Rebirth of the Appellation

Nicholas Joly is the world’s leading advocate for biodyanamic winemaking. In his first article for the Organic Wine Journal, he explains the downfall of vineyards which turn to chemicals and why he believes biodynamics is the road back to true terroir-driven wines.

The creation of appellations in the 1930s was a stroke of genius. Its concept was simple: Different locations produce distinctive vintages from grapes with such a special taste that their uniqueness should be legally guaranteed for consumers.

Seventy years later, what remains of this protection? Unfortunately, not much. What happened to the Appellation Controlée system? How did these AOC wines lose even part of their luster?

Starting in the 1950s, agriculture “advisers” began to frenetically recommend the use of herbicides in the vineyards. No longer obliged to work his soil, the winegrower saves an enormous amount of time. The advisers carefully avoided telling the growers that, at the same time, they would be destroying the microbes and bacteria in the soil. This also destroys the ability of the vines to nourish themselves. No root can feed on the soil by itself without the assistance of micro-organisms.

The “trap” is now carefully in place. Five to ten years later everyone notices that growth in the vineyard has decreased. Now, massive doses of chemical fertilizers are substituted for natural growth. What do these chemical fertilizers consist of? Salts, for one thing, which force the vine to drink more water, to compensate for the salinity imposed on it. Anyone who has seen large vegetables shrink during cooking, returning the excess water they were obliged to absorb, will know what I mean. It is the same false growth that is given to the vine.

The vines are also now more vulnerable to diseases. In order to respond more effectively, “systemics” were invented; a technique that makes chemicals pass directly into the sap. Previously, the products remained on the surface of the leaf, without interfering in the internal organisms of the plant. This response generates new diseases, an ever-increasing problem, as well as increases the number of chemical residues in the wine.

The resulting vintages sometimes have a shockingly unusual taste. To deal with this, incredible technologies have been invented, transforming wine cellars into factories. Over 300 yeasts are available to winemakers, offering an immense panorama of aromatic varieties; from raspberry to banana, all the way to black currant. While these taste additives are legal, they are a complete lie to the historic taste profile of that location.

But nature knows how to take back its rights when the stubborn refuse to listen. Recently, one of the foremost wine journalists in France wrote, “How will credulous strangers look at the bottles of wine they paid 500 francs for, thinking to make an investment or keep them in reserve, when they realize that they have been cheated? The artificial booster, the heavy extract, does not stand up to the test of time.”

In other words, cosmetics do not age well in wine, and time distinguishes between the good and the false. The taste of wine—its harmony, its beauty, its elegance—belongs to a qualitative world of intangible origin, which cannot be restored as easily as one replaces a layer of paint. Quality comes from an organized and indefinable entity, which extends itself into the grapes by respecting a certain number of the laws that generate life on Earth. The man of today is incapable of understanding the macrocosmic laws, since he is only interested in what is at the end of his microscope or on the screen of his computer.


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