The year-end is when I start reflecting on the year that has passed by, and as usual, the year went much too quickly in 2017! I am dreaming of a better wine world in 2018, for the producers as well as wine lovers. Below are my wishes for a better wine world:
I wish more people would stop using toxic chemicals in the vineyard. In the area of viticulture, we have advanced by leaps and bounds from the 1970s and 1980s when the use of chemicals for pesticide and herbicide use was widespread. However, many people still continue to use far too much chemicals than is necessary in the vineyard. Agronomists and microbiologists like Claude Bourguignon declared in the 1980s that Burgundian vineyards were ‘dead’ due to the extensive use of chemicals. This alarmed many vineyard owners and they reacted by turning to organic and biodynamic methods of farming.
Despite the cost, additional labour and time involved in organic methods, the wines made by these more natural methods found a strong following. Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Leroy and Domaine de la Romaee Conti are just a handful of top, conscientious producers who became convinced that change was necessary. All three turned to the biodynamic method of farming. Biodynamic principles of farming is a holistic, sustainable approach to farming which involves the use of specific preparations, use of an astronomical calendar for farming and a strong focus on the interrelationships of living organisms on the vineyard/farm.
There is currently a movement to ‘natural wines’, a loosely defined term to label wines made without sulphur or other additions and using organic, natural methods in the vineyard. I have mixed feelings about the recent natural wine movement for numerous reasons. First, the use of the word ‘natural’ seems misleading since it implies that other wines are somehow not natural. Second, the use of sulphur in winemaking dates back many hundreds of years and it is a preservative often used in the food industry. Small amounts of sulphur is not harmful to your health and it also enables the wine to be stable enough to travel around the world to reach our retail shelves. Wines with no sulphur additions can become oxidized more easily and are more vulnerable to poor handling and storage. I am more wary of wines labeled ‘natural’ and wish that producers will take a more balanced approach to wine making.
I wish winemaking techniques would take a back seat to the wine’s site expression. Too often we taste the heavy handed toasty oak of the barrel in which the wine was aged or the zingy sharp acidity from added tartaric acid rather than the wine’s inherent flavors. It’s very easy to make formulaic wines, adding a bit of packaged yeast, then adding a bit of powder tannins or acidity to adjust the taste of the wine to fit a specific profile. When it is skillfully done, it is difficult to tell that the wine has been manipulated. However, these types of wines rarely reach the complex expressions of a wine made without additives.
I wish more producers will consider how quality can come from the vineyard with more careful selection of its site, potential and the grape varieties that best suit the site. When the combination works, then there is no need to enhance its natural site expression. That way, any additions that producers consider making such as adding tannin powders or enzymes to extract flavor, will be carefully considered to see if it masks the taste of that initial combination of right place, best variety and considerate farming. If the quality is coming from the vineyard, producers will also be more careful about aging wine in new oak which can overwhelm or strip the wine of the flavors arising from the land.
In a world where technology can help to create a ‘custom-made’ flavor, it is important that we carefully consider all the winemaking tools now easily at our disposal: vacuum evaporators which eliminate excess water in grape must to concentrate the wine, reserve osmosis machines which can eliminate volatile acidity, alcohol and other wine faults. These types of machines should be used with care and the goal should be to avoid using them altogether and focus more on the natural expression of the wine and the site.
I wish for the wine world more balanced wines without excessive power and alcohol. I would like to put ‘elegant’ as a key positive adjective to describe quality wine to replace ‘powerful’ and ‘big’. I would also like to volunteer other wine characteristics to be more highly valued in the world of wine. These include: subtle, nuanced wines, gentle and delicate wines and wines with great finesse. I believe the era for high alcohol wines with massive extract should be a fad of the past. Our lifestyle, our cuisines and palates in Asia demand a more refined definition of quality in wine.
I wish that there were only honest wines in this world. I wish we did not have to doubt when we buy a good bottle of wine whether the wine is genuine or whether we can trust that what the label says is true. Fake wines are becoming a serious issue since wine is relatively easy to copy; refilling empty bottles of genuine wine bottles makes it even more difficult unless one opens the bottle and can taste the difference. Label integrity is also an important aspect of trust, between the producer and the consumer. In the ideal world, the information on the label should be the guarantee of product integrity.
I wish all wines could be priced at below RMB 1,000. This would eliminated speculative buyers, punters and those who are more interested in making money from wine than opening it and enjoying it with friends. I wish all wines, even the best, had a price cap so that we can hear the ‘pop’ of open bottles more often than admiring it from a far. Due to rising land and labor cost, this would be difficult in places like Burgundy or Napa Valley, but in places like Bordeaux and South Australia, I do think we can find great wines for under RMB 1,000.