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Published:  23 July, 2008

The Fifth International Symposium of the Institute of Masters of Wine was held in Vienna between 11-13 July. Neil Beckett presents the first in a two-part report on an event which saw prominent critics and producers debate the nature and desirability of changes sweeping through the world of wine

Plato and Freud would have been disappointed - the philosopher by the absence of dancing and drinking (which he regarded as essential for any decent symposium) and the psychologist by the absence of slips. We might have had papers on Sangiovese clowns', Technology in the service of terror', or The regulatory environment as a factor in the global success of Austrian [rather than Australian] wines'. But we didn't. As it was, the speakers didn't put a foot wrong. (At least not on the platform. The dance floor was another matter.) And most of the 250 delegates at the Fifth International Symposium of the Institute of Masters of Wine, held in Vienna between 11-13 July, left in a happy whirl. The symposium, organised by a committee chaired by Arne Ronold MW and supported by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, attracted the highest ever number of delegates, including a quarter of all MWs worldwide. Its theme was The Changing Face of Wine'. So, did the distinguished speakers think that the face of wine is changing for better or worse? How is it changing, and why?

Keynote address As Jancis Robinson MW quite rightly began, Keynote addresses can be terribly boring. I know,' she continued, with perhaps less justification, because I've given several of them.' Charting The Evolution of the International Wine Market', she suggested that the key single word to describe the changes over the last 30 years is acceleration'. This applies not only to the perks of the trade - Whatever happened to those three- and four-hour lunches? Where did we go wrong?' - but to communication. The courtly timescale' of the past has given way to the last-minute e-mails' of the present. She wondered, however, whether this was always a change for the better, and whether it was not now resulting in poorer planning. Among consumers in the UK, foreign travel has helped revolutionise their view of wine. Having been as posh' as Barbados' or polo', wine has escaped the imagined inverted commas which excused and surrounded it, and ousted beer as the most popular drink in the UK. Scores, which can't be ignored', have also helped open up the wine market to everybody'. Among producers, it is not so long ago that they would pretend not to be able to give directions to their nearest neighbours, while the idea that they might actually tailor' a product for consumers was unheard of' (a theme developed by other speakers). Wine has also become far more international. While a 1958 UK wine list quoted by Robinson devoted 13 pages to France, four to Germany, seven to fortified wines and one to the rest of the world, good Cabernet Sauvignon is now being produced in India and good Syrah in Thailand. It's now de rigueur, even for French winemakers, to travel. Power no longer resides only in Paris, and Robinson predicted that tension between the OIV and the New World will rise over the next few years. We are often slightly sanctimonious' in the way we deride the primacy which quantity had over quality in the past: in the aftermath of the Second World War, it was simply the market imperative of the period'. But asking what's good about where we are today?', there's no doubt that quality has gone up all over the world, particularly at the bottom end of the market'. The irony is that while price differences are bigger than ever before, quality differences are smaller than they have ever been'. Asking what's bad about where we are?', the biggest demon is the homogenisation of wine', as a result of fashion, the same influences, the same techniques'. There is, however, some hope that the pendulum may now be swinging back: The days of complete Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon dominance are over'. Consumers and producers alike are getting bored'. Another negative trend, though, is still growing: agglomeration'. Romantic, I know,' protested Robinson, but the great charm of the wine industry is how fragmented it is.' Despite the likes of Gallo and Southcorp, there is still no dominant producer, though there may be one dominant taster, Robert Parker, who has resulted in too many lazy salesmen'. The global surplus is another huge problem, which we are still very far from solving, and which is nudging its way up the quality scale'. Robinson concluded with a reminder that, We don't know what will hit us, for good or bad. We can never know what unexpected thing is going to come and make a huge difference.' She referred back to all the bad publicity surrounding wine and health in the late 1980s, until out of the blue, a Sixty Minutes programme in the US transformed sales overnight'. In as far as we can influence the future, though, she urged everybody to do everything you can to make sure that changes are for the good'.

1. The search for quality in the 21st century The first full session, moderated by Anthony Hanson MW, was on The Search for Quality in the 21st Century'. Hubert de Board de Laforest of Chteau Anglus in Bordeaux, speaking on Technology in the service of terroir', argued that neither science nor terroir was itself sufficient for the production of great wines. Citing the Bible rather than the latest monograph from the University of Bordeaux - Speak to the earth and it shall teach you' (Book of Job) - he suggested abolishing the divide between the chef de culture and the chef de cave, and stressed the need for a back-to-the-vineyard approach. He derided the fashion for excessively low yields', saying that ten hectolitres per hectare (hl/ha) was against nature and ridiculous', and that 35-50hl/ha was low enough. Asked whether there might soon be an end to the trend for overripeness, he implied that there would be: Overripeness is better than underripeness, but the balance of freshness and ripeness is key.' Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat (ABC), in California, admitted that he had been tempted to address the symposium's theme, The Changing Face of Wine', by standing up, shining a torch under his chin and sitting down again. Instead, he spoke on Discovering and defining a New World sense of place - how maverick need you be?' Asserting that all areas have their mavericks, Clendenen suggested that they are pursuing the search for quality far more successfully than two other kinds of producers - artificially competitive dilettantes' with money, who are attracted by the lifestyle, and big companies whose search is for profitability or viability, not for wine quality in the absolute sense'. Attempting to establish a quality winery in Santa Barbara in the early 1980s, Clendenen found it necessary to be very maverick indeed. There and then, that meant matching site and variety much more carefully than was common at the time (hence the focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), as well as applying low technology winemaking' more typical of the Old World. But, if the most important element in an emerging wine region's success is the quality of the wine in the bottle, then the ability to articulate a region's strengths, uniqueness and significance is a close second'. For a new wine region to be discovered, image creation, marketing, positive press and public relations are as important as soil types, clonal selection and planting density'. Here too, Clendenen found it necessary to be fairly maverick. I never asked the press, the trade, or my ultimate retail customers to like my wines. I only asked them all to recognise that we were executing a valid, distinctive wine style, that we understood it thoroughly, and that it was something special our area could produce.' As a result, Parker identified ABC as one of the most influential wineries in the world in 1989 and 1990, and Dan Berger of The Los Angeles Times named it Winemaker of the Year' - even though he didn't like the wines. Having attracted recognition for his region and winery, Clendenen said he needs to be equally maverick now to maintain it. It is a sad reflection that all this need involve, he claims, is the refusal to compromise our original wine style to accommodate changes in public taste. The school of"bigger is better" has a place in the industry, but certainly not at the quality pinnacle. We can blame some tremendously powerful international journalists, but the perpetrators are really the wineries willing to follow trends [and] pander to critics, and a clientele too ill-informed to buy wine they actually like.' Clendenen concluded by suggesting that the search for quality is more difficult now than ever before, as the disparity between the perception of quality in fine wine and its reality' has never been greater. He referred to a recent tasting of Californian cult Cabernets, where the perception of quality completely polarised' between the American collectors and the British critics. He insisted that his notion of quality remained the same: We want more concentrated, more complex and better balanced wines than before. Not bigger, heavier or more obvious.' This same theme was taken up by journalist Victor de la Serna of Il Mundo, in Spain, who charted The changing conception of quality in Spain - a radical and controversial overhaul'. He asserted that, The notion of wine quality has gone through more ups and downs in Spain over the past century than in other European producing nations, and the result has been predictably uneven: some better wines, but also much confusion in the 1990s.' Contrary to common belief,' he revealed, the classic style of Rioja's red wines was not a key to the Spanish conception of quality wines until relatively recently - well into the 20th century.' Until they became the national benchmark for quality, two other styles held sway - the unchallenged fortified wines of Jerez' and the strong, alcohol-laden, often somewhat oxidised Mediterranean reds'. The popular Riojas of the 1970s were briefly fermented and light: concentration and fruit were not considered as prerequisites for quality. Now everything is changing,' he said. Like Chardonnay, Tempranillo has a chameleon-like quality that allows it to adapt and transform itself according to growing location and vinification. The fast-ripening Tempranillo (the name means "the little early one") can make lovely nouveau-style reds, fruit-laden, modern-style blockbusters and graceful old reservas, in which the oak is easily integrated.' A return to powerful reds, made from fully ripe, well-macerated grapes, was pioneered in the 1980s by Alejandro Fernndez in Ribero del Duero, with Tempranillo; Carlos Falc, the Marqus de Grin, in Toledo, with Bordeaux varieties; Miguel Torres in Peneds; and Alvaro Palacios in Priorato, with native Mediterranean varieties. As so often, however, the pendulum swung too far. In Ribera del Duero and Rioja, excessive maceration and maturation in new French - rather than old American - oak resulted in modern caricatures'. A large part of the problem was that too much attention was focused on winemaking. So, after 1995, the idea of quality shifted again' and the credo that fine wine has to be made in the vineyard became much more pervasive'. The pursuit of quality as it is now understood, however, is made much more difficult by the very structure of the Spanish bodega: very few of them own or even control the majority of the vineyards from which they source their grapes. Many more vineyard-orientated estates of much smaller size will be needed for a truly qualitative, deeply-rooted revolution to take hold in Spain. Until then, better cellar techniques will have to make do for a largely cosmetic change.' The arena changed again with Ch'ng Poh Tiong, editor of The Wine Review in Singapore, who spoke on The Coca-Colonisation of wine and the search for quality in Asia'. He emphasised that, Asia is not one big, homogeneous market', but in general he argued that, Quality in a wine, in Asia, is as much perceived as real'. He explained that many Asians equate quality with a high price, fancy packaging and scarcity, which results in what he calls the Shark's Fin Syndrome'. Many in Asia (a market of 2.5 billion people) are becoming more and more interested in wine,' but because it has not been part of their cultures, their decisions are almost always based on recommendations and received wisdom'. Journalists, including more home-grown' writers, will continue to be the most influential voices in wine in Asia,' but these opinion leaders won't always have a field day, since we wine writers are ourselves so divided on what counts for quality or greatness in wine'. Ch'ng Poh Tiong lambasted US wine writers, whom he held largely responsible for Coca-Cola-style wines, which are the same anywhere in the world'. While Eskimos have 19 different words for white, many US wine writers use only three for wines they like: big, awesome, monster'. For a red to be truly great, it has to be darker than Coca-Cola, bigger than a Big Mac and have the concentration of ten packs of Juicy Fruit chewing gum.' As a result, the US, which has four time zones, 50 states and over 200 million people, has supermarkets full of similar wines'. Ch'ng Poh Tiong said he was advising his readers against such a style: We cherish great poets, blue and white Ming vases, bamboo and weeping willows, tofu and fish. When did we ever need big, awesome, monster, Coca-Cola-style wines?' (Ch'ng Poh Tiong's paper, which won the loudest and longest applause of the day, will be published in Harpers shortly.)

2. Viticulture in the 21st century The second full session, Viticulture in the 21st century', was moderated by Jean-Michel Valette MW, who described vineyards as the next frontier of quality: frontier, because it is still an area of discovery, there is still so much we don't know'. Australian viticulturist Dr Richard Smart, discussing New World responses to Old World terroir', said that while many New World producers have been cynical about the concept, dismissing it as a last ditch marketing ploy', they are gradually coming round to the idea: terroir recognition is becoming very much a part of modern vineyard management by discerning and quality-conscious New World producers'. He himself is a believer in the concept: I accept it as real.' Smart asserted that terroir effects are far more frequently soil rather than climate effects', and cited research by Professor Grard Seguin of the University of Bordeaux, showing that the biggest contribution to great terroir is the physical structure of the soil, which regulates water supply to the vine. Among the New World responses are soil mapping and homoclime searches. The latter technique uses accurate climatic data on a small scale (2km x 2km) to identify sites with similar climates to established sites with a proven record of success. Smart's most radical suggestion was that atmospheric pollution from the Northern Hemisphere may be giving the Southern Hemisphere a wine quality advantage'. Recent research has shown that grapes produce polyphenols to protect themselves from ultra-violet (UV) light. These polyphenols are colour and flavour precursors and, therefore, beneficial for wine quality. UV levels are higher in the Southern Hemisphere, due to the ozone hole which develops over the Antarctic in summer, all of which raises the intriguing possibility as to whether more southerly latitudes might not have a wine quality advantage, as might also elevated sites'. Daniel Bosch, vineyard manager at Robert Mondavi Winery, explained how his winery has been Using aerial photography to divide vineyards for harvest'. Mondavi first used NASA technology between 1993-1995 to chart the progress of phylloxera and draw up risk maps. More recently it has been employing a Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to measure leaf areas and identify patterns of vigour in vineyards. (Bosch suggested that too much effort has been wasted measuring the wrong things, such as pruning weights and yields, while what we really want to measure is leaf area and berry size'.) The lower-vigour areas have been producing better-quality grapes and have made possible the production of reserve wines, where they were not produced previously. Bosch hoped that more producers would start to see the advantages of such techniques, as sharing the considerable costs involved would make more such studies possible. Osvaldo Failla of the University of Milan explored Tradition and innovation in Italian viticulture in the face of internal and global markets'. He argued that despite the differences between terroir viticulture' (associated with DOC or DOCG) and variety viticulture' (more typical of IGT), both models have generally recognised the concept that the "genotype x environment" interaction has to be improved to improve grape quality and wine style.' As a result, the most important innovation in Italian grape growing involves land evaluation and viticulture zoning'. The matching of site and variety is especially urgent in developing regions such as Bolgheri and Sicily, where much of the current research is being conducted. Andr Ostertag, of Domaine Ostertag in Alsace, spoke on Breakthrough or snake oil: a dialogue on biodynamics with Dominique Lafon'. He admitted that when he first read Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic bible', he thought it was crazy'. But following the gradual introduction of organic principles at his own domaine, and having seen the results of biodynamic farming at Lafon's Meursault estate, he became convinced that there is something to it'. He conceded that biodynamics is based on feelings and intuition more than understanding, sometimes', but emphasised that he had seen positive results since converting to biodynamic farming in 1998. He has, for example, seen an increase in natural alcohol levels (+0.5-1.5) without modifying harvest dates or reducing yields. Describing the principal practices used, Ostertag stressed that there are greater differences between biodynamic and organic regimes than between organic and orthodox systems. What most distinguishes biodynamics is the concept of energy, which is why the highly diluted solutions of the two key treatments - Compound 500 (horn manure) and Compound 501 (horn silica) - are dynamised' before they are sprayed onto the soil and vines respectively. The active ingredients are energised by stirring the solutions in opposite directions, so that at each change of direction they are whirled into a chaos'. This energy enters the memory' of the water, through which it is transmitted to living organisms. Ostertag did not disguise the additional risks and work involved in biodynamic viticulture: Biodynamic farming must be approached on a parcel-by-parcel basis. There are no universal recipes. Instead, biodynamics involves the constant taking of risks and responsibilities. It has a break-even cost that should be carefully analysed by its practitioners. It can also put high physical and mental demands on the domaine owner, who should therefore consider his or her own personal break-even analysis in terms of stress tolerance.' Ostertag suggested that adopting biodynamics means nothing less than a new approach to life, which centres on respect for the living. Biodynamic farming promotes a more "artistic" approach, centred on man and not on industrial notions of economic profit and loss. This approach helps to develop the intuition and sensitivity that are essential to the crafting of a great wine. Moreover, biodynamics reconnects thinking and spirit to action, allowing all persons working the vine to become primary players who take conscious pride in their work.' Ostertag concluded by emphasising how much has still to be discovered: In future it would be interesting to explore further the digestive properties of biodynamic wines, for we should not forget that food quality was one of Steiner's primary motivations. Similarly, we still need to demonstrate more conclusively that "biodynamic quality" exists on an organoleptic level.'

Send in the clones As well as the full sessions, there were several workshops. One, moderated by Arne Ronold, was devoted to Sangiovese clones', on which many hopes are resting and on which much research is still being undertaken as part of the Chianti Classico 2000 project. Sangiovese is the most planted grape variety in Italy and the seventh most planted variety in the world. Osvaldo Failla explained that while clones had been developed in the past for their high sugar or yields, they were now being selected using weak selective pressure'. The attempt now is not to create a new superclone, but to form a family of clones with complementary qualities. As a result, there should be greater biodiversity, complexity and flexibility. Lucio Matricardi of Castello Banfi described how he used the new principle to select three of the 13 newly-approved clones (BF30, Janus 10 and Janus 50) for Banfi's Brunello di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura. He said that blending the different clones gave a very balanced wine', and that they had performed equally well in three very different vintages, from 1999-2001. Paolo de Marchi of Isole e Olena agreed that clones were extremely important for Sangiovese, which he preferred to describe as reactive' rather than unstable'. But he emphasised that he would continue to use 12 of his own clones, as well as the commercial selections, and that aspects of management - such as density of planting, choice of rootstock, pruning and trellising - would still be vital.

Conclusion A common assumption in all of the main sessions and workshops reviewed here is that absolute' quality exists. Most of the speakers at the sessions summarised in next week's issue - on Winemaking in the 21st century' and The international market for wine' - adopted a radically different stance, insisting that quality is only relative' and equivalent to fitness for purpose'. So, are arguments about quality inevitably as circular as a Viennese waltz, or the famous ferris wheel in Graham Greene's The Third Man?