Wine and Nature

I am writing this from Rome where it is 35 deg C, hot and dry. Shades of 2003! Continuing where I left off last week, emboldened by the first bottle of Latour 2003, I began to look at the other 2003s.

(Drank in 2011)

Chateau La Fleur Petrus 2003

Deep colour, still purplish. Faint aroma of ripe Merlot fruit, a full plummy palate, very soft very ripe tannins, lacked sufficient freshness. This was particularly noticeable after food.

Les Pagodes de Cos d'Estournel 2003

Black red, full aroma of ripe fruit, lots of blackcurrant; quite full-bodied, good density and ripeness. Attractive wine.

Other 2003s: Started on Cos d' Estournel 2003 from 2013. It was very good, everything to be expected from Cos. Black red, rich youthful aroma of ripe blackcurrants, a lovely drink, good concentration and density, balance, very enjoyable.

Thereafter, there was no holding back. All the 2003s - Angelus, Valandraud, Leoville Barton, L'Evangile - were beginning to drink very well from 2011, though still youthful. Mouton Rothschild (2013 Chinese New Year's Eve dinner), Haut Brion (in February 2014) and Lafite (May 2014) all showed very, very well.

Youthful indeed but what was very clear was that the 2003 heat and drought had been overcome. What was quite remarkable was that they showed good freshness, retained their basic characters and were a joy to drink. Their rich ripeness made them very enjoyable notwithstanding their youth.

As Jancis Robinson says on her website, "…older Cabernet vines withstood temperatures over 40 deg C - virtually unknown in this part of the world".

And, "Older Cabernet vines with deep roots, especially those in damper, cooler soils such as those around St-Estephe and Pauillac, continued against all the odds to look remarkably green-leaved and healthy throughout the season... the troubled area in the north of the Medoc, thanks to its cool soils, has produced some of its best wine for years."

This leads to the central point of this week's column - that we who have been brought up and continue to live in cities have lost touch with nature. I set about wondering how it is that in the severe drought of 2003, these older vines not only survived but thereafter continued to produce fruit which were made into some of their "best wines for years".

And the answer came dimly to my mind at first - their roots. It is well known that vine roots burrow deeply into the soil, looking for water, nutrients especially minerals. With increasing age, these roots burrow deeper and deeper into the earth. That can be the only answer. But it also raises other questions.

I was last weekend in Sicily visiting old friends, Peter and Susan Vinding-Diers, growing and making wine near Siracusa in Sicily. (A beautiful part of the world - old-world simple, nearer to nature.)

Peter is Danish, a former war correspondent turned wine-grower after covering the war in South Africa a long time ago. More scholar and poet instinctually than wine-grower (Peter's father was one of Denmark's most famous poets!), Peter had turned his scholarly mind to his vines and wines, making at one time quite superb Tokay Eszencia, in Tokay, Hungary. (He has written a scholarly treatise on this which will be published soon.)

The one question I had for Peter was this: how do the vines know where to go?

He had no answer beyond having to choose the right clones and to simply leave it to the vines. And he may have been the first to understand that you do not plant a vineyard with what you think is the best ONE clone.

A vineyard cannot be mono-clonal as it is not how nature works. If one develops this line of thinking the next question emerges: How did the vine know where to send its roots? (I have my own answer, but will leave readers to come up with their own!)

There have now been several serious studies on the relationship between vines and the ecosystem - called vinecology. It was initiated by students and researchers at the University of California, Davis, with the goal of developing a worldwide, collaborative network of students, industry professionals, non-profits, and academic researchers that share an interest in improving the science and practice of biodiversity conservation in vineyard-dominated landscapes.

According to its prospectus: "Our goal is to promote research, education and collaboration that will contribute to effective conservation strategies that draw on our collective knowledge but are tailored to the unique conditions of individual sites and needs of particular growers.

"In order to accomplish this we are seeking to: 1) improve our scientific understanding of the interaction between vineyards and native habitats; and 2) increase the exchange of information, ideas, and expertise between academic and industry professionals from around the world."

I am reminded of the far-sighted work being done at Vega Sicilia in the Ribera, Spain. Under the guidance and directorship of Pablo Alvarez representing the owners - the Alvarez family - serious efforts have been made to restore the environment around their vineyards to their natural state before the land was cleared for the vineyards. All this for the restoration of the ecosystem.

I am also reminded of the statement: "We evolved with nature and it is completely unnatural for us to be separated from it." Nigel Dunnet, professor of Planting Design and Vegetation technology, University of Sheffield. For further proof, a study done in South Korea and Japan on "Shinrin-yoku" forest bathing showed that "Walking among trees lowered blood pressure, pulse rate and cortisol blood levels." (Cortisol blood levels go up with stress).

In other words, Mother Nature doesn't need people - it's the other way around.


This article was first published on July 10, 2015. Get The Business Times for more stories.