10 Nov The quality of wine – October 2017
The 2017 vintage at Case Basse was particularly difficult because of the mild winter, the early spring (the broom flowered about a month earlier than usual) lacking in rain (Case Basse didn’t suffer frost damage in spring) and the dry summer (at Case Basse, 25 mm of rain fell during the pruning period, from 10th February to 31st August, while in the same period in 2016, 200mm of rain fell; therefore the ratio is 8 times the quantity of rain between 2017 and 2016).
This climatic situation confirms my conviction that it is essential to carry out research with my university professor friends in order to tackle climate change, which began at Case Basse after the January 1985 frost. Research enables me to manage the earth, habitat and vineyards in a more suitable way for each vine. It is important to bear in mind that if the soil isn’t very poor, doesn’t have good drainage, isn’t rich in water and minerals in depth and, moreover, if the vineyard exposure doesn’t get good sunlight, both in terms of hours of daylight and optimal number of days of light, we can’t expect to get great grapes for making a great wine.
Towards the mid-nineteenth century, the German doctor Von Mayer codified the fundamental cycle that enables life to flow uninterruptedly. If the cycle proceeds perfectly, nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide and water are consumed and reconstructed non-stop, and the cycle can go on forever. Sunlight regulates the cycle and we can say that its overall function is to transform solar energy into chemical energy. Chemical energy makes all forms of life possible and, while its source is solar energy, life (including human life) depends entirely on the sun. Through photosynthesis, plants make it possible to use energy from sunlight, not only for themselves, but for all living beings.
To underline this concept, here is an excerpt from “Photosynthesis” by I. Asimov: “If we consider the sun’s energy that reaches the whole earth (with a surface area perpendicular to the sun’s rays of 130 million square kilometres), we would have enough solar energy to produce 395 billion tons of glucose in ten hours. In terms of energy, this is more than enough for all the life processes of the animal world for a whole year.”
In vines, this process is essential for grape quality; a green leaf receives sunlight and in a few seconds carbon dioxide and water are transformed into plant tissue constituents, determining the scission of the carbon dioxide molecule with two main effects: oxygen is released into the atmosphere and the carbon combines with other atoms and is transformed into tissue compounds.
To obtain quality, I believe it is important to know about these natural processes and I recommend reading “Terroir, zoning, viticulture” by M. Fregoni, D. Schuster, A. Paoletti, as well as Carboneau’s studies, to anyone who wants to know more about these subjects.
One thing is certain, if man thinks he can do whatever he wants to plants and uses machines to trim, desucker, tie, remove leaves etc…, therefore touches the vines with machines, in my opinion, he will not obtain grapes suitable for making a great wine.
Climate change at Case Basse has led to enormous changes in the harvest date. Until 1985 it was always at the beginning of October, then it began to vary from 18th October in 1987, 2nd September in 2003 and 26th August in 2017, with enormous variations in many other vintages during the month of September. Therefore, the limited 5-6-day harvest period from 1975 to 1985 became a 53-day period from 1986 to 2017: this must make a vinegrower think, and research should be stepped up on this problem that will affect wine quality more and more in the future. These changes all take place during the period between veraison and the harvest: until 1985 the period from veraison to harvest was about 70 days, in 2017 the same period was 33 days, in my opinion this is the result of climate change and we must find out more about it with research on climate.
On 26th August 2017 the grapes were healthy and ripe, so the harvest began with over 30 people who picked the grapes in two days. They were then destemmed, and the berries were chosen manually because for wine quality, it is essential to put only whole, healthy, ripe grapes into the Slavonian oak vats. The grape yield per Ha is about 16 quintals, very low compared to the 70-80 quintals allowed by the Brunello production regulations, but if you want to make quality, yields must always be very low.
Fermentation is always done without temperature control and only with native yeasts. It lasted for more than 30 days and was very regular, with temperatures reaching 35 degrees inside the fermentation vats.
The must and wine obtained is excellent and is resting in the barrels in the cellar.
Finally, after the damage in 2012, I have 5 vintages of excellent wine, ageing in oak barrels in my cellar, which makes me very happy.
After the harvest, rain prevented me from ripping, hoeing between vines, manual hoeing and tilling all of the 10 Ha of vineyards. But as I consider all these operations essential for soil health, they were done by the beginning of October. Now we are ready for manuring, which I will do when the cold comes, i.e. December/January, so that the soil gets the utmost benefit from this extremely important work for the wellbeing of the vines, which, even during this very dry year, still have lovely smooth, green leaves 40 days after the harvest.
The drought in 2017 made me and my professor friends think a lot about the complexity and enormity of factors that unite man with the land, plants, light, heat, cold, rain, wind, animals, birds, bats, insects, microorganisms, decomposers, rocks, minerals, gardens, woods and everything that helps to produce that marvellous nectar we call wine.
The endless combinations that can be made between the above-mentioned factors, account for the extremely wide variety found in the “wine” product but, at the same time, they complicate any chance of focussing on the fundamental aspects of the quality and greatness of a wine. It is appropriate, at this point in the discussion, to bear in mind that a wine’s composition is extremely complex and difficult to describe in its entirety due to the large number of chemical compounds involved. As there are no official analytical methods on an international level, many of them are affected by various degrees of uncertainty. Thanks to progress made in the last 20 years in wine chemistry and instrumental analytical methods, it is now possible to identify (but not always quantify) almost 1000 (that’s one thousand) constituents just for the compounds able to stimulate visual, flavour and aroma sensations: colour is essentially linked to phenolic compounds (several dozen), taste to ethanol, sugars, polyalcohols and polyphenols, acids and amino acids, countless volatile substances, such as aldehydes, ketones, esters … (several hundred).
This extremely simplified description of the perceptible composition of wine doesn’t take into account the phenomenon of sensory interaction between the constituents (synergy or antagonism), which leads to the perceptible effects of a component being enhanced or even masked, depending on the interaction created.
It is easy to see how in such a situation the quantity (the concentration of each component) takes on fundamental importance, rather than the quality (absence or presence of a component). Unfortunately, however, the reality today is that however detailed chemical analysis of wine may be, it cannot distinguish or recognise a great wine.
What do you think?