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Jean-Claude Boisset

These days, both winemakers and consumers want lower levels of sulfites in their wines, with “bioprotection” offering a natural alternative to reduce or eliminate doses of sulfite in wines. But one still has to pay close attention to the wine itself. 

One of the challenges of vinification in order to attain the deep nature of the wine, the imprint of its terroir, and its unique personality, is to reduce both pesticides and doses of sulfur. As such, since 2012, the Jean-Claude Boisset wine house launched its first cuvée called Nature, a red Burgundy with no sulfur added during vinification, although a tiny dose is added at bottling.

Although sulfur, and the much decried SO2, prevents bacteria and stops the wine turning to vinegar, it has two major disadvantages. On the one hand, it modifies the character of the wine, with a tendency to reinforce the tannins, making it more austere, as well as changing the color and in a certain way denaturing the wine. On the other hand, in excess quantities, it can lead to unpleasant consequences for some consumers.
That’s why Grégory Patriat who has been making the house’s wines for 15 years in a forthright, clean and silky style is clearly moving towards an approach that is respectful of the nature of the wine with less sulfur. The wine gains in purity, in
the quality of the tannins, and above all results in a velvetiness in the mouth. These wines are bursting with elegance, finesse and vigor, giving a more precise interpretation of terroir.

Here’s what he says: “Contrary to conventional wisdom, sulfur-free wines are not a matter of being cool… Quite the opposite! Working like sulfur is like performing without a safety net. It’s a high-risk choice that should not be taken lightly, and requires great skill. One has to be even more rigorous, very precise and vigilant. These wines do not tolerate any approximations, otherwise they soon veer off. Cleanliness in the cellar must be irreproachable. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the smell of pony!” By which he means the whiff of stables, a sure sign that a wine is going to ruin.

Sulfur has been used since antiquity and seemed irreplaceable. But one the most promising advances to avoid it is so-called bioprotection, a recent discovery which works on the principle of protecting the living with the living. This technique involves encouraging the good elements, which occupy the space leaving no room for the bad. Technically, this involves non-fermentable yeasts whose only role is to prevent undesirable bacteria and microorganisms from developing. As a result, one can reduce or even do away with doses of SO2, given that the less one uses, the more active it is. As an enthusiastic pioneer, our winemaker decided to test this new approach this year.

As such, 2017 will mark the sixth vintage of Nature and possibly the first to be made without sulfur, or at least close to zero, with the aim of extending the practice to other wines in the Jean-Claude Boisset Nature range. Watch this space…