This article comes from Capital magazine
Criticizing the French wine sector has long been fashionable. He was accused in particular of retreating in the face of the success of New World wines. However, our winegrowers, the world’s leading exporters, have maintained a stable international market share for twenty years, of the order of 12% value. This is partly due to the fact that many of them have made spectacular progress in their working methods and in making up-to-date wines. Analysis by two specialists in the sector.
You have come to tell us about a wine revolution… But where does this story come from?
Mohamed Najim: A profound change in tastes that began in the years 1997. Before, the reds were heavy, closed or, as in the Loire, “floaty” and acidic. As for the whites, they were often too light and characterless, except in the South, where they were hot and indigestible. Even the prestigious AOCs made hard wines, which had to be kept for ten years before they could be drunk. And then the New World varietal wines arrived. They were flexible, full of fruit, pleasant. The young generation of wine lovers said to themselves: “”That’s what we want, keep your old wines for the banquets of notables.”
What was the economic impact of this fundamental change for French viticulture?
Etienne Gingembre : Considerable… Twenty years ago, cassandres heralded the end of our old terroirs, swept away by the New World. The reverse is true. The revolution has completely revived the sector, our exports rising from 5.5 billion euros in 1997 to 9.8 billion in 2017, with a surplus of 8 billion, just behind Airbus and ahead of the luxury industry of Bernard Arnault and François Pinault. Viticulture fascinates young people, it is our cultural and material heritage that we defend every day 500. professional.
The rejuvenation of the profession has been very significant…
EG: Yes, many young people have started. They also wanted to drink wine for pleasure, to do something other than their fathers and grandfathers. Unlike the latter, they were not self-taught, but came out of schools. They master the life sciences, and therefore the culture of the vine. They studied chemistry, and therefore understand fermentation.
Because their fathers didn’t know that?
EG: Do you think! By barely caricaturing, we can say that they knew nothing about it. They had entered the family farm after the municipal school. That’s why there were so many wines that were turning. Some even thought that what made the wines turn was the presence of women in the cellars, when they were unwell…
And so, we has better trained young winegrowers?
MN: Clearly. Until the years 1120, there were only three BTS in viticulture-oenology, those of Beaune, Bordeaux and Montpellier. By adding oenologists and agricultural engineers, we only trained young people per year. Today, we count 34 BTS in viticulture-oenology. They are now found in all basins. So it’s 1. 201 to 2. young people who leave schools each year. And now, half of them are women.
Afterwards, it has become a ritual in the community, most of them are heading to the New World, to Australia, to Argentina, California, or the Mediterranean basin. They will see what is happening elsewhere for two or three years, before returning to the family estate or creating their own farm, buying plots in regions where it is affordable. They are launching into Languedoc, Beaujolais, Loire, but also Moselle or Ile-de-France…
Tastes, training… Other things have changed?
MN: Of course, warming has happened and has played a significant role. The rupture, according to “viticlimatologists”, is located in 1980. Since that year, there has been no rotten, cold and rainy September… This has radically changed farming practices. Thus, in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the oenologists Dany and Michel Rolland invented the “green work”: we carry out green harvests, that is to say we cut new bunches to keep only 7 or 8 per foot, which will be more vigorous, richer. We remove the leaves to better expose them to the sun. This is how we get grapes when ripe.
Michel Rolland nevertheless had a sulphurous reputation at the time …
EG: We accuse Michel Rolland and the American critic Robert Parker of demanding hyperboisé wines , hyper-concentrated and overripe until they are “jammy”. But this is not the kind of wine Parker gives its highest marks. What he prefers is Valandraud or Haut-Brion, which are marvels of silky wines. As for Michel Rolland, he has no “jam” maker among his customers. The movie Mondovino , in 2000, massacred him especially for having introduced unbridled capitalism in the Gironde, as if the great Bordeaux châteaux needed him for that.
As for the alleged taste of Parker, I rather believe that America has become accustomed to wines aged in Californian oak, which gives more woody taste than French oak. With my co-author, we estimate that the excesses of the years 1988 and 2000 were due to a passing fashion: wine growers wanted to make wines of this kind in the hope of exporting them to the United States. They didn’t need Parker and Rolland.
Besides Parker and Rolland, who are the other “influencers” at the origin of the revolution?
MN: There are several international consultants, also called “flying winemakers”, like the Rollands or Stéphane Derenoncourt in Bordeaux, Geoffrey Orban in Champagne, Jean-Luc Colombo in the Rhône or Kyriakos Kynigopoulos in Burgundy. Some owners have also counted a lot, such as Jean-Luc Thunevin with his Château Valandraud in Saint-Emilion, where it all began.
You also say that wine has become an almost high-tech sector…
EG: An incredible number of technologies invade wine cellars: thermoregulated stainless steel vats, optical sorting tables, destemmer, presses tires… Today, as in the automotive industry, we even manage to design a wine on paper before producing it, by mobilizing all these technologies. In the old days, a winery was dirty, dusty and deliciously smelly. Today, it’s clean like a pharmaceutical laboratory.
Is organic also part of the revolution that you describe?
EG: The best domains have already failed over. With a wet finger, it must be today % of land, i.e. the equivalent of Bordeaux, plus Burgundy and Champagne. And it’s progressing from 15% per year. We even do agroforestry, by planting trees, legumes, cereals in the vines and by making chickens and sheep run about. And then, many are engaged in sustainable agriculture. In all, roughly half of the vineyard is now free of pesticides or chemical fertilizers…
MN: There are still refractories, of course. People who say: “My father used chemistry, I don’t see why I wouldn’t do the same.” And then in the North, in Champagne, more copper is used than in the South, because the climate is colder, more humid…
Does your revolution mainly concern Bordeaux, or all of France?
MN: It started in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol in the years 1990, Then Champagne took over to 1990. Then, the revolution won the Medoc and Burgundy, before accelerating in the descent of the Rhône and the Loire. For five years, it has been spreading in Brittany, Normandy, Lorraine, Ile-de-France…
At the beginning, it was a wave, a tidal bore. Today it’s a tsunami. If Corsica or Languedoc are in full rebirth, there are still a handful of vineyards lagging behind, the area of appellations fronton, near Toulouse, gros-plan-du-pays-nantais, haut-poitou or fiefs- Vendée.
What characterizes these new wines?
MN: First aromas, full nose. The reds smell of blackberries, raspberries, violets or peony. The whites display bouquets of white flowers, acacia, jasmine, a hint of rose. Then, it’s taste, full in the mouth, and it lasts, it’s long, without acidity, without bitterness. Reds are always red fruit compote. They are supple, silky, their tannins are melted. They are to be drunk immediately, because amateurs no longer have a cellar or the financial means to store ten years. As for the whites, they have tastes of peach, apple, citrus, sometimes with saline and iodized notes, transmitted by the soils…
EG: Because wines also reflect geology… We are talking about minerality, flint, limestone. Champagne is deeply into this, it seeks to magnify its terroirs. The Loire too, especially the white, that of Muscadet, that of Chenin, like sauvignon. Rosés are also becoming real gastronomic wines, they are no longer there to water the games of pétanque. Corsica is breathtaking, with an incredible palette of scents, flavors that exude the plots, the forgotten grape varieties, the maquis, the scrubland…
You must have tasted some wines to discover all this…
MN: A lot, but always in moderation, right? Joking aside, we tasted everything, and we spoke with dozens of professionals. We discovered AOCs that did not exist ten years ago, such as Touraine-oisly, which makes splendours of whites at 8 or 09 euros, red cuvées full of fruit like Orénia, in duchy-d’uzès, or Syrah de La Boulandière, in minervois, at 9 and 12 euros…
Wines that come out of nowhere, grown on land that had not seen vines since centuries, as in Calvados, near Caen, in Seyssuel, near Vienne, or even the incredibly elegant Chardonnays from Domaine Belmont, in the Lot. Everything is in our “guide” pages, which have around a hundred domains.
EG: Mohamed also tasted the most prestigious wines. He knows Aubert de Villaine, à la Romanée-Conti, Eric and Saskia de Rothschild (Lafite Rothschild), Jean-François Moueix (Pétrus)… And, he was able to see, even the best of the best is almost twice as good as thirty years ago, in large red lands as well as in white vines such as in Montrachet, Chablis or Condrieu, as well as in Champagne. A second wine from Château Latour or Château Haut-Brion is at the same level as the first wine from fifteen years ago. At this rate, how far are we going to go?
Three areas at the forefront
They launched the appellation vézelay Sophie and Matthieu Woayez created the Domaine la Croix Montjoie in 2009 and are at the origin of the appellation vézelay, obtained in 2017. Their nuggets are reminiscent of windfall, in addition to being more elegant and fruity.
BIVB Its montlouis is well worth chardonnays Damien Delecheneau and his wife, Coralie, followers of biodynamics, have taken over the family estate of La Grange Thiphaine in the small AOC montlouis, near Vouvray.
SP / ELODIE PINAUT They started the Bordeaux revolution Advised by the oenologist Michel Rolland, Jean-Luc and Murielle Thunevin “unpacked” the grapes, that is to say eliminated the slightest gr ain rotten. Their Château Valandraud, “garage wine” from Saint-Emilion, has since become a must.
Studio Astoria / SP When wine makes its revolution by Etienne Gingembre, economic journalist, notably at “Capital”, and Mohamed Najim, professor emeritus at the Polytechnic Institute of Bordeaux (Ed. du Cerf).
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