I am so over winemakers who "show" me the rocks in their soil. Then they urge me to taste those blue slate or granite fragments or whatever in their wine. Like, do they have rocks in their head? Do they really think their terroir shines through when they control their wine with all sorts of hanky-panky?
Yes, this terroir thing is the biggest smoke and mirror trick in wine marketing today. But in the hands of a real winemaker working with complex soil, there is terroir, really and truly. And it is compelling and awe-inspiring. I thought I had already experienced my most profound illustration of this thing called terroir, then I visited Philippe Pacalet.
Last week, Pacalet, a slightly unkempt looking Arlo Guthrie look-a-like, picked me up in Beaune. The sky, for the tenth time in thirteen hours played a string of thunderstorms (the previous night, these storms severely hailed a number of vineyards in the Cote de Beaune). I had only about two hours so we rushed up to one of his cellars a few kilometers above Beaune. I was pretty surprised to walk in and see all of these bottles of scotch instead of wine. Turns out he shares Michel Couvreur's cellar. (Couvreur is the Belge who bottles single malt in Burgundy.)
The cellar walls were weepy with moisture.
There was a healthy smell of mushroom and forest.
Nice. We tasted through Philippe's 2004 vintage.
(Go to wine section for abbreviated notes).
He dosed me with his philosophy.
Then we retired to Michel's tasting bar.
Francois Ecot (the other half of Jenny & Francois imports) stumbled in looking as if he hadn't slept in a few days. He probably hadn't. He just arrived from a weekend-long party in Morgon at the house of Philippe's legendary uncle, the guy who fueled the "don't sulphur the wine" wine movement, Marcel LaPierre.
Pacalet eased out the cork on his 2003 Pommard. The 2003 vintage amuses me. And in Burgundy it was such a wild and wacko one. Here as in many places, it crumbled in the paws of silly winemakers but was entertaining in the hands of wise ones.
And this particular wine?
Hot. Hot. Hot. A rich wine with coffee and caramel, prune and a touch of peony. Even though it is an oddity--all of that coffee and prune? --the terroir of this wine absolutely show through.
And as to the wild musings of Philippe?
As LaPierre's nephew, he had an early indoctrination into natural winemaking. He says he makes wine like his grandfather did, but with more consciousness. So, here we are, old barrels, indigenous yeasts. Instead of battonage he rolls the barrels, he sulphurs but only at bottling.
Some random Philippe-isms:
1) Fermentation is transformation. I was reading a 12c book on compost and it talks of preparing the earth of a deforested section of the woods for grape growing and warm, fermenting compost was the key. Fermented compost transforms the soil just as fermented grape juice transforms man.
2) You cannot talk about terroir if you use yeast. You cannot talk about terroir if you use new oak. You cannot make a terroir wine when you mix grapes.
3) The problem with biodynamics is its founder Steiner. Steiner didn't drink. Biodynamics is good for grape juice but not wine.