Wednesday, 19 June 2019

NEW WAVE CHAMPAGNE - Reflections on a masterclass.

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon concluded his address at the New Wave Champagne event by saying, “The true winemaker is time.” This constraint became increasingly apparent through his presentation. Roederer’s intellectual property winds into a double helix of action and complication.  Small modifications accrue over time as the exploration of fixed territory becomes ever more detailed.  

The constitutive gap between grapes and wine is a space within which alternative strategies and geometries of action and outcome are tested and interposed. Once established, these complex causal chains are hard to transform. Comtes would unravel if Taittinger withheld the 10g/l dosage; and Krug would be unyielding if all the barrels were swapped for stainless steel.

Chez Billecart, I’ve witnessed a 20 year transition from inox to barrels and foudres. Like Jason’s rebuilding of the Argot, blends were refitted and evaluated a plank at a time, the renewal taking place at a pace that didn’t interrupt the brand’s serene passage. Over this same period, Anselme Selosse refined his solera system. The vision is inspiring, but I doubt Anselme could have accomplished this transformation without having a grounding in biochemistry and (at times) a close working relationship with Distillerie Jean Goyard in Aÿ. Other regions have cut and pasted techniques and barrels from elsewhere only to discover 20 years later they moved too hastily. When I first visited Selosse in 1996 it felt like an insurgency. Now, twenty-five years on, the domaine’s change in direction looks like a life’s work.  

The shift from still to sparkling wine production was Champagne’s moment of revolutionary upheaval. Dom Pérignon wasn’t the only actor facilitating the region’s radical shift in protocol, though it’s perhaps ironic that the church, having spent so many centuries demolishing human spiritedness, should have been at the forefront of this particular flourishing. The Enlightenment push toward assertiveness and self-expression didn’t just open Europe to human potentialities and novelty, it also revealed the extent to which the Dark Age worldview had been an unremitting God delusion. Somewhere along the way, mythical accounts of a foundational deity got hitched to the human impulse for experimentation and productive combination. Muddleheaded medieval theologians took the objects of our own desire and activity as evidence for the workings of an all sustaining power.

Analogously, some commentators take wild yeast activity and the environmental modification of phenols and metabolites as proof of an auspicious hidden hand within production. Self-organisation is a seductive idea, yet neither yeast metabolism nor the environment’s ability to effect the balance of metabolites and phenols gets us to end points called Chambertin or Palo Cortado.  

As said, Champagne blends are exemplary of a constitutive gap between grapes and wine, though the idea of productive separation is as applicable to the wines of Jerez and Burgundy as it is to those of Aÿ. If we accept that the people of Tbilisi, Funchal and Beaune responded to their world in inventive and unique ways then we won’t feel compelled to admonish one another with arguments about industrialisation and fallenness. There is no mothballed unworldly realm waiting on our return. Champagne and Georgia don’t share a common discarded past that can be resuscitated and restored. The overzealous use of fungicides may have been inevitable in the land of Pasteur’s birth, but growers can just decide to use fewer synthetics, or buy alternatives as and when they become available. Commentators need to pause before condemning all progress just because some people made (now) unfashionable choices under the cloak of efficiency and cost saving. We risk infecting the past with our own prohibitions and jargon when we invoke 'authenticity', or suggest there's an edict  coming from terroir urging Houses to junk dosage. 

The use of organic and bio protocols in Champagne is a case in point. JBL alluded to the fact that mycorrhiza can help overcome the base (Ca++) saturation of chalk, delivering freshness and low pH to vin clair, but this symbiotic pairing with vine roots doesn't then further direct us to butcher blends into their constituent vineyards.

Aesthetic objects hold our attention, and a talented chef de cave will look to intensify this experience – exploiting energies of combination, and pursuing appealing vectors of flavour. I took JBL’s statement that ‘blending is an art’ to be a polite riposte to critics who choose to employ terroir as a reductive measure. The concrescence (Whitehead) between an aesthetic object and an observer is both a coming together and a becoming together. Wine appreciation pairs sensation with understanding: we can creatively manipulate the former to heighten the latter; or we can loop sensations back to gain insight and inspiration. 

Tellingly, when we talked with one another after his presentation, JBL was effusive in his (unprompted) praise of Richard Geoffroy.  He didn’t mention bio once; it was all about balancing redox across decades of ageing -  sparkling wine’s genuine holy grail. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2018


What constitutes progress in our industry? The illustrations in the 1986 edition of Hugh Johnson’s Wine Atlas impressed me with their authority and detail, but the maps and plates proved shorter-lived than some of the wines they drew attention towards. To date, Hugh Johnson has updated his Atlas seven times. Like an animal that can only grow by shedding its skin, the world’s vineyards pushed against the boundaries of text and chapters: each new edition expanded on its predecessor, but the new territories it captured were largely copies, cut out against a French template of grape varieties, blends and barriques. 

In the years that separated the publication of the 1st from the 7th edition of the Atlas we learnt that progress and expansion aren’t always the same thing, and that profit doesn’t necessarily follow on from investment. Through the 90s, New World vineyards boomed, though few achieved the kind of returns that incentivised their planting in the first place. In a similarly downbeat vein, oenological upgrades in Old World vineyards that benefited bulk regions disproportionately largely left their economic woes intact.  Viewed impassively, the wine world appears resilient, steadfast, and stable. It is hard to imagine a future where the invention of Sherry, Madeira and Champagne will be creatively equalled.  What we have today is largely a culture of imitation and steady improvement. Australia, New Zealand and California found success when they followed in the footsteps of esteemed French wine regions. If you’re looking for evidence that our particular world of expertise, learning and creativity has plateaued just look at the proliferation in competitive encounters between France and the New World. Impersonation has become a virtue. Borrowing from athletics, wine increasingly resembles track and field: competition is channelled into a fixed number of events which we take to be an absolute measure of ability.

Some implacable marketers insist that wine is held in an ideological bind. They believe that there’s no real necessity for this intransigence, and are affronted by the sector’s inertia. Sense of place, underwritten by law, has parked-up production on its own stacks of conceptual bricks. By pursuing discrete themes of difference and division regions have complicated themselves whilst standing still. A vernacular of place names coupled to an overweening desire to articulate the details of winemaking has effectively alienated wine from the dynamism of the 21stCentury economy. Money brings equivalence to goods and services, forcing them to face the tribunal of the market together. We pick between categories before we select within them. If cars and fashion are compelled to find, distribute and communicate new experiences to shoppers then so, by extension, is wine. Contemporary brands, we are warned, either dance with the consumer or face elimination.

Consumerism took-off in 50s America. Economies are founded on people buying the goods and services that they make, but the cycle of production-consumption can be accelerated. Diverting resources judiciously into demand creation improved the overall return on investment. If the industrial revolution increased the productivity of labour, then recognising those same labourers as consumers became the stimulus for even greater economic growth and prosperity. Marketing revealed a virtuous circle that could be turned faster and faster. This paradigmatic shift in business practice was reinforced and underwritten by auspicious changes in consumer behaviour. The old virtue of replacing things as they wore out was superseded. It was desire rather than dilapidation that drove and coerced the new tribes of consumer.

The sectors that have benefited most from marketing are those where brands and consumers have come together in associations of enrichment and choice. We struggle to think of bottled water, phones, cars and fashion outside the purview of brands. Henry Ford gave buyers only one option, ‘black’, but car colour is now a sign of affluence and an expression of personality. Cars, unlike clothes, aren’t made on looms, and changing automobile design isn’t as straightforward as re-threading yarn or realigning beams, yet the industry has incorporated the dynamic and transgressive impulses of fashion into its design and development. As Roland Barthes pointed out, fashion negates its past; what was until recently admired and adored is summarily rejected. For checks to come ‘in’, stripes need to be pushed ‘out’. Signification denotes a change in use. Clothes are no longer replaced as they wear out, and cars are rendered obsolete by minor innovations and design tweaks rather than rust. 

One of Marx’s less contentious insights was recognising that capitalism perpetuated a state of high anxiety among its dependents. Workers were worried about holding onto their jobs, and factory owners were compelled to reinvest profits through fear of competitive annihilation. Marketing burns luminously above Marx’s grim industrial landscape, its perspective and power drawing upon the utopian notion that growth in modern market economies is best achieved by giving people what they want, even if the choices seem a bit contrived. 

In advanced economies anxiety is no longer played out at the level of subsistence, instead it’s felt at the level of our yearning for particular goods, services and brands. If we’re all so broke it’s largely because we have so much. Being hard up is no longer associated with having nothing. Marketers have done their job for the economy and demand if we’re all spent out at the end of each month yet stoked for next month’s lifestyle upgrades.

Just as money becomes a universal measure of value, so marketing addresses (pace the incessant use of analogy) often assume a high level of comparability across categories, consumer choice being the catalyst for this presumed equivalence. Brand stories turn into parables of best practice. Woolworths demise is first problematized and then solved by the different thinking of Apple or Amazon. 

It is easy to become paranoid amidst all the spiralling aspiration, but some more familiar truths emerge where the downdraft bottoms out. Take the example of the retail analyst who calls out M&S’s loss of market share to Primark as an instance of not listening to customers. Our initial reaction to the report maybe to fret over our own trading relationships, but dig a little deeper and you discover that what M&S customers really want is Primark’s pricing and range rotation. M&S have long-promoted their clothes as being made-to-last, but this attribute wanes in significance once fashion’s cycles have accelerated passed the threshold where a garment’s durability is still relevant to shoppers. Fast fashion trumps utility, but it does have an underbelly. Beneath all the coded words about listening to consumers is another all too familiar world of outsourcing, efficiency savings, low wages and waste.  Marketing has become very adept at the double movement of dressing up products for the consumer whilst simultaneously distancing them from the inconvenient realities of their production. Like the butcher’s repressed connection to the abattoir, one version of the Yellow Tail story is about consumers and another is about the ruthless pursuit of monopoly.   

Much of the recent twitter exchange focussed on the effectiveness of wine communication. Experts, as Peter Sloterdijk noted, are required to immunise themselves against outside worlds of distraction. Marketers, mathematicians and oenologues develop very specific ways of talking to one another that are essential to disciplinary advancement, yet remain largely incoherent to anyone outside their circle. It may well be that physicists don’t need to be understood by anyone beyond their peer group for progress to take place, but the same isn’t true for wine professionals whose livelihoods depend upon consumption rather than research grants. At some point we need to break out of our inward looking cell.

I think it’s difficult to dismiss this suggestion. Talking to consumers in ways different to the way we talk to one another professionally makes sense; though quite what we say and how we say it doesn’t always come easily. One could delegate this responsibility to marketers, and many do, but it’s often just a case of winemakers wearing different hats and editing-out the language of production at the cellar door.

Despite the reasonableness of this suggestion, the suspicion remained that the consumer – and we must include ourselves under this banner - isn’t necessarily a benign force; or that marketing mobilises the consumer as a victim or a beneficiary so that it can dress up self-serving commercial activity with selfless words and altruism. The two-facedness of marketing means that it has different conversations and communications inside and outside the boardroom, yet both are themed around giving people what they want: the investor is promised a return, and shoppers get to choose between new and familiar experiences.  The incompatibility of these two objectives only becomes apparent when we belatedly lament the plight of the High Street or the loss of independent booksellers. At some point marketing runs into contradictions of its own making. Words and reality collide. You can’t keep all the people happy all of the time. 

Happiness was in short supply on twitter. Marketers stuck with the argument that the language used by wine people erects barriers to consumer engagement and retention; while the enthusiasts were loath to give ground to soft marketing because they suspected that lurking beneath the velvet glove of consumer-friendly words is the iron fist of hardball marketing. Both sets of protagonists recognise there’s a problem with recruitment and profitability, but they can’t agree on how to fix it.

Marketers are right to point out that enthusiasts are being nimbyist when they make special pleading for wine. We are, after all, consumers of brands in other categories. The relationship between marketing and capitalism is intimate and, given our lifestyles, more or less foundational. Everyone has been on brand journeys – for me, Fiat Panda to Audi - and benefited from the proliferation in mobile phone choice since the appearance of the first brick, but both these examples suggest there’s something timely about the appearance of cars and phones that enabled consumers and brands to enrich and populate categories together. If wine shows a degree of resilience to marketing it may not just be a matter of language, or be as simple as replacing the word ‘mineral’ with ‘fun’ every time we come across it in a tasting note.

From my perspective, the difference between experts and their detractors won’t dissolve away even if they did manage to agree on a lexicon of consumer friendly terms. The stretched timelines of production, the slow depreciation of capital, and the prolonged separation of cause from effect in both enology and viticulture defines the category. Our forebears, we can deduce, got so good at fermentation, stabilisation and preservation that comparison across and within regions became inevitable. Vineyards, appellations and lieux dits, both formally and informally, were sifted by inquisitive generations and graded for quality. The resilience marketers, journalists and buyers come across when they attempt to hasten change isn’t linguistic but structural. When the Guinaudeaus decided to extend their interests into Fronsac they were lengthening a timeline that reaches back to massale selection and the accumulation of winemaking savoir faire at Lafleur. The expansion and segmentation that marketing craves is achieved in wine by other means - structural, aesthetic, historic, commercial -  and its dynamic is antithetical to the impulsive and transgressive movements of fashion. Inertia is functional.

I began this article by claiming the wine world was more or less complete, and that we are unlikely to see changes of the magnitude of champagnisation anytime soon. The notion that something is largely finished doesn’t mitigate against improvement, but it does close-off the possibility of major revision. We can argue the toss about whether this or that château should have been upgraded in St Emilion’s latest reclassification, or whether Australian Shiraz producers should revert back to using hogsheads, but nothing, neither baselining SO2 levels nor reviving white grape maceration, strikes me as being as radical and different as a process that combines flor protection, fortification and fractional blending. The stylistic enrichment of our category that bequeathed us Jerez, Madeira, Hermitage and Tokaji is a job done principally by past generations. Nowadays we’re just getting on with the job of dispersal and micro-improvements. Some of the territories may be new, but the thinking is conventional and staid.

Marketers sometimes talk as if the decision to divide wine territorially is arbitrary, and therefore capable of reversal. Penfold’s interregional blends are often rolled-out as evidence that things could be otherwise, but the trend at the premium end of New World production has veered towards typicity and deep-seated ways of viewing the creative bond between site and vine. One can detect a meeting of the ways between Old and New World production: in the former quality is now attributed to site and the people who make it – Barthod ‘Les Cras’ -  and in the latter producers now want to talk about how the uniqueness of their working environment is immanent to their wine. I find this a welcome trend, as it moves us away from an overly romantic view of terroir as some kind of exhumed imperative that demands obedience. Moreover, this argument should resonate with marketers, as place and people evolve together in ways that parallel the mutually enriching experience of consumers and brands in other categories.

Evidence of inertia isn’t always edifying: minor innovations get overhyped, Bordeaux dominates press coverage, and wine has become a winner-take-all-market. Change is possible, but the rate of progress is measured over decades and generations. La Tâche and Le Pin supplied the low hanging fruit for a newly made up tribe of billionaires, but Curly Flat, Montlandrie, and Seyssuel are playing a slow game of catch-up for those who can’t afford Richebourg, l’Eglise Clinet and La Belle Hélène. 

Growers on the d’Oc plains may never rid us of all our bulk prejudices, but that’s arguably because what they produced was never good anyway. There isn’t a glorious past that can be revived, just a history of making cheap alcohol for blending into water.

Maybe it’s precisely because the Midi is so amorphous that it has attracted the attentions of marketing. The vertical stratification of the market left a largely undifferentiated pool of wine that could be war gamed into future brands, except the wine market has largely identified its best bits already, and the new bits are subjected to rigorous scrutiny as they come on. Marketers can only dream of turning wine into bottled water because the directions for segmentation are already in place.   

It is at this bulk end of the market – Midi, Central Valley, South Eastern Australia -  that the velvet glove is wont to fall off marketing’s iron fist. The frustration of marketers is palpable, lashing out at education and deploying the hapless economic situation of growers as an altruistic shield for more covert plans. Every new pillar of sand – bourbonification, synthetic wine -  is hurriedly celebrated, as though deep down they all know what fate has in store for their Frankenstein creations. One senses that Yellow Tail have acknowledged the aspirational game is up, and their patented technique for extracting wine from dry skins seems squarely directed at entry point competitors rather than improving quality. We used to kid ourselves that consumers climbed ladders, now they’re stuck with a greasy pole. 

This outbreak of frenetic capitalism is ugly. Californian Merlot growers and Midi cooperative partners who pulled up Aramon for Carignan know where some of the bodies from previous marketing campaigns are buried.  I don’t have an answer to their predicament, mainly because I see a difference between overproduction and under-shopped. Marketers' tendency to frame the problem of resilience within education and communication misses the more general point about inertia within production, and as a consequence they end up kicking the messenger instead of trying to understand the mechanism by which wine has catalogued and reproduced its own realm of experiences without their assistance. 

Monday, 2 April 2018

The Provocations of Terroir

I want to begin with a little background. Thomas Kuhn, an enormous figure in the philosophy of science warns us against the perils of retelling the history of this or that discipline with what he would say are the disadvantages of hindsight; while my wife, a psychotherapist, is forever telling me about how we, as people, are hopeless at situating ourselves in our own stories; so there are two caveats here at the start: two reasons to fail, if you like.

One of my themes this evening is how outcomes we see as necessary, determined, fated, could, to use Steve Woolgar’s phrase “be otherwise”. So I was delighted to see a Facebook post from Monty Waldin, the wine author and biodynamic consultant promoting this tasting, that read:

"Not bad for someone whose flirtations with punk in his youth might otherwise have seen him end up on the sidewalk, a cloth cap for collecting donations from passers-by in one hand, and a piece of string acting as a leash for an adopted stray dog in the other."

Overview: Naturalism v Production

A very simple flow diagram for wine production. We can imagine others for Port, Sherry, Champagne and Burgundy. 

So my opening question is, how does a bunch of grapes suggest this process? Does Palomino - or, for that matter, the Andalusian landscape -  suggest a solera? Is there something specific to Touriga Nacional that suggests foot-treading and arrested fermentation? Is a bunch of Richebourg Pinot harvested in 2015 imploring us to master the solvent effects of alcohol and the intricate and interconnected redox chemistry of barrels and bottles so it can be drunk in 2040? 

Grapes don’t arrive at the hopper with a manual coughed-up by the earth. The same bunch of Gewurztraminer might be destined for Cremant d’Alsace or Vendange Tardive, depending on the picking date, but which elements of environmental influence survive the tumultuous events of fermentation, and are there discrete, shared characteristics across both styles that can be distinguished from the generative effects of production? 

Burgundy is the poster-boy of naturalism. ‘The wine makes itself’, ‘We do nothing’, are stock answers to these types of interrogations and questions. Nothing should get between terroir and its expression. Pinot Noir is chosen precisely because it is entirely biddable to the influence of soil and topography, or so we’re told. 

I once took a friend in the food processing industry on a winery tour. What he saw was production, and he ignored my more fanciful explanation about representing terroir. The philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, wrote that the city necessarily precedes the countryside. We first need the perspective of the city to separate out and differentiate this other entity we belatedly call ‘the countryside’. Might we apply the same logic to terroir? Rather than dictating production, doesn’t the concept of terroir – however murky our definition - need the perspective of production in order to come into being? We can never strip away viticulture and enology in the way we're urged to, because they are always elementary and precursory.

Certain assumptions are deeply embedded in the way we talk about wine, but the sceptic in me has listened and used these words and phrases long enough to start to doubt their veracity. When visiting Burgundian cellars, I’m reminded of a line they use in creative writing classes: “Always show, never tell.”  We mistake an economy of words for an economy of actions. I quickly realized after planting my vineyard that I had become a slave to it. Nature turned hostile towards me and monoculture.  There’s a good reason why vignerons generally look fitter and leaner than their fleshy visitors, I discovered.

In this presentation I will attempt to historicize terroir and the implied passivity that surrounds its summoning. I will argue that terroir is embedded rather than theorized, and that its habituated meanings are hard to cling on to in 20thCentury Burgundy once domaine bottling starts multiplying the number of styles emanating from individual climat. Environmental influence is uncontestable, grapes must be grown somewhere, but an imperative! How can we make sense of such an assertion?


The Romans delivered Christianity and viniculture to Ancient Gaul together, and like a good marriage, their relationship was productive, reproductive and settled.

Since the 18thCentury, Christianity has declined in France, but in wine it has left a legacy beyond transubstantiation, evocative place names and vineyard crosses. One of the ideas I want to examine tonight is secularism. The Enlightenment didn’t clean out old prejudices and establish new ways of thinking in the thorough way it was supposed to, and religious sentiment continued to occupy and shape secular thought. I shall argue that along the Côte d’Or particularly, we encounter secularism in the passive and submissive descriptions that vignerons ascribe to their actions. Process and production, and chemistry and biology failed to depose terroir, but have become absorbed and silenced by it, instead. 

Matt Kramer’s ‘somewhereness’, like ‘sense of place’, is an attempt at universalizing and totalizing terroir, yet, if anything, in its Old World enclaves, the concept has hardened into a form of asceticism. In 21stCentury Vosne, terroir must be obeyed. 

From my perspective, wine escapes the heavily built walls of tradition but only at an inter-generational pace. We have to look toward compound change to see innovation. In Champagne, bottles are intimately bound up with production, and only the obfuscation of the present day makes us trivialize them as ‘packaging’. In Burgundy, Bordeaux and Jerez production hides in plain sight. I'm more inclined to think of wine in terms of a network effect of people and things - bottles, rocks, flor, slopes, botti, Prosecco - and the arrangement and structure of these networks is different for each region; their elements may overlap at some points, but not others. If Maderia, Chile and Champagne look very different it's because they've had distinctive histories  with their own problems, priorities and solutions. Burgundians sorting of the land into climat is as contingent Castilian's planting of Airen.  

The extent to which wine is or should be a reflection of its environment is contentious. We’ve inherited a point of view that is crammed with history, but empty of chemistry. Viticulture begins by pushing back against the very nature it purports to represent, yet what emerges today from this violently denuded world is an imperative: terroir must be obeyed, elevated, and made sovereign. It is no longer enough for wine to express the influence of its environment; in order to be considered worthy, pure, authentic, fine, the environment must be immanent to it, and all signs of human artifice stripped away.

The Côte de Nuits is held up as the exemplar of immanence, the walled vineyards determining subtle differences in wines that carry their names. But the proximity of this association only holds while production remains the responsibility of a few rather than the many. Domaine bottling has increased intra-vineyard divergence, and the slow patriation of style to individual domaine. 

Additionally, this evening, I want to consider the compound effect of generational changes on production, and how following examples enables domaine to reproduce intricate chemical processes without reference to theory or equations. The history of wine production looks much more dynamic and generative once we attune ourselves to viniculture’s extended timelines.  

The gradients of history change. Long-lived societies endure because they are efficient at reproducing themselves, their structures of power and knowledge, their divisions of labour and distribution of wealth.

If you want to understand how powerful the church was in medieval France, strip away 55 million people, level the houses, municipal buildings, and ugly commercial zones, but leave all the Citadels standing. The church dominated France intellectually, financially and aesthetically. God’s omnipotence was invoked at every opportunity. Curiosity was a sin, measurement discouraged, and interest couldn’t be levied on loans, as it was a charge on time, and time was only God’s to give. France, like the rest of Europe, was becalmed for centuries. 

In a world that was so completely given and ordained, opportunities for human expression were limited, or when they did occur, weren’t recognized as such. 

The descent of the sublime – the New Testament revelation that God is immanent to the world rather than above it – made man a spectator of God’s creation. Winemaking wasn’t considered ingenious or inventive, nor were the Cistercians troubled by medieval versions of present day anxieties about the generative capacity of winemaking, the originating destructiveness of viticulture, or why some people decide such a particularly intensive form of monoculture is their window on nature. 

Medieval sentiments persist as secularisms after the Enlightenment. A space was cleared for mankind to be an actor, free from God’s will, but inherited misgivings about human frailties continued to undermine self-assertiveness. In 18thCentury Burgundy, Cistercian submissiveness was displaced from God to nature. The magnitudes of influence remained unchanged even if they were articulated through an amalgam of aspect, climate and geology rather an omnipotent deity. Human agency was limited to spectating a non-human creation.  Burgundy producers who feel pressured to play down the impact of their daily exertions toe the deeply scored line of history.

Nietzsche wrote of an impotent state in which external forces act upon and through man in order to realize their determination. What is reproduced and perpetuated under such circumstances is the prevailing relations of power, over and over again – a hierarchy of church, kings, fiefdoms and peasants. There was no possibility of things being otherwise. But what was bad for man proved pivotal for the Côte d’Or’s vineyards. 


Nietzsche teaches us to be suspicious of classifications. Those at the top of hierarchies – life, class – will frequently appeal to natural ordering; and will routinely invoke nature as a justification for a status quo that reproduces their status.

On the subject of hierarchies, I want to share the tale of David Clark with you.

David Clark is a Cambridge engineering graduate. Before setting up in Burgundy, he managed the pit strategy for Williams Formula One Team. Spending time with David, you got the feeling he could get himself up to degree level in most subjects if you gave him the right books and a week to skim read them. 

David personified the idea that things could be otherwise, that you could work round problems with inventive solutions, and that Burgundian determinations, the imperatives of their particular history, weren’t necessarily limiting, or the case.  I always felt there was an element of this in Parker: "old vines and no-filtration" always read like a way of alleviating colloquial prejudices in those early books.

David’s cellar was small but well-equipped. His father was also an engineer, and there were lathed and be-spoked tools along with high-end brands like Francois Freres and Vaslin-Bucher.

Burgundy’s regional hierarchy is reinforced, in part, by pragmatism. Generic Bourgogne vineyards produce a less valuable crop, so production is skewed to volume – with the use of higher yielding clones and vigourous rootstocks. Anyone new to Burgundy tends to begin on the bottom rungs of the ladder, hiring generic plots. You’re treated like a probationary intern. 

2004 was a very difficult vintage in Burgundy. The Grand Cru struggled, and growers whose names you’d ordinarily tattoo on your arms, flopped. Many of the wines still taste green to this day. 

This was David’s first vintage. His Bourgogne, when I tasted it, was not only one of the best Bourgogne I’ve tasted, but it defied the hierarchy.

David clearly worked diligently in the vineyards, but he also sprayed with a legally available plant growth regulator, Ethrel. Ethrel is authorized for use in Burgundy. It’s mainly used to terminate flowering in bad weather, and decreases the potential heterogeneity of millerandage. David decided to spray at veraison, when its ethylene release is believed to accelerate both bunch ripening, and the synchronicity of that ripening, which can be problematic with Pinot.

David’s cellar was in Morey St Denis. Word got round that David had made an exceptional Bourgogne. One evening two of the most respected growers in the village invited themselves round to taste the wine. They abruptly flipped their praise of the wine into a threat. ‘This isn’t Bourgogne”, they said. “If you want to get somewhere in this region, then make Bourgogne; and once you’ve made Bourgogne you might be offered some village vines.” David gave up with the Ethrel, and eventually did get offered a small patch of Vosne Romanée vines, but I sensed his spirit was broken by the experience, and he left Burgundy in 2015.

David’s story gives us a sense of how communities and hierarchies are reproduced and stabilized. It’s not as simple as saying two nighttime visitors got heavy with him, there’s all the history, the habituation to vocabularies, ways of doing and thinking, tight communities of sensing, rootstocks, clones, barrels and, of course, regulations. Control and power is dispersed over different agencies and through different actors. Terroir, we might argue, is institutionalized, but not theorized, though we could flip this round in the light of David’s story and say he theorized elements of terroir and ignored local precedent, reproducing certain advantages held to be naturally occurring.

The Chinese have an expression that we go through life facing backwards, and what is in front of us is our past. Two thousand years of continuous production has inevitably cricked Burgundian necks. If David touched a nerve, I suspect it was because it was at the surface, waiting to be nicked. Being the apex beneficiary of a hierarchy isn’t such an easy ride when you’ve got to keep the underlings in their place. 

Around the time David was packing up his Morey St Denis home, I was invited to participate in a blind tasting of 10 Côte de Nuits reds. All I knew in advance was that they were all red burgundies, from the 2010 vintage. At the end of the tasting I was asked to pair off wines – they could, I thought, be from the same village or the same producer – and the only wine pairing I made was between Dujac Morey St Denis and, as it turned out, Gary Farr’s Geelong, Pinot – the ringer on the day. The remainder of the wines were from Morey St Denis. 

There is a back story here, Gary Farr worked 19 vintages at Dujac. Backpedaling – something MWs are very adept at - I trotted out that Gary had studiously absorbed and then adapted the whole-bunch expertise of the Seyesses family to his own Victoria vineyard, and that this had thrown me – but the fact remained that I’d assumed the technique I’d tasted was an environmental affect common to both wines.

I found separating technical merit from environmental expressivity particularly taxing when setting the MW exam. Over three days, students are examined on 36 blind wines, and despite all the assurances, it’s hard to pass if you don’t correctly identify 60% correctly. The underlying assumption is that wines, whether they’re from Victoria, Napa or Burgundy can be identified by discretely determinable, region-specific attributes.

As examiners, we filter the wines that are put forward to the exam, but it’s also incumbent on us to find wines that express the full range of a country’s potential.  When I took the exam, Australian Chardonnay tended to be the colour of golden syrup, and came wrapped in oak; and you assumed that the expensive bottle of Shiraz was just two bottles of the cheaper wine reduced, simmered and re-bottled in heavier glass. But not today. Extrinsic environmental elements clearly extend their influence into the new wave of Australian Chardonnay and Pinot, but they’re getting harder to pinpoint; whilst what we previously took to be environmental traits are reattributed to transferable, nomadic expertise; as was the case with Gary Farr’s Pinot.

Recently, a Master of Wine, returned back from an Australia trip and bemoaned the fact that too many Australian Chardonnays tasted like Burgundy, and can we please get back to the full-bodied, expressive style of the past. The relationship he inferred is like that holding between a genotype and a specific phenotype, the environmental code being transcribed into inimitable sensations, acid, fruit, tannin, which can themselves be seamlessly repatriated back into the world as and when we taste the wine. 

The new wave of reductive Australian Chardonnay may have been too Burgundian for our MW, but the prejudice that wine and environment are in a closed relationship of equivalence, the elements of one passing directly into the elements of the other, is lifted straight from the cellars of Abbaye de Cîteaux and its ancien régime. 

When divergent styles emerge from the same origin – two phenotypes sharing the same genotype, to use our analogy, we feel pressured into a choice. If we want to hold onto the immanence, exchangeability and proximity of the Environment  Sensation relation absolutely, we have to nominate one wine as the phenotype and the other as an imposter, or, in the Australian example, as ersatz Burgundy. 

Clearly, Burgundians were never confronted by this sort of choice. They never thought of themselves as making judgements; they were impelled to act by a divine spirit. 

Faced with making a decision between the two opposing wine styles, our Master of Wine defered to his belief (as we did when setting the exam) that the richer, less-reductive style of Australian Chardonnay is more authentic rendition of its environment - because he believes the actions and decisions of the winemakers are compelled by their surroundings. In other words, today’s winemakers should be coerced by the environment just as the Cistercians, in their time, erroneously believed they were coerced by God. To paraphrase another philosopher, a cog that doesn’t move anything drops out of the mechanism. By turning the environment into an imperative winemaking retreats, a form of medieval passivity is restored, and the integrity of the Environment  Sensation relation is maintained. 

Moreover, this imperative also extends to judgement and criticism.

‘A wine can only be great if it is made to try to express terroir as perfectly as possible’
Aubert de Villaine, Burgundy

Not only is this a challenge to winemakers, but it’s also a challenge to tasters. As William Kelley suggested to me a few weeks ago, Domaine Romanée-Conti is no longer an estate we critically appraise, but rather something tasters calibrate their critical abilities against. Terroir absolutism, if you like. That which must be obeyed. Aubert is imploring us to have faith, but to what extent is our obsequiousness a consequence of price inflation? And aren't  people nowadays just consuming the value of DRC rather than the wines themselves?   

As far as I’m aware the world doesn’t provide us with tablets of stone or a manual to help us decide which wines are better representations of itself, all we ever really have for comparison is other wine and vague consensus, as was the case with the Australian Chardonnay and the suggestion that it should revert to its old,  rich and more familiar form. (At this moment its worth reminding ourselves that 90s Australian Chardonnay – as I remember it – was off-dry, sterile filtered, refrigerated, etc.) 

One way of thinking about Burgundy is as an experimental design. These lyre-trained vines out the back of Auxey Duresses ripened earlier than nearby 1mx1m, but this system is now banned. Viticulture and enology only appear as the enemy if they’re threatening to undermine a hierarchy from which you profit. Irrigation would certainly improve the fortunes of most of Burgundy’s vineyards, just as it would benefit plantings of similarly anisohydric merlot in Bordeaux, but in so doing it would smooth out some of the differences between crus. Currently, irrigation is deemed anti-nature, but Chileans and Argentineans who plant without rootstocks have grounds for complaint. Naturalization of some techniques rather than others is typically self-serving. The people at the top of the medieval church insisted on a natural ordering – God, lazy priests, peasants – and dismissed all challenges to the regime and their status within it as heresy. It's the same story with wine.      

Alternatively, where wines are unfamiliar to us, we allow sentiment to be our guide. Words like terroir, purity and authenticity are extremely seductive. 

I’m always struck at how spirited the word ‘Enlightenment” was in the context of a world that was opposing spirituality with science. Arguably, emotive vocabulary becomes even more irresistible in a world losing depth and meaning, or its stock of familiar certainties. The Songlines in the title of Bruce Chatwin’s book structure the deep relationship Aboriginal Australians have with the land, but this relationship was decimated by colonization. Maybe terroir provides an alternative point of connectedness for the New World, but one that will always seem more virtual, more reliant on bolstering words than the indigenous version it replaces.  

I think Lapierre's 400 'likes' shows how deeply emotion runs through wine preference, and how powerful sentiment can be. But all those well-meaning words count for nothing when you’re blind tasting.

We put Morgon Lapierre 2014 in the 2016 MW exam, as a one half of a pair with Morgon Jadot 2014. There's nothing wrong with Jadot, in fact, someone said it was Chambertin, but of the 129 people who took the exam, not one said the Lapierre was the better wine. Most recognized it as Beaujolais, but the quality level was somewhere between entry-point Nouveau and villages; yet here it is, topping Jamie Goode’s Instagram likes. And not to be superior, in the run up to the exam, I was a liker too!

Stalking the idea that the environment is immanent to the fine wine is Gary Farr’s Pinot Noir, David Bicknell’s Oakridge Chardonnay and David Clark’s Bourgogne. In their own different ways, each of them repatriated an element we'd previously taken as site specific, and proved it nomadic and reproducible. In the Burgundy blind tasting I attended, the theme was Morey St Denis, but among the variations the least divergent pair was Farr-Dujac.

I will revisit the genotype – phenotype distinction later, in the context of domaine bottling in Burgundy, and how this has led to a proliferation in styles, but I want to pick up here on the idea of long timelines and compound change. 

Timelines, change, examples

Gary Farr spent 19 vintages at Dujac. In the context of wine, nomadic and imitable is not as easy as buying a book of long haul return tickets. Twenty years is what passes for a generation in wine production, and this duration seems to have real resonance for vignerons, like the lapsing of true and real time.

When I asked Francois Billecart about training a Chef de Cave, he told me they should spend 20 years building the edifice of previous generations, and only at the end of their tenure can he/she suggest a few changes for posterity. As confirmation, our just retired Chef de Cave, Francois Domi, embraced barrel fermentation after 20 years in charge, and Billecart is now the 4th biggest user of oak barrels in Champagne. Twenty years before this innovation, Billecart pioneered double-debourbage and cool fermentation.

Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher of science I referenced at the beginning of this talk, wrote: “Examples are what we use when we haven’t got a theory". Wine has a long history and a short chemistry; following examples buffers winemaking against the uncertainties of production, but they also become the expressive and divergent pathways that separate one grower from another.  

The Jesuits used to say, 'Give me the child until seven, and I will return you the man" – it’s hard to think of a better analogy for sparkling wine production, as we think of bottles darkly navigating Maillard and autolysis. Sticking to rules and following examples increases the probability of a successful outcome.

Production is foregrounded by events and cycles that span decades: contracts, rootstocks, varieties and laws. The effects of tweaks to 1er Cru Burgundy or vintage Champagne may only become visible 10 or 20 years after the wine is bottled. Change has a long timeline. Each thickened year of wine production adds up to a score of our own. 

Gary Farr experimentation with whole clusters fits into his and Australia’s extended timeline. A fledgling, convergent late 20thCentury industry finding its feet, then diverging after one of our generations has passed. The same will be true in England; as it was true in Burgundy, after domaine-bottling took hold. Different domaine taking different steps, their actions, processes, hunches and understanding bound and networked together into singular examples and divergent trajectories. 

Terroir Wars

This could be the point where we quit. Terroir was being used 250 years ago, but nobody formalized its meaning, or systematized its use. Ben Lewin MW claims its meaning may have been ambiguous in the past. If you believe wine derives its character from the soil, and there are good and bad flavours in wine, so there must be good and bad terroirs. I can only speculate on this because nobody ever did the working out on terroir, and that’s the problem. Think of a medical diagnosis – pathology, symptomology, methodology, testing – you can’t just go to your boss and say I’m suffering from gout give me the week off! 

Researching this talk I looked up some vintage wine books in the MW library. 

I really admire Hansen’s book, published in 1982 – anthropology, ethnology, geology, viticulture, but no mention of terroir.

So I looked through more. George Saintsbury’s Cellar Notes, Cyril Ray, Harry Waugh, and Alexis Lichine – owner at that time of 4thGrowth, Prieuré Lichine. Still no terroir.

 @UK Wine info helped me out.

I’m not sure what Googles methodology is, but for non-francophone writers, terroir is a millennium thing. 

Other people will have their own theories about this, but I suspect that what we’re seeing is a reaction to the war of words between the New World – conspicuously, Australia – and France in the 1990s. With its market share under threat, France claimed terroir was a point of difference setting it apart from, and above, the New world’s offering. Australia retaliated, and claimed terroir was just marketing. The whole debacle brought terroir to the consciousness of consumers and producers, but given the looseness of the definition - its lack of rigour – soon everybody was claiming it.


Apropos the terroir wars, some have appointed themselves as the true keepers of terroir, a kind of priesthood – and something I’ve been guilty of at times - whilst others have sought to bring rigour to the term and treated it like wine’s very own cosmological principle.

One discernable trend I’ve picked up on is that for a few serious journalists, Burgundy seems to signpost the authentic pathway terroir ought to take – notice the imperative form again - and I want to move onto this idea after we’ve looked at a few definitions and assumptions.

There is no consensus.

Most of these statements try and set boundaries, both conceptually and territorially.

Kramer and Jefford are very democratic. Their version of terroir sounds a little bit like what liberals call “the commons”, a shared resource that everyone has access to. It just seems to be a question of planting vines, and then terroir, “with relatively simple winemaking”, will imprint on the wine. Somewhereness yields a very flat ontology. It feels very Greek to me, like a swirling, continuous logos.

Tracking Somewhereness is everywhereness. If it is just a question of planting vines, then terroir just seems to work like a postcode. The idea the vine trailing over my pergola at home exhibits terroir seems to bloat the concept to the point of meaninglessness.

On the back of everywhereness, is everythingness. Monty is a good friend, and this was the straightforward answer he gave when I asked him for a definition. I’m in danger of putting words into Monty’s mouth, but I do get a broader sense when I talk to him that what he’s really getting at is a flourishing ecosystem – think of yeast, lactobacillus, mycorrhizae - for which microorganisms are indicative. Monty is a biodynamic writer and consultant (I’ve never opened a fridge more denuded of brands), and if you read the books then all manner of astronomical and totemic forces get summoned to the cause. 

So with everywhereness and everythingness there’s no hierarchy and a sort of dispersal of influence among multiple physical and biological actors and agents. Now, I don’t find this idea unattractive; we live in the “varnish layer” of the Earth’s surface, to quote Bruno Latour, and realizing the extent to which everything is interconnected is, perhaps, our only salvation; but it doesn’t tell us much about terroir - maybe because it tells us too much.    

Michael Broadbent’s idea resonates with Shand’s. Broadbent believes the term is misappropriated and should only refer to the natural environment. Personally, I have a problem with this: it naturalizes winemaking so that it can instate the minimalist relation, Environment  Sensation. But if you really want to go back in time to some sort of first principle, then go back far enough, and there’s no distinction between culture and nature. We need to be careful of origin stories that rely upon a beginning that never was.

The INAO includes man, so recognition that winemaking isn’t just some spontaneous event – a throwback perhaps to pre-Pasteur thinking when yeast and lactobacillus were just thought of as coincidental to fermentation. It also draws upon history, and that's fine, as long as we see history as being unfinished business, and we recognize that the past gives us shaky beliefs as well as immovable walls.  

Sichel’s idea is interesting in its positing of boundaries. Peter Sichel claimed, that only 7% of Bordeaux exhibited terroir, so there’s a certain threshold to quality that needs to be achieved; though Peter then went onto say that terroir has nothing to do with quality. 

Then, two rejections. The Australian Wine Bureau we’ve already mentioned, but Bill Nansen seems to be claiming that terroir is made-up in its modern, dispersed, everywhereness sense. As an author who makes his corn writing about Burgundy, I suspect he thinks there’s a precedent set by Burgundy that needs following. Certainly writers like Jon Bonné seem to align themselves with this point of view, which we might summarize as follows: - Burgundy had longer to sort and frame a range of environmental factors through the prism of elementary winemaking, and other regions need to take note so as not to misappropriate terroir. 

This is the viewpoint I want to challenge: not only are we being told what the model of terroir should be, we’re also being told what wine ought to be. The past has done its job with Burgundy, now we just need to correct the errant ways of fallen appellations.  

Finally, I like this from a New Zealander making one of France’s most iconic wines. He refers to man, soil, environment, but are their contributions as equivalent as he suggests: a third man, a third nature, a third soil? Maybe climate is more important in Chile, and soil more important in Burgundy. In other words, we use different models in different places. Again, I find this a perfectly reasonable idea. I think we underestimate the isolation of wine regions historically, even within the same country. Champagne, Jerez, and Bordeaux just went about things in different ways, they formed distinct networks of production; there’s no sense in which they expediently departed the true path to authenticity and purity taken by the Côte de Nuits' vignerons.

Terroir and the Côte de Nuits (See previous blog entries parts 1 and 2)

‘Terroir and the Côte de Nuits’ was self-serving research. At home, I’d found this shallow lump of Bajocian limestone, and wanted to know what this meant for production. Nothing I read could explain the advantages, so I pieced together various bits of research and came up with a theory as to why certain vineyards routinely performed better than others on the Côte’s brashy soils. 

What I liked about this account, was that it seemed to explain why certain soils are always better, whatever the weather. In hot, dry years, vines planted on the best soils maintain access to water; whilst in wet years, hydric stress comes more quickly. It also seemed to capture the heterogeneity of the Côte de Nuits, without delving into topography and slope angles, which count for little on east-facing slopes. I wished I’d investigated microbiology a little more, but again, just as the Côte d’Or is a homoclime, so its ecosystem is likely to show only minor variation. 

My conclusion was that Grand Cru designation was linked to maturity and concentration. 

Framing and Walls

Burgundy’s inordinately long two thousand-year timeline helped capture some of these differences empirically and structurally. Walls surrounded Chambertin as early as the 7thCentury, and the sustained patronage of dukes, princes and the church provided the region with the stability and resources to flourish. What was bad for peasants was good for wine. There was no opportunity cost attached to centuries spent comparing climats.

Shared and rudimentary vinicultural methods and techniques brought consistency and aesthetic visibility to, what was, God’s creation. For two millennia the effects of geology trickled down through Burgundy’s human strata, recurring tropes and intensities augmenting the vineyards in which they worked.

There isn't a strong geological necessity for the existing pattern of vineyard framing; the senses only get you so far, particularly when they’re up against the vanity of property ownership. The geology and hydrology of Clos Vougeot is notoriously divergent, but even Romanée-Conti is transversed by a fault between the Bajocian and Bathonian beds. The terrain is so fractured, and the accumulation of colluvial and bio-detritic material so erratic, that framing inevitably captures some combinations of geological differences, but not others: the territory could be sub-divided in alternative ways to yield different but equally interesting variations on a Burgundian theme. Difference precedes identity, if you like.

The local pattern of rural settlement - Nuits, Vosne, Morey - shows looser geological underpinnings than the climats. Geological survey maps reveal that variation is much greater down the dip slope of the Côte than it is along its length, yet we can’t resist falling into the nominalist trap of taking the village name as representing something more than the settlement to which it refers. Some differences count more than others. 

The gradients of history ran shallowly across the middle ages. Collective winemaking, extended timelines, and restricted ownership – church, dukes, regents – together with framing and wall building, led to a system of theme and variations based upon the climats. Small batch winemaking wasn’t on offer; winemaking was scaled on how big a chestnut tree you could find and fell.

The Monks’ devoutness minimized human endeavor and maximized God’s omnipotence. Human activity merely confirmed the expressivity of God’s creation. The problem of discretely determinable phenomena originating out of nature unaided is not raised in 15thCentury Burgundy. In fact, as I’ve already mentioned in the context of historicity, even in the twentieth century growers still seem accustomed to a world view that largely excludes their own efforts, talents and inventiveness; or at least that’s how they choose to appear to their visitors.

The French Revolution broke-up the ownership of Burgundy’s vineyards by  church and state, and redistributed their tenure amongst local growers and families. Napoleonic laws of succession that required vineyard holdings to be split evenly between children, proved too effective. Incessant probate meant vineyard holdings often became too small to be commercial, and the divergent trend in ownership only served to reinforce the convergent trend in winemaking, as negociants stepped in to amalgamate small lots of Meursault and Chambertin into commercially viable and exportable quantities. Whatever differences existed between individual grower’s output were largely dissipated in blends.

Only with the advent of domaine bottling in the latter half of the 20thCentury do things change. The rewards for selling in small volumes began to exceed those derived from selling to negociants. (The people who built Burgundy’s walls never considered the economic consequences of a world of 8 billion people.) Not only did direct commercialization become more profitable, but multiple vineyard ownership introduced after the French revolution finally started to be replicated in a divergent winemaking trend. Of course, appellation laws remained in place, individual climats were bottled separately and everyone still spoke in the same cowed tones, but the gradient had steepened. Growers could follow their hunches, institute their own practices and refine examples for posterity. It wasn’t that they’d abandoned the environmentally and territorially oriented schema of climats bequeathed them by history, rather they had de-territorialized and claimed an element of production that patronage and negociants had previously denied them – the difference between tasting Coche and Lafon, or Dujac and Ponsot, if you like.  The theme and variations enshrined by the climats is overlaid by another schema: - the particular theme and variations of individual domaine’s production. 

To adapt an insight of the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, we are confronted with a sedentary distribution of qualities coming from the vineyards, and a nomadic distribution of qualities issuing from the domaine, quite literally in the sense of Gary Farr’s adaption of whole bunch fermentation in Geelong. The ground beneath growers stayed firm, but they themselves had shifted; though you’d never realize this by listening to them. Coche and Lafon both see themselves as revealing the phenotype of Meursault Genevrières, though the two wines are very different, the expression of house style trumping vineyard designation as a source of similarities and differences. To stretch the genetic analogy, what we have now, with the generation of new possibilities and mutations, looks far more like a form of sexual reproduction that cloning.  

Coche’s style is very reductive, mineral, to step on another vinous landmine. I remember a story about Jean Francois Coche taking delivery of a very expensive press, but abandoning it for his old Vaslin because the lees it produced were too light. The chemistry of reduction is amplified by heavier solids, the flavor vector, thiol-acid, gets a boost, and the impression of salinity intensifies. When I visited Coche a decade or more ago, actions and protocols were put in place to generate and exaggerate this particular character, starting in the vineyard, where spur pruning trends towards thicker skins, lower yields and elevated solids, compared to guyot. Once in the cellar, heavy, healthy lees developed and sustained the wine in a reductive state; and finally, diligent and timely handling at bottling meant the chain of reactions initiated during elevage continued beneath the cork. Jean Francois was doing intricate chemistry, but by following examples rather than writing equations. 

As well as sedentary and nomadic distributions, Deleuze also offers us the useful concept of molecular arrangements, which can be set against our earlier relation of proximity and equivalence - Environment  Sensation.  Molecular interactions are much more dynamic, and involve changes of state, and the appearance of new compounds with new properties. Reversing these sorts of combinations is not straightforward. Moreover, as with chemistry, the properties of the resulting compounds may be entirely unrecognizable from the elements out of which they’re composed. The danger of being overly reductionistic or clinging on too tightly to naturalistic accounts of wine, is that we miss out on the extraordinary inventiveness within production that makes DRC, Curly Flat and Monte Bello what they are today.

Coche, Lafon, Boillot, Jobard and the other owners of Meursault Genevrières may still use a language of proximity and static equivalences, but if we watch what they do, and follow how their bottles evolve - instead of just listening - then their activities and wines are much more molecular and dynamic than their words indicate. The reason why we believed that there was anything like a unitary genotype-phenotype relationship holding between wines and climats was because the expressivity of individual growers was oppressed by scale. Through much of Burgundy’s history, ownership was in the hands of the few, whilst after the Revolution wines could only be commercialized if the fragmented parts were blended into bigger wholes. The climats became the only source of differences by default.

If today we are living through a golden age for Burgundy, it’s because of the generous multiplication of possibilities that domaine-bottling has provided. Necessarily, berries and yeast will be decisive vectors of outside influence, but there is nothing like an imperative or manual arriving at the pressoir with them. The Beaune Périphérique is full of busy wine supply stores where you can buy an array of cultured yeasts, yet William Kelley told me of the 260 visits he made last year, only one admitted to inoculating their ferment. 

As said, at creative writing school they push the maxim, ‘always show, never tell’; it’s an adage that also holds for the cellars of Vosne, and we become part of this story when we equate their economy of words to an economy of actions. Enological time may appear to stand as still as the cellar air, but this is an illusion that comes from the assuredness of following examples. 

Just as individual domaine confront and handle nature’s ordeal and bounty differently, so other regions also react differently to the world put in front of them. The stories of Avize, Clos St Hune, Jerez and Monte Bello are not the same. As I’ve mapped it, the path Burgundy went down is just a consequence of its history, and there’s a big distinction to be made between having a history and being compelled by some earthy imperative. Champagne and Bordeaux aren’t errant regions: they just have distinctive pasts. They are ‘otherwise’, just as Lafon and Coche can be considered ‘otherwise’ to the negociant wines that came before them.

The fact that terroir was never formalized perhaps means its sense will always be more evocative than analytical. Identifying a phenomenon that is 'Chambertin' has arguably become harder in recent years as domaine have become more autonomous. Notwithstanding this, those making and those of us tasting Chambertin will continue our vane pursuit of its essence. Phenomena may elude us, but essence will continue to exert a siren force over us.