Asian fruit flies – report from Burgundy


12 November 2015 Please note that the article below refers to the 2014 vintage that I am currently busy tasting here in Burgundy and not the 2015 vintage just harvested about which everyone is so thrilled. But since the 2014 burgundies will be offered to us soon – and some of the decidedly superior 2014 whites are already in circulation – I thought it might be pertinent to revisit one of last year's peculiarities. Until yesterday it has been so unusually warm in Burgundy that European fruit flies (not the dreaded Asian ones) have still been out in force in tasting glasses. 

10 November 2014 Just back from my intensive tasting trip to the Rhône, Switzerland and Burgundy, I can report that, thanks to Europe’s uncannily warm autumn, those fruit flies are still out in force. In fact I was most aware of them in the tasting room at a particularly smart winery in the Valais, Switzerland, where they constantly dive-bombed our ultra-smart wine glasses. I therefore got a bit worried when Aubert de Villaine of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti suggested we leave our glasses of all his 2012 reds in his underground tasting chamber while we went to taste the 2013s from barrel to see how they developed in the glass. Would we come back to find fruit flies swimming in liquids worth thousands of pounds a bottle? He was confident that the temperature was too low for fruit flies and, thank goodness, he was right.

As we pointed out in Asian fruit fly – a 2014 pest, there has been great concern about a new, much more vicious form of fruit fly that seems to have arrived in Europe recently. While I was in the Rhône Valley, I didn’t hear anyone mention this year’s new threat, the Asian Drosophila suzukii, but it was discussed relatively often in Burgundy. Everyone agreed that this nasty vinegar fly that can insidiously penetrate grapes without making its presence obvious is completely uninterested in white wine grapes. Aubert de Villaine said that his domaine had not been at all affected and maintained that the insect was interested only in relatively large bunches and not what he called fine Pinots.

Someone else with an opinion was Romain Taupenot of Taupenot-Merme in Morey-St-Denis, where there is currently a carousel of personnel changes: Sylvain Pitiot retires from Clos de Tart, to be replaced by Jacques Devauges, who only relatively recently joined AXA’s Domaine de l’Arlot. He is being replaced by Géraldine Godot of Alex Gambal in Beaune. Meanwhile there will be a vacancy at Clos des Lambrays, recently acquired by LVMH, when Thierry Brouin moves on soonish. Have they hired a head hunter at vast expense? Or has Jean-Guillaume Prats deployed someone to hang around the bars of Beaune to research local personal reputations? According to Romain Taupenot (whose domaine still owns a little slice of Clos des Lambrays), the predations of the new form of vinegar fly definitely caused some growers to pick too early.

Bernard Dugat of Dugat-Py said his vineyards were unaffected by the insect newcomer while Eric Rousseau reported some experience of it. Extreme vigilance at the sorting table was needed in 2014.

Energetic forumite Symon Brown’s beloved Cécile Tremblay said that three of her plots ‘had the odd problem’ with Drosophila suzukii, notably those that were particularly sheltered, either because they were in the lee of a wall or protected from prevailing winds, which the fruit flies definitely don’t like. If I understood her correctly, she had worked out that talc applied to the vines provided an effective deterrent.

Fred Mugnier was sceptical about the whole phenomenon, and basically most of the top-drawer producers I was lucky enough to visit last week in Burgundy were agreed that it was no great disaster.

Incidentally, we plan to begin to publish my tasting notes on the hugely distinctive 2013 vintage in the Rhône next week, and will be updating them as I taste yet more wines in London later this month when Rhône specialist merchants hold tastings.

As usual, our major Burgundy report will appear in January and I also plan to report on Swiss wines early next year.