I am a fierce defender of French traditions, but also of organic and natural wine. As a sommelier for more than 25 years, the world of wine has many "religions". Despite this, it is above all a family, and everyone must respect each other.
I'm going to tell you three wine stories that skinned our business in 2020.
This year in the USA, a sexual harassment scandal arose in the prestigious Master Sommelier. In France, a cartoon against a female agent was violently denounced on social networks. I am saddened by these sexist and violent stories against women in our profession. In addition, the best French sommelier of 2018 is called Pascaline Lepeletier. I hope very soon that Pascaline or one of her colleagues becomes world champion. The wine business is not only for men.
On the other hand, I am a feminist, I want women to get the same salary. Then, to say to a man or a woman: his beauty, his skills, and his qualities, are very important for the confidence of everyone. The equality between man and woman will create a better world for all. But this fight must not turn into a power struggle that gives rise to extremism. I take the example of Alice Cofin, a French politician and journalist who no longer reads men's novels or listens to music made by men. Competence has no gender, but neither does stupidity. The wine world must annihilate this parasite which is sexism.
It is obvious, sexists do not like women.
Pesticides in wine:
HVE is a new label in the French agricultural world. "The HVE label is an environmental certification resulting from the Grenelle de l'Environnement and awarded to farms that respect a certain level of environmental practices. Wine farms are the most numerous to have obtained this label so far".
Valérie Murat and her association alerte aux toxic have analyzed bottles of HVE Bordeaux and have denounced that they contained pesticides. The interprofession of Bordeaux wines have filed a complaint for denigration.
HVE is the commercial response of a conventional agriculture wanting to promote a so-called "more responsible" agriculture in the supermarket.
Am I objective? That's why I asked my good friend D. to share his opinions. He is over 60 years old, we have known each other for over 26 years, and he is a specialist in Bordeaux wines.
"HVE is not an antagonist to organic, it is a bridge to go organic. The vines have been so chemically bombarded that it will take some time to erase them. Becoming HVE is a big step to start reducing them. The lawsuit between Bordeaux wines and Valerie: no one cares in the Bordeaux wine world. Anyway, it was bullshit to sue.
A few years ago, the organic in Bordeaux was folklore, now it is serious. Pontet-canet, Palmer, Latour are organic. The Bordeaux region is one of the first regions of organic viticulture. Let's give it time. But know one thing, in Bordeaux only 15% of the clientele is interested in organic and natural wine.
HVE is an obligatory bridge to cross in order to reach the healthiest agriculture for the consumer and the farmer which is organic or biodynamic agriculture. HVE is not the proof of a healthy agriculture but the beginning of an awareness of the conventional farmer.
Deception in natural and classic wines:
"Two companies operating Château Ducru Beaucaillou and Château Lagrange were on trial for falsification, deception and fraudulent use of a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) ....... The company had mixed Haut-Médoc and Saint-Julien appellations.
The book "les bons vins et les autres" by Pierre-Marie Doutrelant (1976) denounced dubious trafficking in the French wine world. I myself have heard stories of tanker trucks coming from Spain and going to Bordeaux and confirmed by a judgment in 2016 of a merchant from Libourne.
Another rumor, confirmed by an organic winemaker from Languedoc-Roussillon, reached my ears. A natural winemaker from Beaujolais often came between 2000 and 2009 to pick Grenache with his team. Carbonic vinification hides the origin of the grapes well. But, the rumor never turned into truth. Info or intox, I don't know. But, I never liked his wines, even blind.
My wine alter ego Laurent Bonfitiglio told me about a very popular Italian natural wine that for him was not natural at all. My philosophy is to always taste. I bought this CA wine. I tasted it over 3 days: a big shit. But how can we distribute this kind of natural wine? But how could known professionals like Raw wine and its American importer be fooled by this domain? I am very surprised, because I have a lot of respect for these two professionals. On the other hand, an independent Italian journalist confirmed to me that the father of the wine maker Valentina Passalacqua "Settimio, was arrested and accused of underpayment and exploitation of more than 200 migrants, mostly from Africa and Eastern Europe. An American journalist Angelina Chapin wrote an article denouncing the fall of this empire.
For me, these two examples show the limit of our tasting system. The great institutions must recognize both :
- chemical and synthetic aromas in a wine. Many people confuse minerality with sulfur. Few people know how to recognize a wine made with selected laboratory yeasts and a wine made with indigenous yeasts.
- Natural wine aromas such as mouse pee, or volatile acidity must be recognized as both a defect and a quality of natural wine. If they express themselves immediately in a natural wine: it is a defect. If they express after 3 days of opening, it is the proof that it is a real natural wine. If after one week of opening, there is no volatile acidity or mouse pee, the winemaker has used another substitute than sulfur.
My advice for appreciating a new winemaker:
1/ Taste the wine with the winemaker, it allows you to know the history of the winemaker
2/ Taste the wine over a week: this allows you to know its evolution. And its evolution allows us to know the purity of the wine and the honesty of the winemaker. A wine made with selected laboratory yeasts does not resist after 2 days of opening. An organic wine made with indigenous yeasts, even without sulfur, resists to the opening. I have examples with me. I forgot 3 wines opened during 1 month, one of them without cork: Cuvée Nadège, a powerful white from Rapatel and two wines from Didier Barral from Faugères. They were just extraordinary.
On the other hand, an organic winemaker from Tuscany olive Paul Morandini has created an association TOWA. A few years ago proposed to a European commission a composition label for wine. The first vote was positive. The second vote: the greens (ecologists) voted against. Paradoxical no? Why Coca-Cola gives its composition of additives and the winemaker does not give his composition? It is the right of all consumers to know the composition of wine. Why not make a wine application like in France for the products of supermarkets YUCA. You scan and you have the composition of the wine.
This story of Valentina Passalacqua's estate is proof that there are two worlds in wine:
- People who work from the heart
- people who ride the wave of business. And God knows that strong waves are not eternal.
Happy new year to all, may the world of wine be a world for all: Women and men, natural wines and classic wines, all united in the same family.
Jean-Charles Botte former sommelier xich-lô Oslo.
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