by Kermit Lynch
© Gail Skoff
Mold might be considered a tough sell these days, but here I go.
When I began to buy wine in Burgundy in the seventies, the vignerons had a saying: If you build a cave, a winery installation, and mold doesn’t grow in it, start all over in another location. They were saying that mold is a good thing in a winemaking environment. And I remember what a treat it was, descending underground and being greeted by the smells of wine, wood, and moldy stone walls.
You might imagine a moldy smell like fruits and other foods develop when they rot, but no, it wasn’t that at all. It smelled fresh and alive and healthy. The mold glistened with little drops of moisture. Mold was a sign of the right temperature and humidity for raising wine. Each cellar had its own particular mold and gave its own fresh aroma. Wines seemed to breathe in the distinct aroma of their cellar, and I could smell that in the aromatic components of each domaine’s wine.
Each growth of mold had a different color, too, which made the walls a thing of beauty. In Raveneau’s cellar, for example, the stone walls had gorgeous streaky blotches of red, purple, pink, orange, and ochre. When I tasted, it was often with my eyes on the walls. In my mind, I started framing certain areas of the walls and imagining them as abstract art, because they were so lovely. Chave’s cellar was another particularly beautiful garden of mold, and I often put photos of his mold-covered walls and bottles in this brochure.
One day at Raveneau’s, I decided to ask my wife to teach me to use one of her cameras so I could return another day, not to taste but to make color pictures of these weird shapes and colors. But I never did.
However, I’m writing this because the movement now in France is to clean up all the mold and make wine in a sterile environment. People want fresh fruit nowadays. Their taste has changed. Mold is a no-no.
Given that wine is a sponge and sucks up whatever aromas are in its environment, I’m afraid wines these days are sucking up sterility. Yes, the fruit is “cleaner” in a wine’s aroma, but without mold much less complex, less suggestive of extra-vinous influences, and less reflective of the site where it was made—sort of like the movement away from native yeasts to test-tube concoctions.
If people like mere fruit so much, let them buy fruit juice. It’s a lot cheaper.