Guardians of the wine galaxy

Lalou Bize-Leroy (Photo: Domaine Leroy)

“The concept of winemaking and winemakers is idiocy. We are guardians; we observe, we watch, we make decisions and we let the wines guide us.”

This statement jumped out at me from Jeannie Cho Lee MW’s latest newsletter, quoting Burgundy grande dame Lalou Bize-Leroy, proprietor of Domaine Leroy.

Madame Bize, you are in a very privileged and lofty position to afford to hold that view. Your wines cost hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars a bottle. Down here in the real world, producing most of the wine that real people drink involves more human intervention than you pretend.

Your statement is marketing talk, shaped to appeal to current ideals about fine wine. It is fashionable to pretend that fine wine makes itself; that nature is really controlling the entire show. It sounds very wholesome and natural, but it’s fantasy. It ignores the fact that human involvement is crucial if grapes are to be transformed into drinkable wine.

Call them winemakers, vignerons, oenologists, chefs de cave, maîtres de chais or whatever you choose, but you should acknowledge that they exist, and they are important.

One thought on “Guardians of the wine galaxy”

  1. john griffiths says:

    haha – try leaving the grapes in a bucket and see how well it goes. You are correct utter nonsense. And someone like Bize-Leroy can afford to say what she likes. But I think there is another side to these comments. And that is winemakers – and I think wine writers often perpetuate this myth – often over imagine the role of the winemaker. Given a few common sense decisions the resulting wine is much more simply a product of the grapes one starts with than is often credited. The winemaker selects harvest date, ferment temperature, oak maturation, blending between different fruit sources, but that aside the wine will be a product of the grapes. The winemaker has the additional role of ensuring all the various wine making functions and quality control steps are applied effectively, usually whilst making multiple different wines at the same time.
    To make fine wine the winemaker has to source that scarce commodity – very good fruit. This is the absolute key. The most dedicated will select land and establish their own vineyards in order to achieve this, and then spend years to understand and ultimately demonstrate the special qualities of their wines. Some are lucky enough to have had previous generations do this for them. They are very fortunate to be gifted this legacy + an established reputation.

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