explains that the region, which suffered from excess production not long ago, now finds itself facing a significant shortage. While an unprecedented number of estates may fail, the magazine notes, those who survive will be strengthened and are in a position to rebound from a period of crisis for the region.
Decanter and other publications are reporting changes at The Wine Advocate. Three Asian investors, they state, have taken “a major stake” in the business. A new office in Singapore will be managed by newly appointed editor-in-chief Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, who has been a contributor. Robert Parker will remain as CEO. He will focus on regions such as Bordeaux and the Rhône as well as a few other categories including “retrospectives on California vintages” and bargains under US$25 retail from leading importers.
Decanter relays the findings of a study conducted by France AgriMer*, a government agency, indicating that the French are “drinking less wine than ever.” A similar story appears in La Revue du vin de France (RVF), who points out that soda and fruit juice are replacing wine. The articles emphasize that the proportion of consumers who drink wine on a regular basis has fallen to 17% in 2010 from 51% in 1980. That figure is predicted to drop to 13% by 2015, Decanter says. Non-drinkers have remained stable at 38% of the French people. Per capita wine consumption in France was 160 liters in 1965 as compared to 57 liters in 2010 (based on population 15 years of age and above). RVF remarks as well that the decline in regular drinkers has occurred in all traditional wine-producing countries.
*La consommation du vin en France en 2010, France AgriMer Synthèses, November 2012