Good afternoon. I want to thank the Mornington Penninsula
Vignerons for inviting Littorai and Burn Cottage to this festival. As I thought about the presentation of our
wines, I asked myself what we might bring that would be of greater value than a
simple tasting of wines of recent vintage.
In order to place the following comments in proper context, you will
need to know a little of my own winegrowing path. I began my career by living, working and
studying enology in Burgundy for four years.
I left for California and worked in Napa Valley and then later as a
consultant to wineries from Oregon to Monterrey County. My wife Heidi and I began Littorai in
1993. The wines come from what we call the
true North Coast, the coastal hills of Sonoma and Mendocino counties. I began to work with the Sauvage family at
Burn Cottage Vineyard in Central Otago in 2002.
In the introduction to Roger Dion’s
extraordinary work “History of the Vine and Wine in France from its Origins to
the 19th Century”, originally published in 1959, Dion explains that
in the 16th century the wines produced from the area around Paris
were considered equal to the very best of Champagne. In Dion’s research, average temperature,
average summer sunlight hours, frequency of spring frost and humidity were all
slightly in favor of the Paris region.
Dion is shocked that in a country where the vine enjoys the greatest
prestige, the public is utterly ignorant of this important past. Dion states:
ignorance is an effect of this very prestige.
We would rather find that the virtues of French vineyards are the gift
of natural privilege, a particular heavenly grace bestowed upon the earth of
France. It is as if there was more honor
for our country in receiving its viticultural fame from Heaven rather than from
the toil of men, a viticultural fame in which our ancestors found a subject of
collective pride even before the notion of a French nation existed.
“From this flow
so many illusory arguments and facile explanations, filling the commonly
accepted notions of viticultural history.
A great success, when it is the fruit of long and hard work, makes the
As a young man living in Burgundy, these
words struck me like thunder. There was
a great and forgotten wine in Paris? So the
great terroirs are not set in stone. They
reflect human cultural, economic, political and agronomic history. A single detour here or there and the great
sparkling wine of France could have come from the region of Paris. Great terroir does not exist. It is
built. It is built from millions of
blocks of historical, cultural, economic, scientific and agronomic pieces.
If terroir is a human construct, why not
become a carpenter? If, in the course of
time, the pre-eminence of certain famous viticultural regions is due to that
same history, that position will change across the history which we are in the
act of building today. This may sound
like a call to defiance of today’s most famous regions, but that is not the
point. Dion’s words had freed me. Great dirt is neither sentimental nor
Thus, when I returned to the US from
France, I had understood what I now call the concept of noble place. This
concept, which lies at the origin of all the great viticultural regions, is not
only distinct from the notion of terroir, but precedes it. Noble places, ready to reveal their secrets,
are hidden all over the temperate regions of the earth. They lie hidden in European vineyards which
were once famous but now lie forgotten.
And they lie hidden in the virgin regions of the so-called New
World. Rather than us presuming to have
terroir, let us challenge ourselves by asking instead, do I have a noble site?
Finding a noble place is only the first
step in the winegrowing process. One
cannot create unique wines which are faithful to their noble sites in the New
World, without training. One must first
have an education in terroir-based tasting and such an education remains
largely based on European wines. Without this, new world great terroir wines
are not possible. I look forward with enthusiasm to the day when
a library of New World terroir wines is available to us all!
While we acknowledge the important training
which Europe provides, it is time for the day of the disciple to die. Remember that great terroir is composed of historical,
cultural, economic, scientific and agronomic components. There will never be pure, great and true New
World terroirs until we accomplish the esthetic and cultural parts of building
the edifice. I would like to suggest
some guidelines for this process.
1. Look inward . Yes, I know
that the winewriters will complain you already don’t know enough about Old
World Wines! Do not measure all things
against the old world. And above all do not see Burgundy as a measuring
stick. We must be like Odisseus, lashing ourselves to
the mast of the ship in order to resist the siren song of the maidens of
2. Discover the biology of terroir.
The history of twentieth century European
viticulture is the history of growing amnesia to the biological dimension of
terroir. Look at most viticultural text books from the
twentieth century and you will find the only biological element to be the vine
itself. The rest is all chemistry and
photosynthetic pathways. There is nary a
worm in sight. Yet from what derive the
limestones which made Burgundy famous?
Living creatures. In the 20th
century Europe nearly forgot that the biology of terroir is as important as the
We are destroying vast
areas of New World viticulture to an outdated and dangerous model. Marlboro, The Russian River, Napa Valley, Monterrey
county and other regions are monocultural wastelands. This must not continue.
3. Practice alternative forms of agriculture. Regardless of how one might feel about biodynamic
agriculture, there is a veritable a la carte menu of extraordinary alternative
agricultural practices available now:
organic, permaculture and, agro-ecological agriculture. Stop planting vines. Plant companions. Kate spoke of “letting things be as natural
as possible” in relation to the Larmandier wine in our very first flight. Agriculture is not natural. To promote natural balance, healthy ecosystems and thereby site-specificity
in agriculture requires that we actively promote agronomic health thru bio-diversity.
4. Learn to taste in a new way. Jacky
Rigaux in Burgundy is doing some very
interesting research regarding how we taste for site signature. This work relates directly to having a
terroir-based education. He calls it “la
degustation geo-sensorielle”, geo-sensory tasting and claims that earlier generations of Burgundian
tasters were not interested in the details of aromas but that notions like “sapidite”,
“texture” and “la bonne salive”, were essential to understanding the difference
between crus. This is a thought
provoking contrast to our latter day focus on aromas. Huon said on day one that perfume is what we
love about Burgundy. This view sees
aromas as fleeting and secondary.
5. Give up being a winemaker. Become
a student of terroir. Have the
confidence to listen and allow the site to speak to you and to discover its
uniqueness. Make a place for the mystery
of wine in your cellar. Notice how over
the last two days we have all made knowing pronouncements about the potential
evolution of the wines we are tasting. Maybe
we are all wrong.
6. As a corollary to giving up being a winemaker, give up additives
. This does not require you to become a
“natural” winemaker; it is a path of
evolution. Make it a point to stop
acidifying. You will be amazed how it will
focus your attention like a laser on better vineyard husbandry and alternative
7. Most importantly of all, abandon the quest to make great Pinot Noir. Your job is to craft wines which are the most
honest, crystalline expression of their place and then let others decide if
they feel that your efforts are worthy.
Ted Lemon's Littorai Pinot Noirs are available in very small quantities