By | January 21 2016
By diligent investigation, Guy Accad forged a code of practice that all good clients trusted. He was the only one, for instance, who fed the soil on the basis of soil analysis — so he knew that added potassium was not required. He also recommended picking the grapes at their peak of ripeness and never adjusting the tannin or acid levels. He would personally oversee the fermentation process, tracking its progress with the near-surgical precision of a mathematical virtuoso — a trait he shares with so many of his Lebanese peers. Being a former winemaker with the Hospices de Beaune (for the 1978 vintage), he understood the benefits of prolonged cold-soaking, leaving the grapes to macerate at cold temperatures prior to fermentation. How sad to think that none of that vintage was set aside in the reserves of the Hospices…
The controversy arose because of the necessity to add sulfur dioxide to protect the must from oxidation at this cold-soaking stage. In fact, the quantity added was never more than 1.5-2 liters of liquid sulfur dioxide per ton of grapes (10-12g/hl), which is a dose still widely used by leading producers today. I know this because I was, at that time, a trainee at Domaine Confuron, and I saw some of the wines being made.
This is one those things that has been blown out of all proportion — as you might expect in the claustrophobic, backbiting world of Côte d’Or winemaking. Accad was eventually demonized by the local intelligentsia for allegedly adding 5-6 liters of liquid SO2, which his critics should have known is enough to make fermentation well nigh impossible. Guy’s wife was scrupulous about laboratory testing, but after the couple separated, Guy himself focused less on punctilious analysis and almost exclusively on research into grape cooling. He even went so far as to freeze grapes in the belief that the drop in temperature would optimize the extraction of anthocyanins and aroma precursors from the grape skins.
There is surely no disputing the good sense of his last-moment harvesting in 1988, when he took advantage of that year’s glorious Indian summer to obtain grapes that exceeded 11.5% potential alcohol (the legal minimum for premier and grand cru vineyards). The result was a stunning success, even if it was confined to just a tiny handful of Accadien supporters. In the end, they, too, were discouraged by his sloppy analyses and tedious habit of turning up for consultations in the middle of the night. André Pernin stopped working with Accad in 1987. But by that time Baudinet, Pernin’s small local cooper, had retired; and apparently lacking confidence in his subsequent coopers, Pernin never barreled down his new wines early enough, depriving them of the oxygen required to combat the early stages of reduction.
This was a particular issue for Pernin, who actively encouraged reduction in his wines by fermenting in plastic tanks with floating lids. A lot of column inches have been devoted to these wines’ reduced, sulfurous nose, with its marked predominance of blackcurrant bud. People naturally assumed that Pernin cheated, as many other producers certainly did, starting with the addition of artificial flavorings. The French authorities could name more than one famous producer with a conviction for fraud — people notorious for acidifying their wines or otherwise tampering with the flavors. But that was clearly not the case here. No, the stability of the reductive aromas had to be down to the fermentation itself.
While the blackcurrant presence was certainly not as complex as your typical Pinot Noir bouquet, it did at least serve to prevent two major faults all too common at the time: the formation of ethyl phenol by contaminant Brettanomyces yeast, and vinegar taint. Pernin’s 1986s retain exceptional freshness, for all their ripe fruit and marked aromas of blackcurrant bud (12.8% natural alcohol for La Richemone, which was partly harvested by yours truly). The wines’ bouquet and complexity are only now beginning to emerge, but with the blackcurrant aromas still very much in evidence. (Let us not forget that blackcurrant is, after all, a characteristic marker of some Nuits-St- Georges terroirs.) They remain lively, vibrant wines that, to this day, put most others in the shade. Christophe Perrot-Minot, one of the most accomplished and idealistic winemakers of his generation, was so keen on Pernin’s La Richemone that he now produces his own version. How he must laugh to think of some of the silly things people said — through either ignorance or just plain spite.