All posts by Beverly Tabbron MW

The three pillars of sustainability

People – Planet – Profit. 

Sustainability. A hard and complex thing to define, as it covers so many different aspects but it does seem to be the current buzzword as we are all increasingly becoming more aware of our health, well-being and the environmental issues around us.

I recently attended a webinar on sustainability where it was mentioned that 25% of all greenhouse gases come from agriculture and animals, and the care of vines is no exception. The concept of ‘regenerative farming’ is central to an increasing number of wine producers who believe in the importance of biodiversity and the harmony of nature in the vineyard.

As a vineyard is in essence a monoculture of a perennial plant, disturbance to the soil should be kept to an absolute minimum to ensure that the natural micro-organisms in the soil are encouraged and maintained. Cover crops can be grown to capture carbon and to minimise water use, particularly where water used for farming is expensive to buy and may be short supply at certain times. Sheep are sometimes encouraged to graze in the vineyard on grass, and cover crops to encourage plant growth and biodiversity. Selected rootstocks may also be used to restrict the vine’s vigour, requiring less control. All of these different processes will encourage vines to use their own resources to work hand in hand with nature.

A good proportion of a winery’s emissions come from the use of diesel vehicles so far-thinking producers are making the investment in electrical vehicles for working their land – as we all will probably need to do in the not too distant future. Or indeed, revert back to the traditional use of a trusty plough horse leads to less compaction of the soil and is also a lovely thing to see!

A few of our producers are installing beehives in their vineyards to promote pollination and obtain honey as a welcome by-product! The composting of pruning and grape pomace for natural fertilisers is also becoming more widespread, rather than sending for distillation as in the past. Using sexual confusion in the vineyard from insect pheromones as an alternative to chemical pest control is becoming increasingly popular with growers as they realise the advantages for the environment.

Many people would automatically think that an organic wine would be sustainable by definition but with the contentious use of copper as a treatment against diseases in the vineyard, which is allowed under organic viticulture, and which can contaminate the soil as a heavy metal if it is used too frequently; the issue is more complex than just acceptance of all organic wines as sustainable.

Biodynamics are a continuation of this theme, where all vineyard practices (and winemaking) are carried out according to the moon phases, using specific treatments for disease prevention as well as natural fertilisers and which are now being recognised as more main stream – previously perhaps dismissed as rather hippy and ‘woo-woo’. I know from tasting wines which are produced using biodynamic and organic techniques that they seem to have more depth of flavour – more ‘soul’ and energy, if I can express it that way. One of our producers, the redoubtable Gérard Bertrand in the South of France is fully embracing this way of working with all of his estates either already certified as biodynamic or in conversion, and the results in the quality of his wines speak for themselves.

While researching the sustainable credentials of our suppliers, I was struck by how many of them have this ethos central to their production values and guides everything they do from vine to bottle. A great many of them have gone the extra mile and gained certification in their country – such HVE (Haute Valeur Environmentale) in France, WIETA (Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association) in South Africa, Sustainable Wine of Chile, Bodegas de Argentina Certified Sustainability, Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, to name a few – all of these regulate the use of insecticides and pesticides as well as fertiliser and water usage with protection of the environment in mind, and to maintain the biodiversity of the local area.

Climate change is also necessitating a rethink by wine growers who have difficult choices to make if their vineyards are affected by the extremes of weather which we currently seem to be experiencing – by rot in the case of excessive humidity or Summer hail damage, whether to irrigate (if even allowed and if the vineyard is set up for it) in case of drought, loss of fruit caused by Spring frosts; the challenging factors are unfortunately endless.

If they are passionate about the environment and their philosophy is to avoid chemical treatments, the choice is stark. Either compromise on their principles and lose their sustainable or organic status or accept the loss of their crop with the accompanying loss of income. I remember talking to one of our organic producers a few years ago who had had to make that choice – and he decided to remain organic and lose the majority of the crop. I felt so sorry for him but admired his tenacity and adherence to his principles. The news coverage of the frost in France’s vineyards in April where the countermeasures taken in the form of burning straw or heaters raised their own issues with complaints about damaging the environment through smoke contamination is another case in point – faced with losing your burgeoning crop or taking these extreme measures, what decision would we make ourselves?

We are probably just at the start of the sustainable journey and I look forward to seeing how viticulture, and winemakers, adapt over the years to come.

A Brave New World…

Sometimes we all need the tried, tested and familiar around us, whether that it is our choice of food, drink, fashion or general lifestyle. But sometimes – and social media is a great inspiration here – we need to think outside of our comfort zone. Wine is no exception.

Here at Hallgarten & Novum we are proud of our eclectic offering in terms of wines, whether that be new grape varieties or unfamiliar countries (when it comes to winemaking.)

And it is often the “Old World” which is leading the way.

I remember the first time that Steve Daniel introduced me to our new wines from Armenia; I was so impressed by the lovely perfume of the Karmrahyut grape, vibrantly redolent of rosemary and lavender. Our new range from Vachnadziani is a wake-up call, with refreshing mineral laden whites from those hard to pronounce varieties such as Rkatsiteli, Krakhuna and Mtsvane putting me in mind of good Chablis.

Grape varieties such as Santorini’s Assyrtiko have established themselves in our UK market as go-to wines, and are now spreading their influence to other countries. We have examples of this grape from the Lebanon from Oumsiyat and Australia’s Clare Valley from Jim Barry, all showing the lovely freshness and salinity which has made the grape so popular.

Winemakers are rediscovering old techniques such as fermentation in amphora. Look out for the amphora wines from Rocim from the Alentejo region in Portugal where traditional vinification in ‘tahla’ meets modern winery techniques.

With global warming, some regions are now being forced to rethink the varieties that have traditionally been the mainstay of their vineyards as producers are faced with higher temperatures, less water availability and more weather extremes.  Bordeaux, for example, is looking at different varieties such as Alvarinho, Marselan and Touriga Nacional which are more mildew resistant and can cope with the warmer temperatures which are driving up the alcohol levels of Merlot in particular leading to a change of style compared to 20 years ago.  The traditional wines of Bordeaux may look very different in the future!

With 40 years in the wine trade and 24 years as an MW behind me, one of the pleasures that I continue to have is to discover grape varieties and wines hitherto unknown to me and then to share this enthusiasm and encourage consumers to explore these wines for themselves in this Brave New World of wine.

Sparkling Wine – an MW’s perspective

Hallgarten Head of Education, Beverly Tabbron MW, has used the last few weeks to ponder sparkling wine, the different forms and her favourite styles.

Sparkling wines have always been the choice for celebrations, and bubbles always make things go with a swing.  Champagne in particular has always been regarded as the aspirational fizz of choice, and the one to choose for that special occasion.

However Prosecco is now a go-to choice for many consumers. It is on all the shelves and can be seen on TV shows; hairdressers and cafes – as well as restaurants – might even offer a welcome glass of Prosecco on arrival. Like ‘Champagne’ it is almost a brand all by itself.

There is a wide range of Proseccos available for consumers to choose from, and we were delighted to launch our new Prosecco range from the Praprian Estate, owned by our long standing producer Paolo Sacchetto, which includes two sparklers which are both vegan and organic. Two hugely topical characteristics in wine and one of the main reasons why we introduced the range.

We like to encourage people to try something different and entice them away from their usual Champagne and Prosecco choices, so here are a few that could add a different sort of sparkle:

Made in the same production method as Champagne, but from the far north east of France is the Crémant d’Alsace ‘Saint Julien’ from Dopff au Moulin in Alsace. Dopff pioneered the production of Crémant when Julien Dopff attended an exhibition in Paris in 1900 and was introduced to the ‘Champagne method’ of producing sparkling wine with the secondary fermentation in bottle. He experimented with this back at his Domaine and voilà, Crémant d’Alsace was born!

We have all seen that England is establishing itself a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its sparkling wines produced mainly on the chalk soils of Sussex and Hampshire.  This is the same chalk strain that passes through Champagne giving good acidity and freshness, ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the main grape varieties that go into the production of both Champagne and English bottle fermented sparkling wines.  A great alternative to Champagne, and one that is grown and produced on our own doorstep.

For something different, a favourite of mine is the Pignoletto Frizzante ‘Romandiola’, a lightly sparkling wine made from the Pignoletto grape, slightly off-dry and a cross somewhere between Pinot Grigio and Prosecco in taste.  It’s a really refreshing and quaffable style, and not too fizzy either – in my eyes, one of the best wines to serve as an aperitif on a summer’s day.

Featured in issue two of Assemblage.

Vinexpo Bordeaux: the end of an era

Some you may have seen that Vinexpo Bordeaux is moving to a new slot in February in Paris from next year.  Having been a regular visitor over the last few years, it was fairly apparent that the fair would not be continuing in its current form and needed to be revitalised mainly due to the importance of the monster that is now Prowein in Dusseldorf in March.

 

They had already moved the event to May this year in order to avoid the excessive heat that has accompanied Vinexpo in June in the past – one famous year when the ground temperature in the car park was measured at over 50 degrees – and reduced the duration by a day but the fair was a shadow of its former self.  For those who remember the marquees hosted by the Champagne houses and Bordeaux negociants together with restaurants with lakeside view, to see the lake looking so deserted was quite a shock!

I took the opportunity to visit some of our Bordeaux producers mainly to see what might be new and interesting in their range.  Without added sulphites is very much in vogue and I was impressed by the couple that I tasted with Antoine from Corlianges who supply us with the Mayne Mazerolles and Merigot.  Dominique is making some full bodied examples from his estate at Domaine Montfollet in Blaye which may be worth a second look.  Antoine was his usual bouncy and enthusiastic self and said how much he had enjoyed his recent visits with a few members of the sales teams in the UK.

 

I also focussed on looking at organic wines and as well as some potentially interesting Bordeaux wines from Passion et Terroirs (supplier of Fleur de Lisse), there was a dedicated organic section with a range from around the world showing the importance of this category. From France, wines from Fronton, Madiran, Jurancon and Bergerac could be up for consideration at some point in the future!

As a finale Thibaut and Marc from Chateau Boutisse and I were serenaded by a loud and enthusiastic percussion band from Cuba on the rum stand adjacent – I don’t think that Bordelais were very impressed!

 

So the Bordeaux Chateaux will have to find another way to host their dinners as the wine fair focus moves to Paris – and Dusseldorf of course.