Sunday, September 25, 2011

A difficult vintage, or a false one?

The paradox of the
superior vintage
is to be no less
beset by temptation
than the off years.
When conditions fur-
nish the most perfect
ripening of the fruit,
there is the tempta-
tion to overcrop it,
reducing its vigour;
to sell it on the fame
of its year, or to al-
low its potential al-
cohol to overwhelm its
acidity, to boast: one
has the biggest red on
the block. It will fade,
and it should.

In equivocal vintages,
such as ours this year,
additives of potential
alcohol (plain sugar),
acids, off-the-shelf
tannins and infusions
of oak tempt one to de-
ceptions against the
hard work of hand sel-
ection of the fruit,
for an inevitably small
return on investment,
with nevertheless
estimable wine.

Viticulture is full of
difficult vintages and
good people, and very
few unambiguous prin-
ciples. The cultiva-
tion of ignorant de-
mand is anathema to 
the vigneron. But in
this country, a market
based still in saloons
exerts great pressure on
winegrowers; with fewer
louts, the palate would 
be better developed,
and it would appreciate
the character of time's
convergence with place,
from which there is wine.

I observe temptation in
viticulture, to tamper
with that convergence, 
as leading time and again
to the defeat of elegance.

The farmer is the first 
to be moved unbearably 
to decry that consequence, 
and not just because his 
love and that of his ances-
tors, or his living and 
that of his dependents are 
so exposed. There is nothing 
ambivalent about the claims 
upon his soul. He is not 
a winegrower by necessity. 

Elegance, he knows, is supple 
enough for compromise, but not 
for contempt. Possibly he has
always lived in that time and
in that place, where popular 
vulgarity tested his soul. If 
he lives here and now, he knows 
acutely and fatalistically that
the invisible hand is a poor
artist and a tragic husband, 
but excitable and obdurate.

We have to concede, the
integrity and structure 
of wines are a bellweth-
er of their culture; the 
mystical allusion, terroir 
appropriately surveys this 
variable. The winegrower 
can shape structuring var-
iables within the limits 
available to the educator,
in loco parentis; he is
aware of this model, and
that his wine depends up-
on his embrace of it. 
But he can seldom develop 
taste in the taster or def-
end the emergence of beauty
against inclement consump-
tion. Other ages, other cul-
tures, other visions pour 
his soul. And how has this 
always been done?   

            Counting from the vintage of 1785: 
            Son Altesse Sérénissime has the goodness
            to accord to Étienne Magnien, vigneron of
            La Romanée, an augmentation of ten livres,
            .. on condition that he cultivates the vines
            with the greatest of care .. S.A.S. desires
            not a large quantity of wine, but of quality.
            You know that a vine overcharged with fruit
            produces only a mediocre wine. Please tell
            the vigneron to prune the vines accordingly.
            Such is Monseigneur's ultimate wish ..

            Memorandum of the Prince de Conti
            3 May 1786

Richard Olney
Romanée - Conti
  The world's most fabled wine
Flammarion, 1991©
Richard Olney, translation
Rizzoli, 1995©

vi Benjamin A. Huseby, photography
     Bolshoi youth

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