Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hand of God - Chilling thoughts about Domaine des Baumard and the INAO

What does Giovanni Antonio Canal (AKA Canaletto) have in common with Jean Baumard, the Loire wine producer? Both believe in the use of technology as being legitimate to their artistry. The Italian painter famously took advantage of a Camera Obscura to help him sketch his pictures, while the Frenchman favours cryoextraction in the production of his sweet Quarts de Chaume.

Both are, in the view of at least some people, cheats. If you put yourself in the shoes of some of Canaletto’s contemporaries who tried to capture all that perspective using only their brains and eyes, you’d have to feel a little as though he were an athlete on illegal drugs. M Baumard’s neighbours, and a fair few writers, including Jim Budd (in this post) and Alice Feiring feel similarly about M Baumard’s chilling tanks.

I have mixed feelings about this but, predictably to some I guess, I’m inclined to worry less about the method than the outcome. If M Baumard’s wine tastes as good as, or better than his neighbours, does it really matter? Any more than the tools used by Messrs Blumenthal and Adria in their kitchens. (If the Baumard wines do taste less good, that's another matter, but I haven't seen many suggestions that Baumard's quality levels are not good enough for the wines to carry a Grand Crulabel).

Wine is NOT a natural product. Man is involved, at least to the extent of tending, pruning the vines, crushing the grapes and fermenting their juice. Does an extra tool or two really matter that much?

Does banning cryoextraction fall into the same camp as banning irrigation?

As I say, I have less than defined views, but wonder whether too much of this debate is not focused on the way something is made rather than the way it tastes. What I will freely admit is that I’d rather drink a delicious wine from irrigated vines and/or cryoextracted grapes than a less tasty one that accurately reflects the climate of the vintage.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for the clarification Jim. The question I wanted to raise was the broader one of whether cryoextraction, or reverse osmosis or irrigation for that matter should be allowed for AOC wine. And whether any ban should be based on the effect they have on the final product.

    In my opinion, far too many European wines have been spoiled by anti-irrigation rules that have led to blocked development of the grapes on thirsty-vines.

  3. Comment resubmitted due to typo:

    Robert. I have never said that the Baumards are cheats, although there are aspects of some of the vines on their terraced vineyard overlooking the Layon that I would like clarified. They have been allowed to use cryoextraction under the previous rules and under the new rules would be allowed to use cryoextraction until the 2020 vintage, although the grapes have a minimum potential of 18%.

    Given the reputation and small size of the Quarts de Chaume I think Quarts de Chaume should only be made or released when it is of a certain quality. In poor years it should be declassified to Coteaux du Layon.

    By a democratic decision the around 20 strong producers decided that cryoextraction had no place in Quarts de Chaume grand cru. This process lasted some two years and at the end the only disseneting voice was Baumard.

    There is nothing to stop Domaine des Baumard selling their fine sweet wine under the Vin de France designation, with your permission, they might even add 'By appointment to Robert Joseph'.

  4. It starts in the vineyard: http://jimsloire.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/quarts-de-chaume-cryoextraction.html (26th September 2010)

    These are vines in the terraced part of Baumards Quarts de Chaume holding over looking the Layon. Not all of the vines are like these which are at the north western end of the terraces. Florent Baumard told me that these grapes did not go into their Quarts de Chaume. It is not clear where they did go.

    If there are grapes like this that go through cryoextraction, then it is highly likely that the flavours will different due to the lack of botrytis or passerillage. So I would suggest that the Q de C producers have based their ban on the taste of the product

  5. Robert Joseph My point, Jim, is to separate techniques that are banned - in some way or other - for genuinely quality/style reasons from ones that are outlawed on less logical grounds. A wine from a responsibly irrigated vineyard will taste no different from one that has been lucky enough to be rained on. For this reason - and given the existence of yield restrictions - I have never seen a justification for banning irrigation, where water is available. I would say the same for judicious chaptalisation and acidification, both of which, if done properly, should be undetectable to tasters. Reverse osmosis and cryoextration involve greater intervention. If it can be proven that wines made using these methods can be reliably shown to taste different, I'll entirely agree with them being relegated to Vins de France, or whatever.

    I'd be interested to hear of blind tastings that cast more light on this. In the case of cryoextraction, I believe mature samples might be found in Sauternes...

  6. Jim's response - via Facebook:

    Robert. Yes it would be interesting to do blind tastings. I assume that differences in taste would depend upon the level of botrytis or passerillage in the grapes that went through cryoextraction. Characters associated with an ice-wine are likely to be more dominant than botrytis but as I say that depends upon the level of botrytis present before processing as well as the level in wines that don't go through cryo.

  7. Hi Robert,

    Is there a possibility to email you? I'm a freelance journalist and I would like to ask you a few questions. You can contact me on jansen.liza@gmail.com or via twitter.com/lizajansen

    Thank you for getting in touch with me. Looking forward to hearing from you.



  8. Hi Liza, my email is robertjoseph@unforgettable.com. I'll email you separately in any case.