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Atheists Cannot Make Great Pinot, Claims Wine Writer

Matt Kramer addresses the Pinot Noir 2013 conference in New Zealand
© Wine-Searcher | Matt Kramer addresses the Pinot Noir 2013 conference in New Zealand
Wine producers must "let greatness happen."

It's time to stop relying on science if you want to make great pinot noir. That's the message that Wine Spectator columnist Matt Kramer gave to delegates at the Pinot Noir 2013 wine conference in Wellington, New Zealand, on Monday.

Kramer controversially declared that truly great pinot noir is currently produced only in Burgundy.

“Burgundy has something that no other pinot region has achieved," he said. "In Burgundy, two plus two equals five. How did they get that other one? How did they find it?

“The challenge is not to get two and two equals four anymore. It's been achieved in New Zealand, it's been achieved in Oregon, it's been achieved in the Mornington Peninsula. Twenty years ago, no one would have thought such a thing would be possible.”

Kramer alerted his audience to the “stunning uniformity and homogeneity" of pinot noir wines being produced these days, and blamed the planting of a small number of clones – such as 667 and 777 – in the world’s vineyards, along with the increasingly common practice of green harvesting.

“What results is wines that lack nuance, wines that lack shape ... They are simply too uniformly ripe and are made from too few clones. There are not enough voices. If great pinot noir is an orchestra, this is an orchestra made entirely of cellos. No piccolo, no double bass, no violins, no brass or woodwind. We have now reached a structural wall.”

In the future, Kramer said, vineyards should contain at least 20 to 40 different clones interspersed randomly, “like a field of wild flowers,” to create heterogeneity. He also called for an end to the reliance on the popular Dijon clone. In his view, the resulting wines would be more harmonious and complete.

“Your orchestra will surely have piccolos in it – grapes that are under-ripe. Your orchestra will have double basses and bassoons – grapes that are over-ripe. The majority of your orchestra will fall into the middle range of the properly ripe. All this requires a willingness to step back and let greatness happen. You cannot control for greatness. You have to let greatness happen and it is found in the shadows.”

Sam Neill's Two Paddocks vineyard in Central Otago, New Zealand
© Two Paddocks | Sam Neill's Two Paddocks vineyard in Central Otago, New Zealand

This led to Kramer's conclusion that atheists cannot make create great pinot noir.

“If you insist on science and rationality as the only guidelines to creating great pinot noir, you will never get past four,” he insisted.

"Jurassic Park" and "Alcatraz" star Sam Neill, a Central Otago pinot noir producer, followed Kramer at the podium. Only partly in jest, he awarded the wine critic 84 out of 100 for his speech.

At a later session, Michael Brajkovich MW, winemaker at Kumeu River, defended New Zealand's use of science in its modern wine industry, which is barely 40 years old.

“We have taken advantage of science because we have not had time [unlike Burgundy]," he said. "It will take time to have the confidence to put a mixture of clones [in the ground].”

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  • Comments

    Nawas wrote:
    08-Feb-2013 at 23:13:11 (GMT)

    Rather incredible that people - especially atheists - take offense to what was surely a flip comment. All Kramer is saying is that great, transcendent wine cannot be made by simply scientific processes. Perhaps it can be analyzed scientifically, but there has to be some leap of faith, gained by experience. New Zealand, Oregon, California, etc, does not yet have that experience. Does that mean that great wines cannot be made there? Of course not - but they cannot be made by following a recipe that calls for precise measurements. A chef or cook who follows a precise recipe might make an excellent dish, but it doesn't become great without a touch of improvisation, the human flaw - the potential for tragedy. Winemakers who are guided only by science (as we currently understand it - we only understand a small portion of potential knowledge) and reason (a combination that Kramer inelegantly deems "atheism") can never be more than technicians, or, even worse (I recommend Adorno and Horkheimer's "Dialectic of the Englightenment" to see where all this could lead). Great wine is made as great art. Through inexplicable creativity, fine skills, and a bit of luck. Luck doesn't exist in science, but when the stars are aligned just so...

  • Russ Doyle wrote:
    03-Feb-2013 at 16:11:29 (GMT)

    If this was 1483 this kind of assertion might be debated, but its 2013 and the last thing the wine world needs is a modern day Torquemada. Keep religion in the church. I suggest we let the grape tell us which wines to "worship" Mr Kramer. Thank you!

  • Wes Hagen, WM Clos Pepe wrote:
    02-Feb-2013 at 22:02:15 (GMT)

    Blind tasting at debate: Pinot noir from the same vintage (Bagged) from winemakers professing: Theism Deism Agnosticism Atheism Wiccan. You could taste the difference, Matt, yes?

  • Wes Hagen, WM Clos Pepe wrote:
    02-Feb-2013 at 21:38:48 (GMT)

    The more I read this, the more it bothers me. Matt, I challenge you to a moderated debate on the subject. I think your rhetoric is flawed and my poster of Logical fallacies counts 8 or 9 statements that would disappoint Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. wes@clospepe.com if you're interested in throwing down. Internet or in person. I'll drive to Napa for this shit.

  • Wes Hagen, WM Clos Pepe wrote:
    02-Feb-2013 at 21:23:44 (GMT)

    I am an atheist and have been my entire adult life. I make Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir, which has been rated by Matt's publications with scores well into the 90's. So either he's wrong of the Spectator's wrong. Or both. I would also suggest that the worst plonk in the world made from Pinot Noir comes from Burgundy. And saying atheists cannot understand the poetry of winemaking, the musicality of complexity, because I don't think that Bronze Age goatherders failed to solve the most difficult metaphysical mysteries in history? Please, dude. You jumped the damn shark with that one. Oh yeah, and France has four times the atheists as America. they lived through the Inquisition and the slaughter of the Huegenots. To sum up: in order to make good pinot noir you have to believe that a talking snake cursed humanity because a rib woman tempted a man with a piece of evil fruit. Mwahahhahaha.

  • Joel Burt wrote:
    30-Jan-2013 at 02:18:13 (GMT)

    Nice zingers, but in reality the vine, the vat, nor the barrel care whether the winemaker is an athiest or not. It is the winemaker's job to make a wine that realizes their vision for what that vineyard should become.

  • John wrote:
    30-Jan-2013 at 00:59:03 (GMT)

    Classical music aficionados are the biggest snobs in the world. One told me the Beatles were terrible musicians once.

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