Noteworthy news in the world of wine with an emphasis on France!
Compiled & edited by Roger C. Bohmrich MW
Bourgogne Aujourd’hui has published a fascinating supplement entitled “Monks and Wine – Myth and Reality.” Highly informative and well-illustrated, the issue profiles monks who have played an important role in Burgundy’s history as well as their special connection with notable vineyards including Chambertin-Clos-de-Bèze, Clos-de-Tart, Clos-de-Vougeot and Romanée-Saint-Vivant.
Researcher Marion Foucher of ARTéHis in Dijon, in a featured interview, confirms that monks were large vineyard owners, but she indicates that many aspects of their role are “a construct of the 20th century.” The depiction of monks in ritual black and white habits on postcards starting in the late 1800s is a “completely false image.” These monks, termed frères de choeur, were cloistered in the abbey; lay brothers in entirely different dress performed all manual labor.
Moreover, agricultural laborers retained by the abbey cultivated the vines as of the 14th century, not the monks themselves. Foucher says the idea that monks “tasted the soil” is a modern invention as is the notion that Clos-de-Vougeot was divided into sections yielding “wines of the Pope” or “wines of the King.” She points out that “we know little regarding their viticultural practices.” Cistercians never made a Clos-de-Vougeot as such; in truth, they combined the grapes from their entire domaine and produced le vin de Cîteaux.
The researcher also states that monks were accomplished merchants. Each abbey set up a cellier in nearby towns which served initially as inns to host visiting dignitaries and then were “very rapidly transformed” into commercial centers. Some locations such as Petit Clairvaux in Dijon were actual wineries oriented toward an urban clientele. Other salient points are that monks drank wine themselves up to the daily limit set by Saint-Benoît (one hémine, or an estimated 350 ml). The wines, which were “not very red,” [i.e., pale in color] were those of the last harvest, and “a wine three years of age was considered very old.”
Beaujolais Aujourd’hui reports on the struggles of regional Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages appellations, noting that the countryside is dotted with parcels where vines have been pulled in the last ten years.
Grower Christophe Coquard states that, with the city of Lyon not far away, demand for real estate is high. Houses, he speculates, may soon sprout on abandoned parcels. Certain growers such as Jean-Paul Brun and Pierre-Marie Chermette are nonetheless able to sell these basic, maligned appellations successfully.
Does the new Coteaux Bourguignons appellation represent the solution? They explain that this denomination covers the entirety of Burgundy and Beaujolais, applying to wines of a single variety or a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir for reds and rosés, and Chardonnay and Aligoté for still dry whites.
Jancis Robinson, in a Financial Times column entitled “Châteauneuf’s dilemma,” writes that very high temperatures can block the ripening process. Harvesting in Châteauneuf, she says, is being pushed “into October and so encouraging some growers to pick while tannins are still uncomfortably drying and underripe.”
The journalist reports on a presentation in London of the 2012 vintage by Michel Chapoutier, part of whose statement caused “an audible gasp.” The admired Rhône producer, discussing alcohol levels of 15.5% to 16% from Grenache grapes, is quoted as divulging: “We experimented and found that adding water did actually result in better wines.” He went on to claim that “lots of winemakers do it, and I think we should make it legal…It’s the future of wine.”
Robinson writes that some are compensating by increasing the proportion of Mourvèdre, citing Clos de Papes 2012, a wine “that is nearly 16 percent alcohol but tastes beautifully balanced.” The writer points out that vineyards on higher ground – such as those of Ventoux – “see their cooler climate as an advantage.” She also suggests that villages at higher elevations are “making better wines than ever” and singles out the 2012s from Cairanne, Vinsobres and Chusclan.