Robert Grenley wrote: ↑August 9th, 2021, 10:55 pm
William Kelley wrote: ↑August 6th, 2021, 5:04 pm
Cris Whetstone wrote: ↑August 6th, 2021, 4:52 pm
Maybe the producers that have avoided premox all these years have been paying extra to have their corks treated with pixie dust?
How numerous are they? I can think of at best three or four in Burgundy. And they work with the best corks money can buy, use very high levels of free SO2, and in some cases wax as well.
White Burgundy was definitely rendered more fragile by changes in winemaking, grape growing, and, to a lesser extent, climate; but it would be a mistake to think that the closure isn't critical. Had closures been superb and consistent, we would have seen an arguably unfortunate stylistic change, rather than the total collapse of a genre.
If you pick the right wax, it does seem that it enhances the seal. It is worth noting that, in the days of lead capsules, any seepage would react with the lead, creating salts that, if you will, almost "cauterized" the bleed. I'm sure people who have opened bottles with lead capsules have noticed this. Tin/aluminum are notably inferior to lead in this respect. So just from a technical perspective, wax is the best of the options that are legal today. It also happens to be cheaper, more ecologically friendly, and doesn't require the expense of a custom capsule adapted to non-standard bottle shapes.
I’m not sure I have read your exploration of the causes behind the premox tragedy, but I certainly believe that changes in the vineyards and winemaking led to more vulnerable wines, variability in corks led to the “random” nature of the expression of premox among different bottles in the same case, and DIAM or screw tops are simply masking the underlying vulnerabilities…at least for a good long while, it seems.
Can you elaborate on what changes occurred almost universally in the 1995-96 vintages and EVER SINCE to make the wines more vulnerable? For example, did everyone but Coche and Raveneau buy a pneumatic press all at once? Did everyone else cut down their sulfur usage all at once? Did the corks all go to hell at at once? Why wouldn’t Leflaive realize that they too were relatively spared until they changed things in the early 2000’s? And why to this day, 25 years later, are producers still making wines that will premox and simply mask them with DIAM (or refuse to), rather than return to wine growing and winemaking as they and their fathers/grandfathers did in the pre-premox era? (And I would love to know where you wrote about premox previously.)
You pose some very pertinent questions. But, if the wine wasn't already oxidized when it went into the bottle (which may have sometimes been the case in the past), I think that the closure is a necessary and sufficient factor for premox in white Burgundy, though there are often contributing factors. But even if you do everything right, if you get a bad closure your wine can still oxidize. The way cork oaks were cultivated changed a lot around the same time: the trees grow faster and are harvested more often. Even if they were few and far between, producers who truly didn't change a thing still saw an increase in problems. In post #71, I cited the example of a producer who tested the oxygen transmission rate of a batch of high quality corks and found a variability to the tune of a factor of 50. Now, for a given level of free SO2, with that batch of corks you will have wines that are oxidized, wines that are perfect, and wines that are reduced in the same lot. It is hard to believe if you are not involved in production, perhaps, and I was for a long time convinced that it was just a question of folks having "messed up the winemaking"; but if you want to understand why people like Olivier Lamy have been convinced to go to DIAM, this is why: they have done everything they can to make the wines the right way, from the vineyards to pressing to élevage to bottling without any appreciable dissolved oxygen; and they have still suffered from premox or just unacceptable levels of bottle variation when you know the wine in question intimately.
Of course, and as I also discussed in post #71, the winemaking changes that were widely adopted in the mid-1990s that made wines more fragile also resulted in stylistic changes: less dry extract, less physical structure in the wine; wines that were more "elegant" by one definition, but it was harder to find "Meursault you could chew", as a friend of mine likes to put it. I think the test of time has also shown that these new school wines also do fewer interesting things with time even when they don't oxidize. My recent vertical with Vincent Dureuil was illuminating in this regard, as in 1998, when he first bought a pneumatic press, he told me that the salesman reassured him that he'd programmed it with the same press program as a famous Côte de Beaune domaine. The marc at the end of the press cycle was still moist, and his father told him it wasn't done and to press it again. He refused, thinking he knew better... and today, the 1998 is the most evolved, least textural, and least interesting wine in a vertical of his Meix Cadot Vieilles Vignes. Happily, he quickly understood that if you use a pneumatic press correctly, you can get very good results (FYI, Raveneau has used a peneumatic press for years, and Coche uses one as well, though they still have the old Vaslin screw press; Domaine d'Auvenay and Leroy use a pneumatic press; PYCM uses a pneumatic press). But a lot of people were regrettably slow learners in this respect—and in fairness, many didn't have the habit of drinking their own wines with age, and nor did consumers stop buying them, so where was the incentive to learn?
However, I'm convinced that without the problem with closures, these changes would have resulted in an (arguably regrettable) stylistic change but not in premox.
If we are really going to go into the many contributing factors to premox beyond the closure, my list would include:
- clonal selections with a higher cluster weight, meaning fatter berries with more juice vs skins
- climate change resulting in grapes with higher levels of polyphenoloxidases
- viticultural practices unadapted to warmer vintages: hedging low, cultivating the soil late in the season, resulting in higher pH musts
- pressing too gently, without extracting from the skins
- too little lees
- oxidative élevage practices, including: too much small volume new oak, incorrectly executed battonage, heating cellars to accelerate malolactic fermentation, not enough topping
- insufficient SO2
- dissolved oxygen at bottling due to unsparged bottling lines, tanks, and pumps
However, you can get all of this right, and a lot else too, and still be let down by the closure!