218 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 77 PART 2 MARCH 2019
visionary winemaker’s manifold trials and tribulations in planting and tending
his vines, in building his winery, and of his Herculean efforts to make
and market his wine. He ends the book with the vintage that led to the bottle
that began the journey. It is a magical tale, all true.
No other grape has the mystery and glamour of pinot noir. To those who
love it, finding that perfect bottle of pinot noir is a search for the Holy Grail.
Why the heartbreak? No grape is harder to grow well or to vint well. Many
grapes adapt to a variety of climates. But not pinot noir. It craves chalky
alkaline soils. It is thin skinned and prone to mildew and to rot, especially
botrytis. It does not like too much heat, and in response loses its finesse,
resulting in wines that are like alcoholic grape jam. It dislikes the cold
where it becomes lean, green and mean (except in Champagne, where the
winemakers discovered that they could take that lean green wine and referment
it in the bottle for a blanc de noir champagne—a valuable lesson in
capitalizing on your deficiencies). In the winery it is equally quixotic and
difficult, requiring extra sorting and care in the crush.
But in the right climate and soil, with moderate dry weather and a warm
autumn, it produces wines of such elegance that wine critics rhapsodize
over them, speaking of violets, strawberries in spring and summer cherries.
It is the grape on which the legend of Burgundy was born—the grape of the
Côte d’Or and the Côte de Nuits that makes the wines of the Domaine de la
For true aficionados, the grandest expression of pinot comes from some
of the small villages in the Côte d’Or. Why, you ask? While pinot noir produces
poor wines in very warm regions, it thrives on the edge and that has
been what Burgundy has provided. (So, let us hope that our world’s warming
and more turbulent climate will not lose us the best of Burgundy.) For
those who believe in terroir, pinot noir is the perfect grape, as it reflects the
soil, topography, climate and cultural nuances of where it is grown. This is
why, for instance, parts of Oregon that model Burgundy’s climate have
become pinot noir meccas.
The weather in the last few years in Burgundy has exemplified these
marginal grape-growing conditions. As reported in a recent column in
famed wine-writer Jancis Robinson’s wine blog:
… 2017 is the first reasonably sized crop for some time after a series of
Burgundy vintages that have been shrunk by hail and/or frost. Most of
Burgundy escaped the unusually severe late-April frosts. …
Chablis in the far north of greater Burgundy which primarily grows
Chardonnay and Aligoté is perennially threatened by spring frost, however.
Some producers lost a potential 25% of the 2017 crop, having lost
50% the year before to a combination of hail and frost. … a handful of others
are experimenting with protecting the vines from frost by draping