zones of Australia where sugar ripening and alcohol frequently outpace the ripening of the grape’s physiological makeup.
While wines made to this coda still exist, the zeitgeist has shifted, as our conversation attested. The less-is-more approach often champions cooler sites, lower alcohols and less winemaking intervention, be it in the use of oak, or otherwise. The organic-cum-biodynamic niche, manifest too in the more left-of-centre “natural” category, takes this approach to its end point whereby winemaking is almost discouraged completely. Clearly, this approach parlays well with the current fashion for organic produce and artisanal production, steeped in the story of provenance.
The trend of a gentler approach to turning grapes into wine, no matter what it is called, is a means to elaborate on the story of terroir told in a different light. But just as excessive winemaking obfuscates the voice of the vineyard, poor winemaking under the banner of minimalism serves to do the same thing. The hand of the winemaker is just as perceivable in either case; the former because of the winemaker’s ambition, the latter due to his haplessness.
As for the age of the winemaker being a thing of the past, I’m not sure I agree. The nature of winemaking has become softer, more judicious, less about making a strong impact on the ensuing wine and more about allowing it to serve as a conduit for the expression of terroir.
There are plenty of lauded winemakers offering small volumes of gentler wines. Their reputation is based on quirkier points of differentiation and the cult of personality, however, rather than the application of an arsenal of winemaking tools and the thick wines that result. Jean Foillard in Morgon, for example, is known for highly individual interpretations of the great granitic cru, Côte du Py.
More dynamic, and even more cultish, is Raúl Pérez. In his native Spain, Perez has transformed the languishing image of Albariño across different sites, rediscovered forgotten indigenous grape varieties of Galicia and plied his judicious hand across a number of collaborative operations, from larger volume projects making quality at an agreeable price point to minuscule quantities of site-specific wines made from the increasingly fashionable Mencía grape.
The nuances, energy and joyful drinkability of these are a case in point that the best wines come from the best winemakers, no matter whether their approach is more conventional or of the minimalist ilk. What is certain, too, is that a gentler approach in the winery is increasingly responsible for a slew of delicious wines. The choice is ours!