GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Here’s the news: Pinot Noir ’09 from Gantenbein winery in canton Graubuenden was given a note of 91 by Robert Parker wine reviewer Neal Martin.
This comes on the heels of four Swiss wines mentioned recently by another Parker reviewer, David Schildknecht.
The information was bundled into a press release from Swiss Wine Promotion Thursday 28 March that will fuel the debate about why any of this matters.
Does Switzerland need Parker? And what notes did Schildknecht give the wines, which he included in his “best of 2012″ list?
In a world where +90 seems to matter, what does it all signify? The Parker household is currently suffering a bit of bother, so do they still count?
I hate articles that use question marks, but I include them because I’m hearing them at every wine event I’ve attended since the Parker review news made the Swiss wine world rounds in January.
Here’s my take:
- A good mention from Parker never hurt any winery and while the rest of the world may not suddenly sit up and say let’s go shopping for Swiss wines, it puts the winery on a world map and the producer can boast of it for years
- Swiss wines are never going to make the big bible must-have lists from Parker, let’s say the top 100, even if they are good enough to compete because those lists demand that enough of the wine is available for purchase in the US; Switzerland simply doen’t produce wine in large enough quantities to make the grade
- Two articles is better than one, and Swiss wines, so rarely mentioned by reviewers who tend to get stuck somewhere inside the French border, now have two in the space of two months. And these praise specific wines and wineries very highly. The message is out: Switzerland makes some absolutely superb wines
- The spinoff for the rest of Swiss wines, those not visited by the Parker powerhouse reviewers (and yes, Parker power is still strong): it’s wrong to think that while the message is out there it’s so subtle as far as consumers go that for non-reviewed wineries it will seem like a flash in the pan that doesn’t help them – they would, of course, like to see more reviews, notes from Parker, etc. to put their own wines on the map
- Notoriety, in the most positive sense, is a matter of building blocks, of one positive mention after another, of getting the message out and hearing it repeated, as when the words Swiss + wine = quality are out there, everyone who makes good wine benefits.
Yes, is the short answer, Swiss wines will benefit, all of them, although obviously none so much as the five wineries in question (details follow).
It’s a bit like being sainted by the Catholic Church: everyone knows you’re very very good, but that title of Saint adds lustre that just gets better with age because it’s a form of universal recognition. And it rubs off on those around the saint, who are surely also rather holy, goes the thinking. (Don’t take my analogy too far, especially if you’re anti-religion or never though much of Mother Teresa, who’s coming in for sharp criticism from Canadian researchers).
Where the reviews fit into the Parker empire
Detective Ellen takes some detours
I’ve just spent a maddening morning trying to unravel references to the Swiss wine that was given 91 points by Martin. He’s a British reviewer, for those of you who fear a too-American Parker influence on wines, and he’s off in Bordeaux promoting his latest book, on Pomerol wines.
Here’s what he writes:
“I have admired the Pinot Noirs from Martha and Daniel Gantenbein for many years, ever since being served a vintage blind and finding it equal to many a top Burgundy. Their 2009 has an intense bouquet of dark cherries, shellfish and hints of blackberry leaf that are plush and open. The palate is well-balanced; although blind against the Chambertin Rousseau it is clear that it does not posses the same precision and delineation. However, if it is purity you are seeking, then this Pinot has it all with a sweet ripe, slightly piquant finish that lingers in the mouth. This is a great Pinot Noir, although I have encountered even better from this superb estate. Tasted November 2012.”
I tweeted him for clarification about where this appeared and hope he’ll find time to answer, between tasting Bordeaux and selling books.
Martin writes the sometimes rambling and fun-loving “Wine Journal” on the Parker web site, which the author describes as “an independent state within the kingdom of eRobertParker.com, home to the writings and musings upon wine, music and anything else that happens to wander into the permeable mind of your host, Neal Martin.”
The Gantenbein wine is nowhere to be found in the Wine Journal.
Martha and Daniel Gantenbein don’t mention Martin’s note on their web site, although I did have a fun detour there watching a video on how their extraordinary winery was built, using a new method of bricklaying.
The building is a wonderful surprise in the bucolic Graubuenden countryside near the small town of Flaesch. I did a tour of the winery a year ago, with members of the Memoire des Vins Suisses group, and tasted the couple’s wines, which was lucky because they are extraordinarily difficult to buy, with most of the production going to restaurants.
I finally found Martin’s review, not chez Parker but on the site of the ultra-exclusive wine & dine group, The White Club in Basel, whose 100 members occasionally invite guests to dinner, and he was one.
Schildknecht’s review was easier to find, when it came out in January, because it appears on the Parker web site, but I was initially confused by references to “best of 2012″. This isn’t Parker’s overall best of 2012, to clarify. It’s Schildknecht’s list.
Swiss account for 25% of reviewer’s most “thrilling” wines in 2012
The author has worked with Parker for years and is one of the mainstays of the reviewing system, so when he says something is good, winelovers listen. But the mention of three Swiss wines didn’t come with any notes, which puzzled me until I read the review: it’s his own roundup of some personal “wines that thrilled me” in 2012, in specific categories. Notes aside, that’s heady stuff for a winemaker, to have his bottle labeled thrilling.
Schildknecht selected just three wines from around the world for each of his four categories (plus three wineries, that form a Plus Ultra group), meaning that of 12 wines/wineries, 25 percent are Swiss. Not bad for a country that isn’t even listed by Parker’s Wine Advocate search feature!
The notes will reportedly be given later, so we’ll just have to wait for that detail.
The “Madame Pinot” group didn’t include any Swiss wines, for which he offers an apology because his collection offers Pinot Noirs that are not just good but “improbably” so.
“Variations on Bordelais themes” – his trio includes Cantina Kopp von der Crone Visini’s 2010 Tinello Merlot from Ticino.
“Fruit intensity without the least bit of superficial sweetness; carnal depth; myriad floral and mineral nuances; and sheer mouthwatering savor make this lean, downright refreshing 100% Merlot from glacial moraine in Switzerland’s southernmost village, Pedrinate, a wine that can change your mind about many things!”
“Chasselas – a.k.a. Gutedel; a.ka. Fendant – can render among the most distinctively and irresistibly delicious whites on earth” – two of the three are Swiss, in canton Vaud’s Lavaux region, Blaise Duboux‘s 2010 Dézaley – Haut De Pierre Vieilles Vignes and neighbour Pierre-Luc Leyvraz‘s 2007 St-Saphorin Les Blassinges. The third is just over the border from Basel, in Baden, Hanspeter Ziereisen.
“Where they’re famous for Chasselas – the only place – is in Switzerland’s Vaud, whose steep, towering terraces along the North Shore of Lake Geneva can in the best instances yield whites of distinguished subtlety. They are low-acid – usually undergo ‘malo’ – yet leave you groping for mineral descriptors that do them justice, as well as for another glassful of something so instantly refreshing.The extremely insightful, articulate Blaise Duboux and his 2010 Dézaley – Haut De Pierre Vieilles Vignes won’t let me rest.”
“Vaud veteran Pierre-Luc Leyvraz renders a single Chasselas bottling from a mosaic of parcels, committing a number of winemaking fashion faux-pas along the way. He showed me a remarkable vertical, so while you might want to look out for the vibrant and succulent 2010 that has recently been imported, I’ll single out here the 2007 St-Saphorin Les Blassinges whose silken amalgam of almond, quince, green tea, iris, and honeysuckle has haunted me ever since.”
The last group is basically “outrageous”, says Schildknecht. “Wines improbably delicious and in multiple respects unorthodox” – the trio includes Robert Taramarcaz’s Domaine des Muses in Sierre, canton Valais, with his collection rather than a single wine highlighted.
“There are few bottlings that I would want to see young Robert Taramarcaz of the Domaine des Muses relinquish, whether his Chardonnay, Fendant Marsanne, Païen or Petit Arvine; his Cornalin, Gamay, Humagne, Merlot, Pinot, or Syrah. Wine after wine, with few exceptions, this vintner displays an intuitive yet investigative sense for the potential of his grapes and sites, allowing them to speak with eloquence in a conversational (as opposed to overwrought or overly-stylized) tone. You’ll be happy you sought out the small quantities of these that have recently started to reach our shores.”
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Drones are the rage and have been for a while in the US and Australia, for learning more about vineyards at the micro level, a report done by the BBC says, but now wine grape growers are turning to newer tools such as microspectural cameras that rapidly provide data which can be analyzed by computer.
The new tools, David Green, a specialist at the University of Aberdeen told the BBC, could replace traditional ones such as soil sampling.
Soil sampling is just one part, however, of multilayered efforts to finetune our knowledge of vineyards. The federal research station at Changins, in canton Vaud, working with the EPFL in Lausanne and then Valais growers starting in 2000, with Valais growers, has been creating detailed pictures of the cantons’ terroirs. To draw up the maps and provide detailed information researchers in Valais, for example, 3,500 “observations” and 450 profiles were needed to study 5,000 hectares of vines: their soil, geology, climate, slope and exposure.
Given the databases that now exists, new technology, including thermal cameras, might be affordable even for vineyards that don’t operate on the scale of the huge New World ones.
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – This photo of Chateau Le Rosey, taken Saturday morning 26 May, shows the timelessness of many of Switzerland’s vineyard regions, despite the rapid population growth in the area. (Reposted from Ellen’s Wine World on Facebook).
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0xWpN5i-tQ[/youtube]LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Video first posted on Ellen’s Wine World on Facebook. Photos of new Pinot Noir planting were taken 2 April 2012, with Raymond Paccot of Domaine La Colombe and his vineyard team.
One row of new vines replaces two older ones which were planted too closely together to allow mowing by machine.
These are organically grown grapes (“bio” or “bio-dynamique” in French) and correct treatment calls for green plants between the rows, but the height must be strictly controlled for proper aeration and humidity control in the vineyard. Paccot explains (English).
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Mites are back, thanks to global warming, and that’s not good news for winelovers. Cheer on those growers out among the vines in coming weeks, as they go after the cheeky little pests who party in hordes and destroy young growth on vines.
The problem is that mites love dry, hot summers, and that’s what we’ve been having. Their enemies, acariens typhlodromes, don’t thrive in that kind of weather.
The ACW (Agroscope Changins-Wädenswil) federal research station says there is a solution. It’s complicated, however, because Mediterranean and other warmer climate pests are also arriving on the scene as temperatures rise, but using insecticides on them could spark a major population explosion of hungry mites.
The good news is that global warming is also bringing new predators of the pests into Switzerland, so researchers are scurrying to find organic rather than chemical solutions, a kind of bug eat bug approach.
Grape growers will have to be flexible enough to keep adapting and to use new spring treatments, says ACW. Its own research aims to find ways to simplify growers’ work in the vineyards, to encourage them to use these natural methods.
Pesticide use in the 50s and 60s in Switzerland, as elsewhere, killed mites’ predators and sparked a population explosion. Switzerland then became a pioneer in integrated production methods for growing wine grapes, an approach that in the past 30 years has dramatically rebalanced pests and their natural predators in Swiss vineyards. The second group has been given the upper hand.
A mite-free world requires continual fine-tuning, it now appears
The turnaround has been so dramatic that many younger growers have never seen a mite, according to ACW.
But now, says the federal agricultural research station, mites are on the march and heading for vineyards again, particularly in canton Valais.
Integrated production is the next best thing to organic, known as bio in Switzerland, with its emphasis on ecological balance but without some of the constraints imposed by organic growing regulations.
One organic rule in particular, about not growing grapes too close to vine parcels where pesticides and herbicides are used, makes it difficult for many Swiss growers to go this route, since they have small parcels in the midst of several others owned by a number of growers.
Swiss growers’ integrated production charter puts the accent on using organic methods as much as possible; creating a growing environment that encourages bio-diversity; soil preservation over the long term and minimal impact on water, soil and air; protecting the health of vineyard workers while producing top-quality, healthy grapes.
It has been nearly unanimously adopted in Switzerland, with excellent results. A group of Australian researchers studying Switzerland’s use of IP in vineyards in 2007 noted that “adoption by the Swiss wine industry of the Integrated Production (IP) approach to wine grape growing has shown a large increase in biodiversity and a reduction in pesticide and … fertilizer use.”
It turns out that there isn’t one simple solution to maintain this admirable situation, which has also helped growers develop good quality wines, but rather a process of continual fine-tuning in the vineyard.