13 Mar 2008

'Soil Discoverer'

MICHEL CHAPOUTIER, “French farmer who tried to make it in wine”, was uprooted from the Rhône and replanted in London yesterday afternoon. The aim: to present, en-primeur, his selection parcellaires, or finest, named plots from the long, dry ’07 vintage. This was despite the fact that such young, unfinished wine “like a teenager, has a stupid age”. He also took the opportunity to introduce two non-Rhône ventures including one particularly promising Portugese endeavour. The venue, Soho’s Groucho Club, named after a Groucho Marx jibe: 'I don't want to join a club that will accept me as a member'.
Opened in ’85 as a reaction against the traditional gentlemen only clubs of St. James, in that decade it seems to remain. A dusty poster advertising something featuring grossly self-publicising Rowland Rivron makes perfect sense: the club is him personified. Apart from our room, which was filled with ambrosial vinous vapours, the place smelt of atomiser dispensed disinfectant.
Chapoutier, by sharp contrast to Rivron, is outragreously self-depracating, very funny, nimbly able and likeable. He introduced himself as a “lazy winemaker trying to present the best picture of the land”, refusing to “correct vintages” and avoiding filtration. "Filtering a wine,” he said, “is like making love with a condom", before actually giggling. And adding acid, or taking it away would be “sacrificing pleasure for security”. He implements biodynamism across his expansive range. He is even investigating a way to circumnavigate phylloxera by planting a vine seed instead of a cutting. The seed will shoot one apparently more resilient central root; the cutting splays less sturdy roots in all directions. Such an approach is resolutely against G.M.O. which aggressively “leapfrogs 300 years of nature”. Potassium in the vineyard “can even lead to brettanomyces” in the wine. He also abhors “the heavy make-up of oak”.
This is a surprise statement from a man who has been criticised by the likes of thewinedoctor who claims to recognise Chapoutier’s wines ‘even in blind tastings’ because of the dominance of ‘unintegrated new wood’. Chapoutier loosely jokes: “95p/c of barrel makers are thiefs; 100p/c of cork makers are thieves and 105p/c of nurserymen are thieves, yet you still want us to make serious wine somehow.”
He is a natty, charismatic individual, a unified philosopher and scientist. And, wisely, he knows the critics in his audience by name...
I was impressed by the man I met, and the young wines I encountered. I will post my tasting notes on the main site soon.