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1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Thursday, 15 October 2015

#2015 Loire: Domaine des Baumard – 2015 Cryoextra?

Domaine des Baumard: a tray of picked fruit in a row of vines at La Martinière
(8th October 2015)

Has Florent Baumard (Domaine des Baumard) once again flouted* the current rules for Quarts de Chaume and instead followed his own? 
(*If the grapes shown in these photos, picked on 8th October, go into Domaine des Baumard's 2015 Quarts de Chaume. However, throwing insufficiently ripe grapes away or using them to make Anjou Blanc would hardly make any economic sense as Quarts de Chaume commands a much higher price.)

The 2011 Quarts de Chaume décret created the Loire's first Grand Cru, required a minimum potential alcohol of 18% at the time of picking, and banned the use of cryoextraction, from the 2020 harvest onwards. The Baumards appealed to the Conseil d'Etat to annul this decret. The appeal was comprehensively rejected in February 2014. The Baumards lost on all counts.

Background to the decision of the Conseil d'Etat in respect to the Baumards' challenge can be found below.

Tom Cannavan on Florent Baumard and his wines 
Following a dinner in a Glasgow restaurant on 19th June 2014, Tom Cannavan reported on his Wine Pages about Florent Baumard's wines and also covered the controversy over Baumard's Quarts de Chaume and the use of cryoextraction:   

'Along with Grand Cru status would come new rules and new legislation, and this was not unanimously welcomed by Quarts de Chaume's growers, especially by Domaines des Baumard. Baumard objected to the way the legislation had been drafted, but one rule change in particular was fundamentally unacceptable: it would ban the Domaine's use of a technology that Florent Baumard refers to as 'cold pressurage'. To make his Quarts de Chaume wines Baumard freezes the harvested berries. Though legal, the process is controversial*. Some claim it allows a winemaker to 'concentrate' the sugars and apparent sweetness of a wine artificially, whilst Baumard insists the freezing process simply allows him to eliminate less ripe grapes, leaving only the naturally sweetest juice to go into his must. It is, he says, nothing more than a means of sorting the harvest. 

(The use of cryoextraction is allowed under the Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru rules up to the end of the 2019 vintage providing the grapes are harvested at a potential alcohol of 18%. It is not legal if the grapes are under 18%. – Jim)  

'Though the T word is not mentioned, it is clear that as well as expressing the terroir of his vineyards, purity of fruit is at the heart of the Baumard philosophy too: "My goal is simple," Florent says. "To put the best fruit possible in the bottle. As Chenin does not mature evenly in this terroir he says there are always at least two tries, or separate pickings of the vineyard, even for the dry wines.'  


Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th October
On Wednesday 7th October 2015 I visited the Quarts de Chaume to have a look at how the grapes were coming along. I contacted no producers before coming to Anjou – the only person who knew we coming was the person, who is not a producer, with whom we stayed in Angers. The 7th and 8th were the first convenient times for me to visit Anjou as previously I had been busy visiting other Loire regions where the 2015 vintage was likely to be further advanced. 

This was my first day in Anjou. I had already dropped in to Domaine de la Bergerie and Domaine Ogereau. Yves and Anne Guégniard told me that they had done a small tri in their Quarts de Chaume at the end of last week before the rain forecast for Monday. It was 20.5% potential. Emmanuel Ogereau said that they had done the same in their parcel in the Quarts de Chaume which had come out at 20% potential. It was great to see how excited Emmanuel was as 2015 is the first year the Ogereaus have had vines (0.87 ares) in the Quarts de Chaume. They have a westward facing parcel at La Martinière next to the Baumard vines. 

Looking around the Quarts that Wednesday afternoon it was clear that although some grapes were now affected by botrytis, many were not. I was therefore surprised to see that the first rows of vines on the west side of the Domaine des Baumard's vines at La Martinière had been completely stripped of fruit. I walked down one of the rows that had been entirely picked. Although there were a few fresh leaves on the ground I could see no sign of discarded fruit. Towards the end of this row there were grapes that hadn't been picked – I assume this is where the pickers finished for the day as the subsequent rows had also not been picked. 

I returned mid-afternoon on Thursday (8th). On the way down to the Quarts we passed one group picking higher up in Chaume. Returning to La Martinière I could see activity in Baumard's parcel of vines. Walking round the outside of the parcel on the western side I reached where the terraces start that overlook the Layon then turned left along the passage between the Martinière parcel and the terraces. 

Here I spoke to a man, who appeared to be the supervisor, who asked me whether I was with Monsieur Baumard. I replied that I wasn't and that I was walking in the vineyard. I asked whether the boxes of grapes in the rows were for Quarts de Chaume. He replied that they were, except for the parcels that weren't classified. We agreed that it was good weather for harvesting and I wished him a Bonne Vendange. He went on down to the terraces where I could hear the sound of picking. The team of pickers had presumably moved on there having finished at La Martinière.

I then walked up one of the Martinière rows coming out where the trailer was parked taking the photos of the boxes of fruit shown below.Some of the vines still had some bunches left but the majority had been completely stripped of fruit.


Photos taken on Thursday 8th October in La Martinière, Quarts de Chaume  around 3pm. 
(The first was taken at 14.52 local time and the last at 15.07.

Signs of pickers in Baumard's parcel at La Martinière
(above and below)

Domaine des Baumard: trays of picked fruit in a row of vines at La Martinière 
(above and below)

From Tom Cannavan's interview with Florent Baumard: 'As Chenin does not mature evenly in this terroir he says there are always at least two tries, or separate pickings of the vineyard, even for the dry wines.' 19th June 2014, Glasgow.

'Baumard insists the freezing process simply allows him to eliminate less ripe grapes, leaving only the naturally sweetest juice to go into his must. It is, he says, nothing more than a means of sorting the harvest.' (19th June 2014, Glasgow) From Tom Cannavan's report.

An extensive tri – no grapes left on this vine 

It is a great pity that Florent Baumard did such an extensive tri in the Quarts de Chaume. Clearly some of the grapes picked are over the required 18% potential, while others are well below. Claude Papin, président of the Quarts de Chaume producers, estimates from these photos that Baumard's tri is between 15%-16% potential, so below the required minimum.

I have been accused by Florent Baumard of being involved in a 'hate' campaign against him. This is not correct. But I am frustrated, especially in a promising year like 2015 where the forecast is currently set fair for around the next ten days, that Florent didn't require his pickers to do a smaller tri of his best fruit. Instead it is seems to be indiscriminate picking.  

Florent claims that cryoextration/cryoselection is a means of sorting the ripe from the upripe grapes. Certainly choosing bunches with the required amount of botrytis is a skilled job which requires experience. However, this is not the case in knowing the difference between green/golden grapes and those affected by botrytis. Why go to the expense of cryoextraction when pickers can be instructed to leave the green/golden grapes on the vine for a second or third picking?

Also sorting the grapes at Baumard's winery makes little sense as, left on the vine, the green/golden grapes would be more valuable once they meet the requirements for Quarts de Chaume. 

Unfortunately Domaine des Baumard has underlined just why the INAO expressed the serious reservations in their submission to the Conseil d'Etat over the use of cryextraction/cryoselection to make appellation sweet wine, especially the temptation to harvest grapes too early before they have reached the necessary and required level of sweetness.

The Baumards' attempt to have the 2011 Quarts de Chaume decrét annulled by France's Conseil d'Etat failed. Florent Baumard has a choice – respect the rules if he wants make Quarts de Chaume and carry out the successive pickings as he explained to Tom Cannavan in Glasgow in June 2014 or avoid the risks, use cryoextraction on unripe grapes and sell the wine as Vin de France. Indeed he suggested to Cannavan that he was considering opting out of the appellation. There are already a good number of producers in Anjou who have opted out. One of the most notable is Olivier Cousin.

'Patsy set up by the growers to do their dirty work.'
As already stated above I was not in contact with any Anjou producer before going to the region on 7th and 8th. During our stay in the Loire – arriving 16th September and due to leave on 20th October, we have paid our way, the sole exception being two nights in Sancerre and a meal at a restaurant in Bourgueil – both associated with a commissioned article for Decanter.

Does it matter?
I am surprised that Tom Cannavan, a distinguished consumer journalist, is dismissive of this controversy:
'Should there be a new Grand Cru? Did Baumard overstep the appellation rules with the level of cryoxtraction in 2012? The honest truth is that I really don't care too much about either issue.' Tom on his Wine Pages Forum 20.6.2014.

Although this involves a small appellation in the Loire, it surely remains right that the wine inside a bottle should accurately reflect what is claimed on the label – ie truthful labelling, especially when you are likely to be paying over £20 for a recent vintage of Quarts de Chaume. Hawkshead Wines have halves of the 2010 Domaine des Baumard at £25.95.  

I may be old fashioned but I believe that the consumer should not be misled. Given the huge furore over the Volkswagen false emissions claims, it appears that many agree. 

Claude Papin, president of the Quarts de Chaume producers: "It is lamentable and what a shame as there is some good botrytis here.

"This undermines the Quarts de Chaume appellation. If the consumer is to have confidence in the appellation the wines have to be credible and respect the rules that are now French law. Quarts de Chaume commands a higher price because of the risks involved in waiting during the autumn for the grapes to become over-mature and from the consequent low yields that come with making these wines.

"It would also be very regrettable and unfair if the Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru loses credibility because other Quarts de Chaume producers are making big efforts to produce the best wine they can. We are now looking to tighten the rules further by introducing the same monitoring system that is in place for Sélection des Grains Nobles where the vines are inspected before picking to see if the grapes are ripe enough to be Grains Nobles. I hope that the Syndicat can agree this new measure before Christmas."

This would be a welcome move as there is no point in having strict rules if they are not enforced. Otherwise it will be understandable if winelovers conclude that Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru is meaningless window dressing.

I sent some questions to Florent Baumard and invited him to comment. To date I have had no response.         

Some background to the decision of the Conseil d'Etat in respect to the Baumards' challenge to the 2011 Quarts de Chaume décre:

Conseil d'État

N° 356103   
Inédit au recueil Lebon
M. Guillaume Odinet, rapporteur
Mme Marie-Astrid Nicolazo de Barmon, rapporteur public

lecture du mercredi 26 février 2014

D E C I D E :
Article 1er : Les requêtes de la SCEA Domaine des Baumard sont rejetées.
Article 2 : La présente décision sera notifiée à la SCEA Domaine des Baumard, au ministre de l'agriculture, de l'agroalimentaire et de la forêt et à l'Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité.
Copie en sera adressée pour information au Premier ministre.

‘S'agissant de l'interdiction du recours au procédé de cryosélection:
(judgment in relation to cryoselection:

17. Considérant qu'il ressort des pièces du dossier que le procédé de cryosélection, qui permet de sélectionner les grains de raisin les plus concentrés et sucrés et d'isoler les grains les plus aqueux en portant l'ensemble des grains cueillis à température négative, a été regardé par la commission d'enquête de l'INAO comme relevant des " pratiques peu ou pas recommandables en matière d'AOC " au motif qu'il conduit à un affaiblissement du lien spécifique du produit avec son terroir en incitant à récolter en début de vendange plutôt que d'attendre la surmaturation, soumise aux conditions climatiques d'arrière-saison, du raisin sur pied ; que, si ce procédé permet une amélioration substantielle du rendement de la vigne, il ne ressort pas des pièces du dossier qu'il serait indispensable à la rentabilité de l'exploitation des vins de Quarts deA... ; que, contrairement à ce que soutient la société requérante, le niveau de rendement de la vigne fixé par le cahier des charges n'est pas un seuil à atteindre mais un maximum ne pouvant être dépassé ; qu'il ne ressort pas des pièces du dossier que ce procédé serait indispensable pour atteindre le titre alcoométrique volumique naturel minimum fixé par le cahier des charges ; que doit, dès lors, être écarté le moyen tiré de ce que le pouvoir réglementaire aurait commis une erreur manifeste d'appréciation en homologuant un cahier des charges interdisant le recours au procédé de cryosélection ;’
'With regard to the prohibition of the use of cryoselection process:  
17. It appears from the evidence that the cryoselection process for selecting the most concentrated and sweet grapes and isolating the more watery grapes with whole ones harvested at negative temperature was judged by the INAO's commission of inquiry as falling under "Practically little or no commendable grounds in terms of AOC" on the grounds that it leads to a weakening of product's specific link with the terroir, encourages picking at the beginning of grape harvest rather than waiting for the full ripening, subject to the weather conditions of late autumn, that if this process allows a substantial increase in the yield, it is not apparent from the evidence that it would be essential to the profitability of the wines of Quarts de A ...; that, contrary to what the company claimed, the vine yield level set by the specification is not a threshold to be reached but the maximum that can not be exceeded; that it is not apparent from the evidence that this process is necessary in order to reach the minimum natural alcoholic strength specified; so the plea that the regulatory authority made a manifest error of assessment in approving rules prohibiting the use cryoselection process must be rejected; '



Bob Rossi said...

While Baumard is not a favorite producer of mine, I have had some very good wines from them over the years, so it's disappointing to see them apparently bending or flouting the QDC rules. On other note, I see several references to Emmanuel Ogereau here, and also in other places recently. We visited Domaine Ogereau a couple of years ago and had a tasting with Vincent Ogereau, the father. He was not an old man, so I wouldn't expect that he'd have handed the reins over to his son yet. Is Vincent still in charge, or has his son in fact taken over. All I know is that they make fantastic wines.

Jim Budd said...

Thanks Bob. Vincent and Catherine are still involved but Emmanuel is playing an ever increasing role. This is a regular pattern one ses here as the next generation takes over.