Oak Integration in Burgundy



I am visiting burgundy and though my tastings have been limited I have observed that given comparable levels of 'new oak' and the same cooperage the red burgundies seem to show 'oaky' characters less than our Pinot's in Oregon.
I posted on my Blog ( www.vintnersvoice.com ) my initial thoughts: 1). The relationship between cooper and burgundian producers being 'closer' than that found with oregon producers leads to a 'closer matching' of the barrel to the wine 2). The coopers keep the better wood for the burgundian producers. However after some thinking inspired by Arthur at www.winesooth.com I began thinking about differences in tannic structure.

My question: Is it possible that the tannic structure of the red burgundies, generally speaking, allow the 'oaky' characters to be better integrated? I arrived at this possible solution to the problem while considering some of your thoughts on aromatics being integrated into tannic structure. Given the close relationship of smell and taste I don't think it is a stretch to say that tannic structure could also integrate flavors as well.

I have also observed that the producers I am and basing my observations on tend to be less extractive ( less manipulation of the cap during fermentation ) leading to my second question: Is difference in integration of 'oaky' characters and tannin structures the result of where the grapes are grown or how must/wine is handled? What aspects of winemaking ( extraction, elevage etc ) might be manipulated to alter tannic structure in a way that better integrates oak?

I am very interested in your thoughts on this.

Jerry D. Murray
Winemaker/Vineyard Manager
Patton Valley Vineyards

Dear Jerry:

I can see that you have been reading my stuff – I’m flattered and encouraged.

I have long felt that the proximity and duration of relationships with good coopers has much to do with the apparent integration of wood in Burgundy, more than an innate property of the terroir. This accounts for the instant success in this area by Drouhin in Oregon.

The lightness of Burgundy gives me some pause as to application of the aromatic-integration-through-structure hypothesis, which clearly applies in big Cabernet and the like. Since, however, we see these effects even in the structured whites I make, I think the notion has merit. How you think about what you have may be more important than terroir. Begin with the notion of maximizing the reactive, structure-building portion of the tannin and color. This leads to precise practices regarding canopy management, maturity, and extraction which make a huge difference in flavor integration and depth.

Co-pigmentation strategies (using as little polymer and as much monomer as possible) are among the Burgundian tricks of the trade which hardly seem to get a hearing here. Cap manipulation is going to be fruitless without adequate cofactor; in fact it just makes matters worse. The hangtime craze not only leaves Pinot without unpolymerized co-factor, but also the higher alcohol destabilizes the extractive colloids.

An understanding of the timing complexities of Pinot is also critical, and here I fear we are perhaps two decades behind the French. As an example, so often I encounter the bonehead practice of lees stirring in young wines, destroying anthocyanins before structure has had a chance to form, and resulting in weak, dry wines with little staying power and poor aromatic integration. Foolish claims from Davis that different types of astringency relate exclusively to total tannin are a measure of how backward our thinking is. If one allows 6-8 months for structure to resolve, carefully conscious of temperature and oxygen availability (a cold cellar is death to Pinot), then lees stirring of the resulting structure will enhance oak integration. This is a lot like making a soufflé, where you must first make a meringue from the pure egg whites and only then fold in the yolks.

Perhaps at the core of the dilemma is the way we think about oak as a flavorant rather than a variety of structural enhancement tools. Of its seven functions, the important uses (and abuses) of oak -- copigmentation, reductive strength. Structural building blocks for aromatic integration, sweetness and framing -- are largely ignored domestically.

You are beginning to think and talk like a postmodernist. Welcome to Postmodern Winemaking!