On Wine

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The man to my right is Mr. Chenu-Lefebvre, vigneron and winemaker at Le Moulin Aux Moines, Chorey-les-Beaune, in Burgundy. I didn’t know it at the time, but he’s changed the way I’ll think about wines for the rest of my life. Why the big fuss? Well, to most, including myself prior, ‘integrity’ is not an ingredient the modern wine world looks for when buying a wine. This man lectured me on integrity. He scoffed at dark coloured pinot noir wines. Red wines, he says, were not dark in colour 50 years ago – they have to add other varietals to get the colour that sells well now. ‘La Mode’ – or trendy, he calls it. He scoffed at modern vinification methods including refridgeration to cool fermenting must. He uses tubes, gravity, and his 1000 year old cellars to chill wine. He is one of the old-timers that believes that wine is made on the vines, and the vinification afterwards should simply reflect the grapes: how stressed they were or were not due to weather, soil conditions, and other factors that nature controls. He believes that wine making is a natural process, and mucking about with it is disrespectful. He preached that making wine to suit a modern palate just because it sells, and not to reflect the grape or the terroir is ridiculous and offensive. These were concepts I’d hear again and again.

Skip ahead to the Cote du Rhone, near Vaison la Romaine. I had the privilege of staying up drinking cheap bubbly with a vigneron widow and a local vigneron, Sebastien, who tends vines in the Chateauneuf du Pape AOC. They told me of the woes of french winemakers – how new world wines were forcing some producers to tear out their vines. The once thriving french wine industry has hit the skids. But Sebastien spoke of hope. He feels that this pressure will force the poor terroirs to no longer be planted with vines – leaving only the very best plots of land to produce only the very best the region can produce. And that the inevitable quality that will result will allow them to maintain a respectable price and demand for the flavours of their region. Personally, I think they’re going to be just fine. There may be more wine supply, but there’s also a lot more humans kicking about to consume it all. And in these times, we’re damn efficient at consuming.

While debating some of my new-found wine wisdom over dinner with Robert and Liz, our Tuscan foodie-friends, Robert insisted I watch an incredible film by Jonathan Nossiter called Mondovino. I think I’ve watched it 5-10 times. Get if from your local library, or rent it if you can find it. Brilliant documentary about people in the wine industry, and the trend toward the commoditization of wine – making it the same across the globe so that it sells well, at the cost of regionality. I totally appreciate that some people don’t care. In my opinion, it’s a sign of the times. People are cluelessly detached from what they eat and drink. I will have to write another day about this, as there’s too much to say. But in general – people used to give a shit about food and drink, and the last couple generations have gone and right fucked it up. Wonder bread? Cheez Whiz? Kool Aid? McWhatever, microwaveable dinners? Come on. That’s embarassing.

Onward. About wine, right? Right. My conclusion will suck, because trying to come to a conclusion about wine is not dissimilar from trying to conclude about religion. Understanding is a life-long journey. Blasphemy? Isn’t wine the blood of Christ? I hope to post more about wine in the future, but for now, go get a copy of Mondovino, and care a bit more about what you’re drinking and the people making it.

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