Bacteria, not blending, brings complexity16th May, 2012 by Patrick Schmitt
Complexity in wine is a function of soil bacteria and not winemaking, according to Michel Chapoutier.
Defending his decision to make his Châteauneuf-du-Pape Barbe Rac and Croix de Bois purely from Grenache, he stated, when speaking at the first trade tasting of his 2011s, “Complexity is coming from the blending of bacteria in the soils… I believe that the blending of grapes is a short cut for complexity.”
Continuing, he pointed out that “probably the best wine region in the world, Burgundy, doesn’t blend grapes,” while he recorded that before phylloxera ravaged France’s vineyards, “There wasn’t much blending of grapes even though they could plant grapes everywhere – blending grapes is not an old trade.”
Furthermore, he described the blending of Cabernet Sauvignon with other grape varieties as “one of the defects of Bordeaux,” adding that achieving complexity in wine was an “agronomic problem, not a winemaking problem”.
However, he said that the results from a rich and varied bacterial soil life would only be expressed in a fermented product.
“The alchemy of the fermentation is the best lawyer for the theory of terroir,” he said.
Chapoutier explained that bacteria around the roots of the vine facilitate the transfer of minerals in the soil, which in turn affect the yeast populations on the grapes and in the must, and hence the flavour profile of the wine.
“The roots by themselves are not able to assimilate minerality, they can only absorb organic richness, so the bacteria will make the transmission,” he began.
He then compared the process to breast-feeding, saying, “If a mother liquefied some meat and gave it to a two month old baby it could not take it, but the mother will need to eat the meat and the bacteria will assimilate the protein which will be transferred to the milk.”
In the vineyard he exemplified, “On limestone the bacteria will give the vine more calcium, which can be extracted and sent to the juice.”
The concentration of essential trace elements, or Oligoelements, he added will then affect the yeast population, with some strains reproducing faster depending on the type and quantity of elements in the grape juice.
For this reason, Chapoutier suggested that famous vineyards with no bacterial life should perhaps be prevented from having an AOC.
He also professed his obsession with the results of vineyards planted on granite.
“I love granite, it has so much to say. It is the least logical soil for the vine, which is born on limestone. The vine has had to adapt to granite, and the struggle is probably one of the reasons for the expression of the wine.”
He also stated, referring to the Hermitage hill’s four different geological types, “The best expression found in wines is where there is a clash geologically.”
To read more about minerality in wines click here.