Burgundy seminar part 2: Berries or bunches?

Stem use and wooden vats proved controversial issues in a seminar on how to make the best Burgundy this week.

whole bunchesAs noted yesterday (10 January), a London-based IMW event on Tuesday saw Jasper Morris MW coax the winemaking secrets out of Etienne de Montille of Domaine de Montille; Dominique Lafon of Domaines des Comtes Lafon, Bernard Hervet of Domaine Faiveley and Benjamin Leroux of Domaine Comte Armand.

Initially, as previously reported, the discussion focused on white wines and techniques to prevent premature oxidation of Chardonnay from the Côte d’Or.

This was then followed by a detailed look at red winemaking trends, which we have covered in this report, particularly the seminar’s focus on two trends in Burgundy: the inclusion of stems in the fermentations, as well as the increasing use of wooden tronconic vats.

“Nowadays hardly anyone crushes, so the big discussion is on whether to include the stems,” began Etienne de Montille of Domaine de Montille.

Continuing he said, “We love the stems. My father used to do 50% stems but in the 90s we changed, and now we use a different proportion for every vat, going from none to 100%.”

Explaining the benefits of using whole bunches, rather than whole berries or crushed fruit for the fermentation, de Montille said, “I believe that when the wine ages, it [a whole bunch ferment] brings a floral character, roses and spices – aromas I love to find in mature red Burgundy.”

However, he warned that the grapes need to be clean and the stems ripe – and only certain sites produce stems good enough for inclusion in the ferment, with, in the Côte de Beaune, Volnay proving ideal, but, for example, neighbouring Pommard deemed unsuitable.

Furthermore, if the vat is filled entirely with whole bunches, de Montille stressed that a semi-carbonic fermentation takes place, particularly if the grape clusters aren’t punched down.

Such an approach produces wines that “are fascinating and different,” said de Montille.

Comtes Lafon’s Dominique Lafon was not however convinced of the benefit from incorporating stems. “I found that the wine is not as good as when I destem… I don’t think I’m good enough to use whole clusters,” he said, modestly.

“If you ferment with whole clusters it’s very hard to understand where your wine is, what is the level of extraction, but if you destem you have a clearer idea of how are your tannins and where you are going.”

Although Lafon prefers not to use stems in his fermentations, he does like to use intact berries to achieve an initial intracellular fermentation. “My thinking is to get in-the-berry fermentations without dealing with the stems, so we have a destemmer which is very gentle, meaning 80% of the berries are intact, and if we delay pigeage, we can enhance that aspect.”

Similarly, Benjamin Leroux of Domaine Comte Armand said he liked to use whole berries but not stems in his ferments.

Handling in particular grapes from Le Domaine des Epeneaux in Pommard, he said that whole cluster fermentations were not “working so well” in Pommard.

Continuing he said, “What we like about whole bunch is the fermentation in the berry, but we don’t like the stem, so today we have a new destemmer that is adapted for Pinot Noir so we get the maximum amount of whole berries.”

Bernard Hervet

Bernard Hervet, head of Domaine Faiveley

Considering further appellations best suited to whole bunch fermentations, Bernard Hervet of Domaine Faiveley commented, “Pommard and Corton are not ok for whole cluster, but we are making whole cluster fermentations in Volnay and a touch with Chambolle Musigny and with vineyards north of Nuits-Saint-Georges, never in the south.”

He also drew attention to winemaking records kept by Cistercian monk Dom Denise, who made wine at the Château du Vougeot in the mid 1700s.

“Dom Denise said that you should use 25% non-destemmed,” he said.

Summing up this aspect to the discussion, Jasper Morris MW said, “I am seeing a lot more stems… and there are two reasons for this: firstly perhaps because of global warming, for example, in 2009 the stems were used to tone down rich, succulent warm vintage style of fruit.

“Secondly,” he continued, “Henri Jayer, who was against stems, is no longer with us, so more are coming out of the woodwork, and saying that they are using stems.”

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