So Many Questions For Great Vintners


If time travel were possible, where would you go to and to what time? Isn’t that a tantalizing thought? I often taste wines made by winemakers who have left this world. Many of them are simply amazing wines. I wonder if they imagined their wines to taste so good or to last so long.

Here is an imaginary list of winemakers who I would have loved to meet to hear their narrative of the wines I have tasted.

Henri Jayer is considered by many to be one of Burgundy’s greatest makers of red wine, and he died in 2006. His wines are some of the most collectible and expensive in the world. In fact, recently wrote that Jayer’s Richebourg is the most expensive 750ml bottle on average in the world. But what made his wines so special was his growing techniques in the vineyard, as well as his mastery in the cellar. He promoted natural farming and had a disdain for chemical treatments. Low yields and perfectly ripe and healthy fruit were all-important to him. In the cellar, he believed in complete de-stemming and was the progenitor of the “cold soak.” This process keeps the juice of the grapes in contact with the skin of the grapes for a determined period prior to fermentation, in order to extract all the “goodness” from the skins. Fortunately, his techniques have been passed on to his nephew Emmanuel Rouget and others who worked with him.

I would love to talk to him about his philosophies and why he thought that stems were not a positive influence in Pinot Noir making. Who did he get his inspirations from? What does he think of the wines he made being so astronomically expensive now? Whose wines now excite him and why?

There are a few wine-makers whom I would love to talk, to but their names unfortunately have not been recorded in history. These would be winemakers who started a certain technique; whether they stumbled upon it or purposefully created it, it would be great to find out the real reason behind their creations.

For instance, who was the first to make and master botrytis-style wines? Who would even think of making wine out of rotten-looking, fungus-covered grapes? But one taste of Chateau d’Yquem or a Trockenbeerenauslese, and you can see why it is such a labor of love. The decadent wine leaves far behind the ugliness of the grapes and creates something heavenly.

I would love to meet Dom Perignon. No, he did not invent the sparkle in Champagne – in fact, it is rarely known that he tried to eliminate the bubbles in it. But it would be fabulous to have seen his mastery of the method for blending different grapes from different vineyards to create such a beautiful product that royalty from far-flung countries sent orders to his abbey just for his wines.

And I would love to meet the intrepid soul who first tasted and tried to recreate Madeira, seizing the unique style of wine created from sitting in a ship for weeks being exposed to all sorts of turbulence and temperature changes, not to mention leagues of oceans. Who would have thought to re-create those conditions in order to make the most indestructible and long-lived wine in the world? We could taste a bottle that he made those centuries ago, and I am positive it would still be wonderfully tasty even now.

Time travel may never be possible, but if we choose to, we can still purchase such great treasures that these great winemakers created many years ago, and I am grateful for that.

Recommendations: 2011 Dopp Creek Pinot Noir ($25) I have to tell you that I am really falling for Pinot Noirs from Oregon. This one pops out of the glass with sweet berry notes, and is silky and finesseful on the palate; really delicious and suave. 2012 Bertani

Pinot Grigio “Velante” ($15) Bright citrus peel and flesh notes abound with minerality in the background. It is richer in style than most Pinot Grigio, which is a good thing in this case. It is one of those wines that can just make you smile.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.
Twitter: @Pinotpusher