The following is an excerpt of an article published by leading wine writer and Master of Wine Jancis Robinson last Friday in the Financial Times. “Southern Rhône Producers are worried about ever hotter summers,” she writes in her Southern Rhône 2012 report, “in very high temperatures the ripening process can simply stop.”
France’s wine officials are often infuriatingly diplomatic. Not so Michel Chapoutier, vice-president of the generic wine organisation Inter-Rhône and head of the eponymous wine producer. When presenting his company’s top 2012s in London last year, he was asked by the buyer for The Wine Society whether he really thought the future of Châteauneuf-du-Pape could lie with the Grenache grape when it makes such high-alcohol wines. Chapoutier impishly suggested the best course would be to allow producers to add water to their wines.
Pausing briefly to consider the signature grape of the northern Rhône, he volunteered: “The southern Rhône is too warm for Syrah. Of course, we don’t want to reduce the alcohol by physical means. If you use reverse osmosis to reduce the alcohol, you sacrifice some of the aromas. When you physically concentrate the grape must, you concentrate everything – including less desirable aspects. So how about simply adding back the water lost by evaporation? If you harvest on the basis of the ripeness of tannins in Grenache, you risk having wines at 15.5 or 16 per cent alcohol at least. We experimented and found that adding water did actually result in better wines.”
There was an audible gasp in the room full of wine professionals for this is, strictly, against the law.