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Berserkers Baumard

It is Saturday morning, and I have a busy schedule ahead. Taking one son to rugby, whipping the others into shape on the piano before the imminent Grade 2 and Grade 3 examinations arrive, before encouraging a little homework activity. Who knows, maybe I will have time for a little relaxation too….not until I have prepared my forthcoming updates for Winedoctor next week though. Suddenly, however, I have been distracted, by a thread on the excellent Wineberserkers site on the story of Florent Baumard, his 2012 Quarts de Chaume, and cryo-extraction. I felt compelled to comment; piano practice and homework will just have to wait for half an hour.

My comment is on page three of the thread, which begins here. Having written it, it encompasses much of my thoughts on the story which is, in my opinion, still evolving. I thought, therefore, I would reproduce it here. I have left it exactly as written, so please excuse the references to “other comments” and previously made arguments.

My post in full:

This is a really fascinating thread, and having been quoted so frequently I feel compelled to comment, even though deep down I feel no desire to further stoke the fire on this. I find the events as they unfold fascinating, and I consider this a very important story for the Loire, but it is Jim’s work not mine.

First up, to be clear, I know Jim personally, having met him numerous times at tastings, and having spent time with him in the Loire, especially during the Salon des Vins de Loire. I have also met Florent Baumard a number of times, and have spoken with him directly about the 2012 harvest.

I have to say I find having chunks of my Baumard profile cut and pasted a little disconcerting. I have no problem with the text being taken and picked over, but I sense it is used as a defence for the technique of cryo-extraction. I believe (I need to go back to my profile) that further down the page I cast my own personal doubts on the “renaming” of the method as cryo-selection. I would agree with previous posters that you can’t change what you are doing just by changing the name. I don’t feel that this comes across when you cut and paste chunks away, but I see some have gone and read the whole profile, thanks for that, and thanks for the comments on its factual and objective nature. That was my intent, to present what is done, rather than to judge, and let the reader conclude for him/herself. The disadvantage of this, of course, is that readers might conclude according to their pre-existing prejudices.

Having made some indication of my misgiving as per the technique Baumard is using, I would not say I am against cryo-extraction per se. Its use has unwittingly been perfectly acceptable to me as I know I have tasted many wines and enjoyed them, long before I had realised they had been made with a little help from cryo. In particular I am thinking of Doisy-Védrines, the proprietor of which Olivier Castéja is very open about his use of cryo-extraction to improve a little his harvest. My view of how Olivier uses it, however, is that he takes hard-won botrytised fruit, true to what Sauternes is, and removes a little water. How much I don’t know, as I’ve never asked him, but if I see him at the primeurs in a few weeks I will certainly do so. As for what Baumard does, this is a little more difficult to define, as information is not forthcoming. Nevertheless, Florent (pictured below) told me last year that he has, in at least one vintage, removed more than 80% of the volume using cryo-extraction. When I wrote that up I emailed him to clarify as I found the figure so unbelievable. 80%! Yes, I am sure many vintages are less than this, but I do not have the data to say what the figures are for other vintages, not for want of asking I should add. Even accepting data is limited, the technique does not seem here to be fine-tuning, but is the major process by which the wine is made, in at least some vintages.

Florent Baumard

But here is the rub. Cutting through all the obfuscation (because this debate has been all over Twitter as well as on this forum and the willingness to confuse and obscure the real issue seems full of intent at times), the debate isn’t about the rights and wrongs of cryo-extraction or cryo-selection or whatever you want to call it. It is about how a wine is represented to consumers; the Baumards at present have declared (this is second-hand information from Jim’s blog) a significant volume of Quarts de Chaume in the 2012 vintage, a wine which will be highly priced (for the Loire, for a sweet Layon wine), and in order to do be sold as Quarts de Chaume the wine must meet certain criteria. To my understanding these are:

(a) each tri that is picked must achieve 298 g/l sugar (I believe this is 18.5º alcoholic potential but happy to be corrected by winemakers with proper knowledge!) to qualify as Quarts de Chaume

(b) a tri may be subjected to ‘freezing treatments’ to a temperature of -5ºC but only if they have first registered more than 298 g/l. This is true until the 2020 harvest, when the technique will be outlawed whatever the sugar content at harvest.

My knowledge of the 2012 growing season leads me to conclude that it was not a vintage that favoured the production of a Quarts de Chaume. This is a sweet wine where the concentration comes from botrytis, just like Sauternes. Therefore you need the same conditions, moisture (from mists, here from the Layon) or showers of rain, and drying conditions (romantically, sunny afternoons after misty mornings, but winds and breezes probably more/just as important). Too much rain or humidity and you get grey rot. Bad weather as the grapes succumb to botrytis, in October and November, and you lose the harvest. And October 2012 was very, very, very wet. Claiming that data from a weather station 20 km away is not valid holds no water with me I am afraid; the rain hit all Muscadet, Anjou and Touraine; all weather stations recorded it. And having spoken to owners of vines on the Quarts de Chaume, including Claude Papin (Pierre Bise) and Jo Pithon & Wendy Paillé (Pithon Paillé) the conditions here were dreadful. Pithon Paillé saw the alcoholic potential fall from 13º to 9º during the October rains, something Jo had never seen before, as the vines and grapes sucked up the water. The berries ruptured and grey rot set in.

Later on, if the fruit could survive this, some harvested fruit close to or above the 18.5º potential, but this was much later in the season. Nobody has huge quantities though, except for Florent Baumard who picked in October (I think the accepted dates are 16th and 17th, but I’m not sure where this info comes from) right in the middle of the rains. The implication is that, for his wine to be Quarts de Chaume, the harvested fruit must have been over 18.5º alcoholic potential. It would of course, be illegal to achieve that only after cryo-extraction; just to be clear, I am not for one second alleging that this is what has happened. Nevertheless, it seems fair to ask for some data on the harvested fruit. Jim has done this very publicly and got nowhere it seems, only a wordy response on the ‘attack’ on Florent’s website.

I have asked Florent the same questions, and these are the responses received:

(a) I asked Florent face-to-face at the Salon des Vins de Loire in early February, but he was not able to recall picking dates, or sugar at harvest, or alcoholic potential. He said he did not like to carry such information around in his head. He invited me to ask again at a later date, indicating he would furnish me with the information.

(b) I asked in the midst of a debate on Twitter, prompted by Baumard supporters (and I’m afraid I do sense there are ‘factions’ in this debate), giving Florent a chance to declare the picking dates and concentration/alcoholic potential of his fruit, and therefore put to bed any rumours that the grapes picked from the Quarts de Chaume vineyard, and surely intended for sale as Quarts de Chaume, did not meet the criteria for that to be so. Florent did not respond on Twitter.

(c) About five days later I received an email from Florent, thanking me for my questions, but ultimately not providing any data as he says he finds such numbers “meaningless”.

It seems to me very sad, and also unusual, that Florent should not want to make public the sugar concentration at harvest. This is basic data for a winemaker, not top secret confidential information! It would have quashed any stories, based on pictures prior to harvest, and on data concerning harvest dates and the weather at the time, that the fruit harvested by Baumard had not achieved the sugar concentration required. In the face of continued non-disclosure of this information, I am certain that this debate will rumble on, until definitive information is revealed. That will then put an end to it one way or the other.

This answer doesn’t respond to every post above that deserves merit (“the proof is what’s in the glass” from Jamie Goode deserves a response – really Jamie, in this debate?……and I also don’t think Jim’s credibility as an investigative journalist is up for debate, he has a long track record of uncovering dodgy dealings in wine investment and other wine-related stories), nevertheless I hope it is useful. I would like to think it helps to bring the issue at hand into focus, which is not the rights and wrongs of cryo-extraction and what we call it, but its use in the 2012 Baumard harvest, and whether a wine made with it can *legally* (and the appellation law is quite specific) be called Quarts de Chaume. That, simply, depends on sugar concentration at harvest, information which has been asked for many times, and not given.

3 Responses to “Berserkers Baumard”

  1. Chris

    A very clear exposition of the issues involved.



  2. Fascinating stuff. Florent is as guilty as a puppy sitting next to a pile of poo.

  3. The thread linked above caused a fair amount of discussion and revealed some fairly entrenched views I think.

    Nevertheless, it is clear there are now facts to add to the debate. The Baumards have used cryo-extraction to raise the concentration of sugar above the required limit, contravening the appellation regulations. Full details can be found on Jim Budd’s site.