The Transeurope Project. Four Bruichladdich enthusiasts from the town of Schwaz in the Austrian Tyrol visited us recently and brought us four ex-wine casks from two top vineyards in Burgundy, France who adhere to strict bio-dynamic principles. The casks were filled with spiirit distilled from biodynamically grown barley and will be used as part of our ongoing exploration of barley provenance.
Alexander Knapp, Elfi Muller, Gottfried Fercher. Luis Fercher and Gunther Scheitnagl have an informal whisky club, and first visited Bruichladdich back in 2012, when they were impressed by the commitment of our master distiller Jim McEwan to the concept of ‘natural whisky’.
A small but important minority of French winemakers are also very interested in ‘natural wines’ and Dr Knapp explained how these pioneers often struggle against the tide of mainstream opinion, even within France. In winemaking, as with whisky, he says, there are forces which are always trying to standardise wines, to manage expectations so that they conform to pre-conceived ideas of how they should look and taste.
To achieve this, the majority of wine makers subject their grape juice to an industrial process which essentially removes the natural yeasts and replaces them with cultivated strains which have been developed to promote the desired characteristics.
A very few do not – preferring instead to cherish the natural flora that adheres to the grape skins and celebrate the variety and complexity that they offer. Any one grape may harbour tens, even hundreds of thousands of different varietals. This diversity offers a window onto the provenance of the wine through the profile of the local yeasts.
Quality artisanal cheese makers also talk of how the unique bacterial profile of their region is fundamental to their ability to make their local cheese. The parallels with our approach to the distillation of spirit at Bruichladdich, while not exact, will be apparent. Collectively, what binds us all is a belief that the terroir of our raw materials has a profound effect on the quality of what we make.
The two white wine casks held Mâcon-Cruzille from the Domaine des Vignes Du Maynes. This is a wine derived from 100% Chardonnay called “Aragonite” (named after a type of stone in the terroir where the grapes grow). They were provided by Julien Guillot whose family own the oldest Clos in France, dating back 1,104 years to its foundation by the monks of Cluny. There are ancient walls beneath the the winery that date back to Roman times. Happily the Clos has never been subject to modern farming methods, partly as a result of a series of lucky accidents, partly because of the parsimonious attitude of some of its previous guardians, and latterly because of the interest of Julien and his father in bio-dynamic agricultural systems.
The red wine casks previously held a Grand-Cru from the Côte de Nuits called “Clos St.-Denis” and come from the Domaine Dujac. The grape variety was 100% Pinot Noir. This is one of the most prestigious domaines in Morey Saint-Denis and also works biodynamically.
We are indebted to everyone who has helped to make this experiment possible and we look forward to seeing how it develops in the years ahead.