A Few Interesting Facts about Burgundy: Masterclass with Burghound Allen Meadows
I recently had the good fortune to attend the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s weekend of wine masterclasses, organised by The Wine Guide’s Ben Edwards.
The Burghound,com’s Allen Meadows led the Saturday afternoon session: “Those Brilliant Burgundians.” For those who may not be aware, Meadows (commonly referred to as the Burghound) is the most widely respected and influential wine critic of Burgundian wines on the planet! The session was packed, which is probably not surprising given that Australia is the Burghound.com’s third biggest subscriber market after the US and the UK!
Meadows’ knowledge is mind-boggling and his presentation skills are superb. In his low key approachable style, he provided many insights into the ‘real‘ Burgundy, gleaned from spending countless time on the ground over the past 30 plus years. Here are a few interesting facts:
The Oil Shock of 1973 ironically helped to revive Burgundy’s fortunes
Most of the big négociants, who buy up and bottle grapes from the smaller Burgundian producers, stopped buying when the world economy collapsed into recession after oil prices shot up in 1973.
Consequently, in order to survive, many of the medium-sized and small domaines were forced to bottle their own wines. This trend was supported by the emergence of mobile bottling companies, which made it easier for the producers to take more control of how their wines were handled through all stages of production. Now in charge of their own labels, the growers started to pay a lot more attention to improving the quality of their wines. Today over fifty percent of domaines bottle their own wines.
New farming practices have led to a deeper understanding of how to get the best out of Burgundy’s famous terroir
Meadows explained that by the 1970s much of Burgundy’s soils were so badly depleted by the ill-use of chemicals that the landscape was almost desert-like!
As growers started to make their own wines in the 1970s, they moved away from a reliance on commercial herbicides and pesticides and began implementing organic and biodynamic farming methods.
These practices, enthusiastically adopted by a younger generation of producers around the turn of the century, have led to a deeper understanding of the nuances of Burgundy’s unique terroir and how to cultivate it. Dry farming is now commonplace, and top producers are fanatical about ploughing, as it kills off surface roots and forces the vines to dig deep for water and nutrients – thereby helping to impart a sense of terroir in the wines.
Premature oxidation, first recognised as a problem in the early 2000s, is being addressed
Meadows explained that around 2002 premature oxidation of Burgundian wines was recognised as a serious problem. A lot of research has been done to determine why this is happening.
While definite answers are still elusive, producers believe that imperfect cork fit is a contributing factor. Consequently, great improvements have been made in standardising the diameter of bottle necks so that the corks fit correctly. They are also using slightly wider corks to compensate for premature cork shrinkage, which may be occurring because the corks being used today are from younger, less mature trees than in years past (7 versus 20 years of age due to increased demand for corks!). Perhaps a good argument for a move to screwcap!
Photo: Virginie Taupenot-Daniel of Domaine Taupenot-Merme and Allen Meadows