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Blog: discovering baroque music & vines and Caberlot

Published:  18 November, 2010

James Lawrence, wine writer,  attended the World Wine Symposium in Lake Como recently, where he met some interesting characters

Hylton and Wendy Appelbaum own DeMorgenzon, a large estate perched high on a hill in Stellenbosch. They are some of the most relaxed and fun people I have ever met, a million miles apart from the stuffy false image that wine can attract.

We were introduced on the second day of the World Wine Symposium in October, a now annual event in Lake Como that was started last year in a bid to bring producers, journalists and importers together to discuss the future of the wine industry.

After interviewing many a delegate during the course of the three days I got chatting to the Appelbaums, who have coined a unique way of producing  the best quality fruit in the region.

Not content with meticulously pruning and caring for his vineyards, Hylton connects speakers to every row of vines and plays them baroque music  24/7. My first thought was 'nice gimmick', until he explains the reasoning behind it.

"My vines clearly respond to the sound waves from melodic Baroque music, they show greater vigour and are healthier as a result, he says. "We saw a difference within the first year after introducing music to the vineyards."

"That is evidence enough I think", he adds with great conviction.

Music and wine have, of course, a long established affinity. The Wine Merchants BBR have published a music play list to accompany some of its choice wines. Research has shown that  peoples perceptions of wine can be influenced by different styles of music. But music played to the vines? That was a new one on me.

His claims do have some scientific backing. In 1973 a book called The Sound of Music and Plants, detailing experiments conducted at the Colorado Woman's College in Denver, determined that playing soothing music to plants made them grow faster. Moreover, recent scientific studies undertaken at Bilkent University in Turkey, in cooperation with the Azerbaijan Government Music Academy, found that classical music has positive effects on root growth.

Why not play some Beyonce then I ask?

My neighbours would go insane, he replies.

My dad used to talk to the plants  -"grow you sods"  he would shout every morning. And admittedly, it did work.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding and Hylton believes his fruit and subsequently the wines are better quality as a result. His Chenin was certainly very good indeed, complex and rich but also nicely structured.

It was another beautiful October evening in Como and we all drank his wine as the sun set over the lake. So who says wine making is routine?

There were more surprises to come. I met up later with a lovely German couple who have the rarest grape variety on earth in their estate in Tuscany, Il Caberlot.

There are only 2 hectares of this variety in the world, a genetic cross between Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Bettina and Moritz Rogosky, the winery owners, explained that the varietal was first identified in the early 1960´s in an old abandoned vineyard near Padua. Her husband, Woolf Rogosky, acquired and named the varietal `Caberlot´, and set out to produce a great wine with a truly unique character.

I must admit, until the Symposium I had never come across or even heard of this grape.

It was first planted in 1986, with two additional vineyards planted in 1999 and 2004. Yields are low at the estate, often under 30 hectolitres per hectare. Production is tiny, with only 2500 magnums released each year.  A wine dearly sought after with little supply.

I asked Moritz whether he would ever consider sharing their variety. "Only outside Tuscany" was his reply. I guess there is only room for one Caberlot in this town.

Bettina and Moritz are very proud of their wine and with just cause. The 2004 I tried had an impressive bouquet of cherry, ash and plum with subtle notes of chocolate and tobacco. It was a wine of incredible finesse, elegance and perfume, the sort that Parker might give a low score too. No uber ripeness or over extraction here. Most remarkably, it was even better 24 hours later, with no signs of oxidation at all.

These interviews marked the end of a fascinating conference, some of my preconceptions and knowledge about wine were challenged and expanded two weeks ago, and I feel all the better for it. That's the whole point of these events for me, to leave with more than I came with, and not just the complimentary paraphernalia about the Symposium.

I wonder what surprises next year will bring?