You are currently viewing the International Edition. You can also switch to the Hong Kong Edition.
Wednesday 1 July 2015

Peter Finlayson’s quest for great Chardonnay

23rd August, 2013 by Gabriel Stone

Peter Finlayson, who has spent the last 24 years as winemaker & general manager of Walker Bay estate Bouchard Finlayson, reveals how he is still exploring new techniques to improve his Chardonnay.

Bouchard Finlayson winemaker & general manager, Peter Finlayson

Bouchard Finlayson winemaker & general manager, Peter Finlayson

While this variety is an established presence in South Africa, Finlayson suggested that it can prove a frustrating conundrum for producers and consumers alike.

“I’ve always had the outlook that it’s easy to make good Chardonnay but difficult to make great Chardonnay,” he told the drinks business. “Some people abuse it and then blame it on the Chardonnay.

So what distinguishes great Chardonnay from the merely good? “It’s really about getting that extra flinty character,” maintained Finlayson who argued that, at its best, “the only wines that compete with it are great Rieslings.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledged the additional economic challenges that Chardonnay presents, both in the vineyard and the cellar.

“Producers who planted Chardonnay have perhaps burnt their fingers because after 10 years it’s got leaf roll virus and collapsed,” he remarked of the variety’s history in South Africa. “It’s far safer to plant something like Viognier.”

Turning to a more widespread issue facing Chardonnay in the form of its susceptibility to premature oxidation, Finlayson is convinced that protecting the wine during the bottling process is key.

“Once we went to a semi-automatic bottling machine we suffered a little bit of a problem with ageability,” he recalled. “Now we’ve gone back to an Italian machine that injects nitrogen and it’s much better.”

For Finlayson, the closure debate has not yet convinced him to follow many other Chardonnay producers in embracing screw cap. While admitting that cork is “not as totally secure as screw cap,” he feels the balance is still tipped by “the pleasure in enjoying that tradition.”

Even when producers successfully tackle the various hurdles thrown at them by Chardonnay, Finlayson suggested that its “rather more powerful” style can be confusing for those accustomed to lighter whites.

“Our advice to the consumer is to treat your Chardonnay like a red wine compared to a variety like Sauvignon Blanc that seems to be far more easy drinking,” he remarked.

When it comes to channeling this power without compromising on finesse, Finlayson told db that his approach has shifted over time.

“In my early years of winemaking I’d look at skin contact to give it heaps of polyphenols,” he recalled. “Over the years we’ve been coming away from that and go in far more for the whole bunch pressing.”

Even today, after nearly a quarter of a century at the helm of Bouchard Finlayson, he is in the process of testing out a different training system for the estate’s Chardonnay.

Based on advice from Alain Deloire, former professor in viticulture at Stellenbosch University, Finlayson has taken a two-hectare vineyard and replaced the estate’s usual double-cane Guyot system with the five-cane approach used in Chablis.

In this way, he hopes to counteract the poor budding of his Chardonnay caused by the lack of winter chill in his coastal region – the same solution to the opposite problem in Chablis, where poor flowering is more likely to be the result of very cold conditions.

Explaining his problem with the traditional Guyot system, Finlayson noted: “As these canes tend to push out strongly at the ends it is no guarantee that even eight buds will produce strong shoots.”

By contrast, with the Chablis system (see diagram), he predicted: “the canes are pointing upwards which will also stimulate apical dominance but in this case it will be double the

The Chablis training system currently being trialled at Bouchard Finlayson

The Chablis training system currently being trialled at Bouchard Finlayson

number as in our existing system.”

However, he concluded: “It remains to be seen if the theory translates into its anticipated advantages!”

the drinks business Global Chardonnay Masters 2013 takes place in September. Presided over by a panel of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers, rather than being judged by country, each Chardonnay is assessed by style and price.

Those interested in entering the competition can do so here. The deadline for entries is 13 September.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

If that's interesting, how about these?

Accolade's Fish Hoek goes Fairtrade

South Africa's Fish Hoek is to go Fairtrade from the 2015 vintage, becoming more...

World's best beer and wine festivals

Forget Glastonbury, these are the festivals you should be making a beeline for more...

Scots invited to explore Chianti Classico and Prosecco

The promotional bodies for Prosecco Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and Chianti more...

Sales Executive - Wines & Spirits Competitions

London, United Kingdom

Competitive

Sutcliffe steps down from Sotheby’s role

Serena Sutcliffe MW has stepped down from her position as worldwide head of more...

Top 10 wines in the UK press

An "epic" Riesling, a "Grecian beauty" that "gobsmacks with opulent tropical more...

Symington Estates to uncover Douro's best grapes

Symington Family Estates has planted an experimental vineyard in the hottest more...

Business Development Executive

London, United Kingdom

£25-£30K + benefits, depending on experience

Beaujolais pushes for sparkling AOC

Beaujolais is trying to gain AOC status for its sparkling wines which, with it more...

BBR to host pop-up dinners in 'secret' cellar

Berry Bros. & Rudd has unveiled a "secret" cellar underneath its shop in more...

Pontifex Scholarship 2015 open for entries

Wine Australia and The Daniel Pontifex Memorial Trust have opened the 2015 more...

UK Sales Manager

London, United Kingdom

Oregon producer takes international view

One of Oregon’s youngest wine estates has partnered with Jackson Family Wines more...

Final call for Liberty apprentice scheme

Liberty Wines is inviting final applications for its apprentice programme, more...

China’s Ningxia region launches wine contest

Select winemakers will have the chance to travel to China to learn from its more...

Supplier Relationship Manager

London, United Kingdom

Red wine can help you lose weight

Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes, has been found to more...

WOSA woos UK indies and on-trade

Wines of South Africa has announced plans for a new UK trade tasting later this more...

Diageo appoints North America president

Deirdre Mahlan, Diageo's chief financial officer, has been announced as the more...

Hatch Mansfield – Brand Manager

London, United Kingdom

Competitive salary

Top 10 wines in the UK press

An English fizz fit for Wimbledon, a "chunky, berry-stuffed" Negroamaro and a more...

Top 10 wines in the US press

An impressive Tannat-Merlot-Zinfandel blend from Uruguay and a Vernaccia from more...

Vinadeis unveils Languedoc 'black diamonds'

One of France’s largest wine producers has launched a high-end Languedoc more...

International Business Development Assistant

London, United Kingdom

To be determined, based on the profile and experience of the candidate

Red wine could help fight depression

A component found in the skins of red grapes could be used to treat depression more...

Burgundian négociant celebrates gin smuggler

Burgundian négociant, Vallet Frères, has allowed a special bottling of more...