I’m reminded of more than one conversion I had with the former winemaker in Morey St.Denis, David Clark. His 2004s and 2011s were not immune to the pyrazines of those vintages, and in the absence of other theories that convinced, he seemed pretty comfortable with the idea that the ladybirds/bugs might be the responsible party.
David was (probably still is) an incurable the inventor/engineer, proposing that maybe the solution was to wash the grapes before they hit the fermentation tanks – he was pretty sure that the environment of the cuverie would harbour enough yeast strains to get the fermentations done, assuming that those populations on the grapes themselves might be washed away. Some other winemakers seemed less convinced of that latter point – but given not many ladybugs since 2011 – it’s a thought that has faded.
I note that in some vintages, Bouchard Père et Fils has ‘sort-of‘ their own grape washing approach; letting the first part of the first press wash away as it contains all the dirt accumulated on the grapes. But an automatic wash for the grapes it isn’t.
Enter the most recent vintages chez Château Thivin; an Italian friend of Claude Geoffray has been using such a washing system for grapes that go into their local bubbles. Claude decided to give it a try. The grapes are hit by high-pressure water before travelling over a vibrating table to remove the larger drops, then a high-pressure air-flow to dry the grapes. “It doesn’t just get rid of the insects,” says Claude, “In the most recent vintages there has been no rain, so the accumulated treatments of the summer are undoubtedly still present on the grapes – copper, sulfur, etcetera.”
Claude confirms that his recent fermentations have been fine – ‘normal‘ – whereas most producers in the last vintages describe fragility in their fermentations, and a couple have even suggested to me that it could be the accumulation of copper still on the grapes that bears some responsibility. Claude is still waiting the analyses of the chemical levels in his ‘wash-water,’ but it’s fair to say he’s been very happy with the results; “It was clear that many of the grapes had an accumulation of something from the vintages that didn’t taste nice before washing – after they were fine.”
For the moment, Claude and the team at Châateau Thivin may be the only winemakers using this tool in France – but with results like this, it seems a modest investment in quality – even without ladybugs!