French winemaker Nicholas Joly has blamed consultants for the death of the appellation system in an outspoken attack on modern winemaking techniques.

‘Not very much’ remains of appellation guarantees to the consumer that a ‘special taste’ will come from a precise area, Joly says. Consultants are to blame, he says.

Joly, who makes biodynamic wines, says that between the 1950s and 1970s, agricultural consultants recommended the use of herbicides, allowing the winemaker to ignore working the soil.

Side effects included the destruction of bacteria in the soil, resulting in diminished growth and forcing producers to use chemical fertilisers. He also pointed to the use of ‘aromatic yeasts’, synthetic sap treatments and enzymes – all widely available to producers at the time.

‘The taste of wine, its harmony, its beauty, its elegance, belongs to a qualitative world of intangible origin,’ he said in his article for the Organic Wine Journal. ‘Which cannot be restored as one replaces a layer of paint.’

Joly, whose vines have been given no synthetic chemical products, insecticides or nitrates since he made his Domaine de la Coulée de Serrant biodynamic in 1984, singled the ‘materialistically-minded’ consultants out for blame. He said they had ‘not yet considered that since life is a frequency, it is not to be measured quantitatively.’

He said that biodynamics was helping winemakers regain their knowledge of the soil of their appellation area.

‘Biodynamics is putting an end to the profitable market of the consultants, restoring to the viticulturalist knowledge he should never have lost,’ he said.

Wine writer and biodynamic expert Monty Waldin agrees in the main with Joly but said winegrowers must take responsibility for their actions.

‘You can’t blame consultants for “poisoning” the soil anymore than you can blame Robert Parker for “standardising” a whole generation of wines. Winegrowers are the ones who must take responsibility for their actions in both the vineyard and the winery. When you get a speeding ticket you can’t pass the fine onto the engine designer.’

Written by Oliver Styles