How Chablis winemakers achieve minerality in their wines

by | Apr 28, 2022 | South Africa Wine Scan

Minerality in wine has consistently gained attention from the wine industry in the last three decades. It has been considered for a long time as an ill-defined and controversial sensory attribute. In the last decade, several academic articles have addressed the conceptual, sensory and chemical delimitation of this fuzzy concept. However, the link to viticulture and winemaking processes has not been studied yet. The goal of this work was twofold: first to produce a typology of practices in Chablis Premier Cru, a PDO (known for its mineral wines) and, second, to explore how Chablis producers conceptualise wine minerality and its link to production practices. The researchers hypothesized that Chablis producers aim to maximise the minerality of their wines and adapt their production strategy accordingly.

Project layout
Two interviews were carried out. Thirty-four wine producers from Chablis participated in the typology interview, of which twenty-seven also participated in the minerality interview.

A typology analysis of the producers’ viticultural and winemaking practices revealed four types of production strategies (conventional, natural, agroecology and low input winemaking). A short semi-structured interview of the producers’ opinions of and attitudes towards minerality and practices leading to wine minerality highlighted the key aspects of the production of mineral wines, namely soil characteristics, harvest date, type of yeasts, fermentation temperature, type of ageing containers and intensity of lees contact, among others. The results showed that during the in-depth interview on production strategies only ten respondents (out of 34) spontaneously mentioned minerality in some way. Moreover, of the ten, only four explicitly said that their main goal was to produce mineral wines, implying that their production strategy was oriented to achieve that. Many other factors seem to be more important than producing mineral wines, in particular tradition, logistical or economical issues and, more recently, philosophical attitudes like environmental protection or public health.

Only when minerality was mentioned in the short interview the respondents started to connect production strategies and wine minerality; they mentioned, for example, not using oak and limiting lees contact to avoid oaky notes and fattiness masking minerality, and keeping the wine in a slightly reduced state to preserve shellfish aromas, if they think that they are important for minerality. However, the results generally show that the production strategy is not always tailored to maximise the minerality of wines, since the determinants of minerality described in all four categories are mostly the same.

Finally, in some cases and irrespective of category, it seems that representation of minerality is influenced by the way in which the producers make wine, rather than the opposite. For instance, neutral commercial yeasts are considered to be good for minerality by the producers using neutral commercial yeasts and native yeasts are perceived as favouring minerality by the producers using native yeasts. The producers that systematically inoculate commercial yeasts do not think that the use of indigenous yeasts is a mandatory step for producing mineral wines. Some of the respondents think that the way they make wine, is the “right way” to obtain mineral wines. That suggests that there is maybe an alignment of the minerality representation towards the production strategy as originally hypothesised and not only the other way around. This may be because these winemakers think that as their wines are mineral it follows that their production practice is the best one for making mineral wines; i.e., they did not deliberately choose the practice in order to make mineral wines.

Read the full open access article to see what winemaking practices are practiced by Chablis winemakers.

This summary of the article contains original text with minor grammatical changes to suit the format of this website, as permitted by Oeno One’s Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.  

Rodrigues, H., Valentin, D., Otheguy, M., & Ballester, J. (2022). How to make a mineral wine? Relationship between production type in the Chablis vineyard and the search for a mineral wine style. OENO One56(2), 29–45.

Image copyright: Unsplash

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