For me, as a Sommelier, I like to know the secrets for the production of a wine in a winery but I do know that not everything is revealed by the wine maker when questioned. I have had my own experience with this in 1983 when visiting the Bordeaux Area of Medoc for the first time.
I have to explain here that in this time I was the Head Waiter of a small luxurious Restaurant called Arvenstube in the 5 star Hotel Waldhaus in Sils/Maria in Switzerland.
In this time my wine list was small about 100 different wines mostly from Switzerland but also about 15 wines from the Area of Bordeaux and only the best, if I may say. There were Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Mouton Rothschild and so on. So it was clear for me to visit this area as soon as I had time.
At this time I did not know much about the behaviour of fine wineries and what to ask a famous Chateau. So I just walked into one of the most famous ones, the Château Margaux which belongs to the six 1er Grand Cru Classe wines of Medoc. I could not locate the office and there wasn’t even a sign to direct visitors. So I opened a big door t a very long building and marched inside with confidence and I was sure I could find somebody who would be willing to show me around. But what happened next really shocked me.
I was inside for about 10 seconds, surrounded by very large barrels and indistinguishable noises, when suddenly about 10 men came running to where I was standing with one of them asking in a quite rude way. “Qu’est que vous faites ici. Qui est vous?” (What are you doing here and who are you?) I said very nervously “I am a Head Waiter from a 5 Star Hotel in Switzerland I would like to see your winery only.” “Oh la la” the man said, who seemed to me like he was the boss, (later I found out that he was the Chef wine maker of Château Margaux) “you can not just come inside of our wine cellar and spy around” “Allez vous, go, go”, they all said to me, “you can not stand here and look around”. And so they pushed me out. When I was outside I said to myself that I will not go back there and I do not want to see this Château anymore.
Many years later after I became a Sommelier in 1993 I found out why these men were so angry about me being there. They had secrets to keep as each Château makes their wines differently from others; even if they all use large barrels from the same oak in France when doing the fermentation or the same Barriques in the time of wine storage for up to 2 years. Nevertheless, Château Margaux officials thought I was from another Chateau looking to find some trade secrets like what sugar they would keep if the wine had not enough in the grapes or what kind of yeast they would use to make the fermentation happened or on what temperature they did the maceration or or or. I am not a wine maker but these are secrets of a wine cellar that are best not revealed.
Today, what I would consider a minor crime is for example Australian wines that are labeled with Cabernet Sauvignon but the truth of the matter is that the law in Australia says, if you have 75% wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon this allows you to label it a Cabernet Sauvignon. But as we know, 25% of a different grape can change the whole body of the wine to become a different type of wine than a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Australia is not the only country in the world who have laws as such as these. So one of my questions is always, if I only see one grape name on a label, does the bottle contain 100% of this grape?
Another secret wineries have is the use of yeast. Today there are so many different kinds of yeasts but a wine can be easily mutilated should additional yeasts be used instead of coming from the grape normally. This is very much done with Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling wines.
It is quite an adventure to find out about all these secrets and untold stories and I am always a bit ashamed for these wineries that do not tell the truth. But what business is really 100% truthful?
I wish you readers a great time in finding out more secrets in your life.
Harald Wiesmann, Restaurant Manager of the fine dining, Asian-inspired Haute Cuisine Kayuputi and Chief Sommelier at The St. Regis Bali Resort, has a very interesting career history spanning a number of years with different roles in various countries. His 43 years of international experience has led Kayuputi to receive prestigious awards from the Wine Spectator Magazine (USA) for six consecutive years since its opening six and a half years ago, and dubbed as a fine restaurant that has one of the best wine lists in the Asian region. Harald is set to publish his book, titled “Wine and Dine at St. Regis Bali Resort” in the near future.