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In May, I met with enologist Nadine Gublin, who is in charge of winemaking at Domaine Jacques Prieur.

By BILL NESTO, MW

Antonin Rodet, a firm based in the Cotes Chalonnaise, shares ownership of Domaine Jacques Prieur, a Cote d'Or grower-producer, with the Prieur family. While Domaine Jacques Prieur brings its large vineyard holdings in the Cote d'Or to this partnership, Antonin Rodet brings its technical know-how and marketing skills. After the partnership agreement was established, Nadine Gublin, who had been in charge of quality control at Antonin Rodet, was hired as winemaker. I considered my interview with her an opportunity to become familiar with the changes that have occurred at Domaine Jacques Prieur and throughout Burgundy as a whole. The following is an edited version of her comments.

"When I first graduated from Dijon's enology school in 1979, there were only 4 other women in my class. Now 20% of the enologists in Burgundy are women. At that time, to become an enologist, you had to complete a two-year post-graduate program. It was not possible then to combine enology studies with viticultural ones. Sometime during the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, the degree was modified so as to allow an additional two more years of study, either in viticulture, or chemistry, or biology, or another related field of study. From 1982 to 1990, I was in charge of the quality control program in the wine laboratory at Antonin Rodet in the Cote Chalonnaise. During my career, I took every opportunity to learn more about viticulture. The viticultural team at Antonin Rodet has been particularly helpful to me.

When Domaine Jacques Prieur became a joint venture in 1990, the vineyards were in need of renovation. The partnership hired professors from Dijon University to give us advice on the work. Many vines were missing in the rows in each plot. In some cases, we decided to replant. In other cases, we added new vines and improved the growth pattern of the existing ones. This work took almost 5 years. In the last 5 years, Daniel Godefroy, a viticulturalist who had worked at Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, joined our team. He has gone over every detail relating to the vineyards. For example, we are using new techniques to remove leaves. At Clos du Mazeray, we use organic viticulture. The amount of fertilizers we apply has been decreased. We cultivate by hand. The vineyards have ten thousand vines per hectare. At Le Montrachet, where we own 0.6 hectares, we have planted a plot at 12,000 to 13,000 vines per hectares. The viticultural and winemaking teams work closely together.

 

A revolution in Burgundy has occurred at the interface between viticulture and winemaking. The critical point of interface is the condition of the harvested grapes. To make great wine, you need to start with great grapes. The harvest demands the participation and collaboration of both disciplines. The Pinot Noir grape has a lightly pigmented, thin skin. The extraction of substances from the skin is very difficult compared to most other red grape varieties. To achieve a good extraction, it is essential to have healthy and ripe grapes. We have to be passionate about our work in order for perfectly ripe grapes. To recognize the right moment to pick takes enormous attention and some intuition. Every day we delay the harvest, the crop is at risk from bad weather, disease and pests. Scientific and diligent work alone is not enough. In the last five or six years, the intensity of focus on the issue of grape maturity has increased dramatically.

The red grape varieties of Bordeaux, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon, present the winemaker with very different raw materials than the Pinot Noir we have here in Burgundy. Ripeness is also important for these varieties, but they have thicker skins. Their skins can be handled more aggressively than those of Pinot Noir. They contain a great amount of pigments and tannin. Hence the wines of Bordeaux are more deeply colored and thicker, and more tactile on the palate. While in Bordeaux, techniques such as lees stirring of red wines or micro-oxygenation can improve the quality of the wine, the particular nature of Pinot Noir forces us to concentrate on ripening as the key to making more deeply colored, more perfumed, more fruity, and more velvety and rounder wines. Lees stirring and micro-oxygenation have not been shown to improve the quality of Pinot Noir wine.

Our appellation law specifies regulations that govern the minimum maturity at which grapes can be picked. It expresses this in terms of degree of potential alcohol. Ten to fifteen years ago, all the farmers in Burgundy picked grapes at the minimum degree. For example, the minimum potential alcohol of Volnay Premier Cru has been 11%. Farmers there would harvest at this degree, even though it was insufficient to make a balanced wine. At 11%, the grapes are not mature. Nor can maturity be measured by the amount of acidity in the grape, nor by its balance with alcohol. Maturity is the total ripeness of the grape berries. At full ripeness, the grapes are deep in color and the color is easy to extract. To the taste, there is a good balance between fruit flavors and the texture of the tannin. The 1990 vintage was very instructive for us all. In 1988 and in 1989 we had excellent harvest conditions. The effect of these two vintages was that we could gradually experience the positive impact of the higher levels of ripeness that we could achieve by letting the grapes stay longer on the vine. Our experience enabled us to risk an even later harvest in the superb 1990 vintage. The excellent evolution of the wines of 1990 has proved the importance of the physiological ripeness of the grapes. Though we want now to pick the grapes later in terms of their physiologic development, our climate is getting warmer and we are picking earlier in the year. Since 1990, the harvests of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have been between September 15 and October 1. Before 1990, the harvest period extended from mid-September to mid-October. Thankfully, since 1990, the second part of September has generally given us dry, sunny weather. We have had better harvest conditions than I remember in the 1980s.

Therefore, it is important to take risks to make great wine. The team at Chateau de Chamirey, the Antonin Rodet property in Mercurey, often begins the harvest after about 70% of the surrounding producers have finished their own. Overall the situation in Burgundy is better. Many growers there are beginning to be more pro-active about identifying full maturity, and taking the pains to harvest at the correct moment. In 2002, at Domaine Jacques Prieur, we began the harvest on September 18. The vines were healthy and the yields well controlled. This helped advance the harvest date. Coming up to the harvest, we tasted the grapes again and again. If the seeds are more brown than green and break-up easily between the teeth and are not bitter, the grapes are ready to be picked. Ripeness is also important for the Chardonnay. Even if the pulp is sweet, the skins may be hard and under ripe. If you harvest under ripe Chardonnay, the wine will have vegetal aromas and will be out of balance. The green smell and the sweet taste of alcohol will clash. You have to wait and harvest later - then the wine will have more pleasant fruity aromas that help to balance its ripe, rich taste.

Later harvests often bring in rotten grapes along with the clean ones. Sorting tables give us the opportunity to discard the rotten grapes. With better quality skins and seeds we can macerate longer because there is more to extract from both. The macerations for Pinot Noir used to commonly last for 10 or 12 days. In 2002, the Eschezeaux maceration took 15 days, the Musigny, 22 to 23 days, and the Clos Vougeot, 25 days. After the sorting, we mechanically remove the stems, but do not crush the berries. The grapes next move on a conveyer belt where they are dusted with potassium metabisulfite powder. If the grapes are not cold enough, we chill them to 12 to 13 degrees Centigrade. We put the grapes in a tarpaulin-covered vat for 4 to 5 days where they undergo a prefermentation maceration. During this period, pigments and precursor compounds that will create perfumes are extracted from the skins. The fermentation then starts by itself. The vats are wide and not too tall, which provides us with good skin contact with the juice. We do not usually use dry, selected yeast for red wine. We only use it if there is a problem. We chaptalise only to adjust the alcohol. In general, we prefer not to do so. For example, in 2002, there was no chaptalisation for both the white and red wines at Domaine des Perdrix, another estate in the Rodet group. At the beginning of the alcoholic fermentation, the cap forms at the top of the vat. We punch-down it down. In the smaller vats, we punch down manually. In the larger tanks, we do it mechanically. Pneumatic (i.e., mechanical) punch-down is better because it is a slower and more gentle to the skins. We do two or three punch-downs per day for five days. We bleed juice off the skins only when we have too much juice in relation to the skins. It is a correction. We prefer not to do it. It depends on the vintage. We use no concentration machines such as a vacuum evaporator. The fermentation vats are temperature controlled. For the first two days of the active yeast fermentation, the vats should be between 32 to 35 degrees C. This helps extract the tannins from the skins. Pinot Noir is like this. We need heat to extract the right polyphenols, the big ones, the ripe ones. Then, for five to six days we keep the vats between 30 degrees and 32 degrees C. After this, depending on the quality of the skins and the taste of the must, we have the possibility of continuing maceration. This period can last for four to five days, perhaps as long as 8 days. Every vintage it is different. At this point, temperature is often between 28 degrees and 30 degrees C. I taste the wine under the cap every day. If I believe that the extraction has given us fine quality tannins, I stop the maceration. If I think that we need more smooth, round tannins, I continue the maceration. We do not the punch-down during this period. The maceration is passive. We just wait for the right moment to drain each vat. One of the reasons why maceration periods used to be briefer was because the seeds were under ripe. Late in the maceration, the alcohol dissolves tannins from the seeds. Before the great interest in ripeness, the grapes were harvested while the seeds still had bitter tannins. Late in the fermentation, the seeds released the bitter flavors. Now with our riper grapes, we extract mouth texture, but not bitterness, from the seeds.

 

If the Chardonnay crop comes in with some rotten berries, it is not a problem. There is no prefermentation maceration for the white grapes and there is no skin contact during the alcoholic fermentation. The few rotten skins that exist play no role in the fermentation. We put the entire bunches, stems and all, on a conveyer belt and the grapes go to the pneumatic press. After the pressing, we let the juice settle at 10 degrees C. We rack the juice off the sediments. If you don't clarify the must enough by the end of malolactic fermentation, you will end up with bitter tastes. We do the fermentation in vats and in barriques. Because our cellars are very cold, we need dry, selected yeasts to start the alcoholic fermentation. The alcoholic fermentation lasts one month. We stir the lees only when the alcoholic fermentation is finished and when the wine is clear. Lees stirring can begin as late as one month after the end of alcoholic fermentation, usually from the beginning to the end of December. We know when to start by the smell and taste of the wine. Sometimes we stir the lees during malolactic fermentation and sometimes we do not. If the malolactic fermentation is very slow and long, we usually continue to stir. If the malolactic fermentation naturally produces a lot of carbonic gas, we stop. We stir the lees for two reasons: to have a good balance between oxidation and reduction and to keep the aromas inside the wine. During this period, it is necessary to taste the wine in each tank or barrel as often as once a week, or as infrequently as once every three weeks. How often depends on the vintage.

Whether we do fine or filter the wine does not depends on the quality of the wine during the maturation period. For red wines, we don't fine if the tannins are round and velvety. We fine only if the polyphenols are too hard in the mouth, green tasting or bitter. We fine with egg whites. For the filtration, we prefer to do a very light filtration. Only if the wine remains cloudy, do we conduct a tighter filtration. For white wines, we fine with bentonite if the wine is not protein-stable. We filter only if the wine remains cloudy. After we do the fining and filtering, we wait a month or two before we bottle our red and white wines.

 

The big revolution in Burgundy has to do with ripening. Instead of picking to get certain degrees of either sugar or acidity, today we set up an integrated quality control system which incorporates grape, more particularly grape skin, maturity as the most important picking parameter. The winemaking process has to be designed to selectively extract color, aroma and tannin from these skins."

 

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