premature oxidation research

Update 5.10.2007(26.1.2007)billn

oxidation alertI was recently able to meet the press attaché Cécile Mathiaud and Michel Baldassini, the head of the main Burgundy wine growers’ association, the (BIVB) – he is also head of the Cave Coopérative de Lugny.

My reason was to try and get a perspective in the research of the BIVB into the phenomenon of ‘premature oxidation’ – or as the BIVB prefer to say – ‘pre-aging’.

If there is one thing about this whole episode that particularly rankles, it was the impression that the growers association was rather tight-lipped about the issue. Given that it became apparent that research was underway, I thought it pertinent to ask ‘since when?’ and ‘what the trigger was to start?’:

Actually, concerning our researches we did it in 2 parts.

First, by the end of the 90’s, we started to have a closer look on the pre-aging problem. We do have a SAQ (Suivi Aval Qualité – a survey of our wines through France and the world – we pick bottles in shops and taste them to check whether they are okay and not – when they are not okay we make an analysis to find where the fault comes from, so that we may give advice to our producers). So with the SAQ we started to have a picture on the question of pre-aging and as soon as we found clues on where to start (in 2004/2005) the concrete research started in our labs.

We started concrete researches as soon as we were certain that the problem would have several factors and we could work on them.

So, even if the BIVB were ‘tight-lipped’ at least they were not turning a ‘blind-eye’!

I appreciate they do not want to spread alarm, but I’m sure some proactive discussion on their website, or an article in Bourgogne-Aujourd’hui might have been helpful – certainly once the vocal group of collectors that contribute to the forum on Robert Parker’s website began their mammoth discussion. The silence was not golden.

Coming back to the “several factors to work on”, these took in primarily;

  • ‘generous’ yields
  • must pressing
  • use of sulfur dioxide
  • ‘closures’

Summarising our discussion, Michel didn’t give the impression of wishing to pre-discuss the findings to-date, but seems to believe that no ‘one cause’ will be found. At the very least, he is hoping that they can come forward and express a framework for the growers that will minimise the risks factors for ‘pre-aging’.

The results should be delivered in mid 2007, but it was not exactly clear how the results might be diffused; Michel said that ‘of-course diffusion of the results in the form of recommendations would be important for growers, particularly as potential causes are (might be) eliminated’. My feeling is that they will benefit from an open appraisal of the results and the dialogue that should follow.

We discussed several issues in an informal way, but it was an interesting observation from Michel when he said ‘if, in the end it comes down to needing more sulfur dioxide, it will be interesting to see how the market might react to wines that need opening 2 hours before consuming – to avoid the bottle stink – this could be the choice…’

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