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Baroness Philippine de Rothschild’s well known saying “winemaking is not difficult, only the first 300 years are…” encapsulate so much when you think about it. It not only speaks of a history rich in trial and error, but also of credibility, immense beauty and vineyards which lived through several wars and saw different owners over the decades. It also speaks of vastly different wine styles…or does it?

Spain, Italy, France and Portugal are regarded as the Old world wine producing countries where caves are still used to mature wine in, Cladosporium and Candida covered bottles are regarded normal and production methods are still governed by ancient law. Wines styles are considered rustic, infused with elements of Brettanomyces (which in some cases may add to the complexity – and it is my personal opinion and I like it!) and sometimes described as “earthy”, “farmyardy” and may taste “drier”. It is impossible to put generic adjectives to styles which are sometimes very diverse as a function of terroir, production and varietal and in doing so you might step on someone else’s toes (or palate…). Winemaking is considered more of an art form and the resulting wine traditionally needs time to develop in the bottle and also needs to be drunk with food.

The New World producing areas include Australia, Argentina, Chile, the USA, New-Zealand and South Africa (which of course is actually an “old New World producing country”). The wines in general are considered significantly more fruit driven and sometimes even “sweeter tasting” than the traditional old world wines. The reason for this is mainly due to the focus to “preserve the fruit” by picking riper, thus inducing higher alcohol in some cases, a ripe fruit profile, and colloids that mask the intensity of tannin. Newer cellar practices challenge some of the traditional methods and advances in viticultural techniques, especially in the field of irrigation, ensured fruit which created wines which spurred areas like California, Barossa, Marlborough and Stellenbosch to the New World forefront. One of the main reasons for New World styles to gain so much market share to the detriment of the Old World, is a function of focusing on the needs of the consumer. One of these needs of course to simplify what the label communicates, which is still a confusing subject for consumers when it comes to Old World Wines.

What does the consumer prefer? Perhaps an unfair question. It is important to consider though, the fact that the Old World producers have lost more than 60% market share to their New World Competitors.  As a result of this the traditional styles are evolving. Increased fruit intensity, cleanliness, more oak intensity in some cases, and rising alcohol levels (not only as a result of global warming) are common. Wines are softer, taste “sweeter” and are “more consumer friendly”. Marketing strategies are adapted to focus significantly more in understanding the consumer, befriending the consumer and accommodating the consumer. Old World Wine Renaissance is taking place, and is evident in all the main international markets, i.e. the Rhone Renaissance, increased popularity of the Priorat and Dao, and wines from the Languedoc and Provence.

Although some changes are great for the sake of the producer, the brand and the category, I realise some nostalgic presence…what about reflecting in the wine the fruit from the vineyard as dictated and perhaps limited by terroir?

Isn’t it the limitations of nature that gives personality to a wine?

Bertus Fourie is a winemaker, turned Enology lecturer and creator of the Barista coffee Pinotage.

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