“On Fabrique une Chaise, mais On Élabore un Vin!”
(translated—One makes a chair, but one elaborates a wine!)
(This blog was largely based on reactions to the Jacques Puisais’ French Video on Terrior. To see this video: Jacques Puisais’ Comments on Terroir)
Have you ever had one of those situations where you go in with one idea, but you come out with something entirely different? That was my luncheon with Jérémy Arnaud and the Bourguignon’s.
Mr. Arnaud, the marketing director of all Cahors wines, had invited me over to meet Claude and Lydia Gabucci Bourguignon, a husband and wife team of geologists in the region. This was a chance in a lifetime opportunity. Not only had Mr. Arnaud mentioned them, but it seemed that everyone from the wineries to local camera store had mentioned that these were the people to talk to about Malbec, provided, of course, we could find them in the region. It turns out they are the preeminent masters of soil/vine combinations of the world, and travel extensively helping out wineries (including Romanée Conti in Burgundy and Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon in California). But, as our luck would have it (and we’ve been exceedingly lucky on this trip), they were going to be in the region presenting a seminar that Sunday morning.
So, my thoughts went immediately to how this chance meeting might go. I, of course as an American, would go to quizzing them about rootstocks and Malbec clones that would be appropriate for our unique, very rich, Aiken clay loam. I think this was the last time I had that thought.
I arrived at Mr. Arnaud’s house at noon, with the Bourguignon’s being about 45 minutes late (their seminar went long). This gave Mr. Arnaud the chance to show me a couple of other marketing aspects of the Lot region and Malbec, including an incredibly educational video of Jacques Puisais, a very well-known enologist from the Loire Valley (known for Cabernet Franc) talking about Cahors. All in French, this 10-minute video was packed with gems of wisdom with a totally different approach to wine than California’s more “produce to the trend” mentality. Mr. Arnaud would stop the video ever once in awhile to make sure I understood key points, including the title of this blog.
The concepts were simple, but absorbing them is taking time. It’s just that everywhere you look here in the wine regions (and not just Cahors), the evidence is overwhelming of how the complex elements of a region’s people, culture, wine, cuisine, agriculture, soils, climate, etc. are all so wonderfully intertwined. The video starts Mr. Puisais commenting with such words as “listen to the soil and it will teach you” and “wind is the accent of the wine.” The point being that the ground your vine grows in gives the essence to the wine. You can actually taste this. The earth has many winegrowing regions with very similar soils where the climate (or in Mr. Puisais’ opinion, the wind) then adds subtle differences to the growing conditions that one can taste in the wine. More particularly, he notes that you can taste the impact of salty winds blowing off the Atlantic Ocean on wines grown in the regions impacted by Atlantic weather patterns (the Loire, Bordeaux, the Lot, etc.) versus those grown on the eastern side of France. And thus, there is no right or wrong in wine flavors, and the concept of typicity (the exact flavors a particular variety should have) is completely flawed.
Instead, the point would be choosing the right variety for the right region, and then the rest just falls into place. Pretty much summing it all up, with only the passion and conviction that comes from a Frenchman, Mr. Puisais explains that it is obvious that high tannin reds grown on clay soils are served with chicken thighs and those grown on sandy soils are served with chicken wings. The wines are completely different, and the important aspect is pairing these differences properly. (And to think that I would have said “chicken is chicken.”)
Mr. Puisais’ comment that “one makes a chair, but one elaborates a wine” seems to be a statement countering the increased usage of oak as component in winemaking, amongst other aspects (oak chips, micro-oxygenation, etc.). The winemaker is there to guide the wine, not build it! And as a winemaker, it’s tough sometimes not to be heavy-handed on a wine in order to move it into a style simply for marketing reasons.
And lastly, of all the new “innovations” the industry has seen in the last century, only one has really improved the quality of wine—temperature control. The ability to warm and cool wines to help with fermentations and retain fruit characters, amongst other things, has taken a lot of the “unpredictability” out of wine production.
So if you’re going to “make” wine (and I hate to use the word “make” now), truly the quality is the fruit and its unique aspects. Choose your varieties well, as they are a reflection of your region.
It was at this point that Mr. and Me. Bourguignon arrived, and the real fun started!