Yield versus Quality, Part 4

How Yield and Quality are Related Within a Growing Region

Within every growing region, there is a range of yields, which will maximize quality. Seysses explains his experience with Pinot Noir in Burgundy, “Sometimes high yield goes with quality and sometimes low yield goes with quality. If you look at the ‘70’s, the two lowest yields were ‘75 and ‘78, one was the worst and one the best - so it is not that simple.” Recent vintages in Burgundy demonstrate that high yielding vintages can produce high quality, as Grivot points out, “’96 was a bigger vintage than ‘95 and it gives you idea that it is not absolutely necessary to obtain a low quantity to obtain perfect wine. In ‘96 everything was very nice from the beginning to the end, so it was possible to obtain perfect wine with 40h/h (in Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards) versus 30-32h/h in ‘95.” For Grivot, the quality level and aging potential of the two vintages are about the same, he adds, “But their personality is different, ‘95 has a kind of austerity and ‘96 is opulent and elegant.”

“I had double the crop in ‘96 that I had in ‘95 (20h/h in ‘95 and 40h/h in ‘96),” recalls Lafon, “Different types of vintages but of equal quality, I would say.” Lafon points out that low yields do not guarantee quality, “you might have a very small crop with terrible wines. The best recent example in Burgundy is 1981.” Lafon concurs with Seysses that there is a range of crop levels which will produce quality: “You can have the same level of quality whether you are doing 20h/h or 35h/h.” Seysses concurs, saying that while in general, larger berries do dilute flavor, there are exceptions, “Even though we aimed for the same low production, in ‘95 the average weight of a bunch of grapes was 75 grams and in ‘96 it was 120 grams/cluster - there were larger berries and more clusters. The weather conditions were ideal to make great quality despite quantity.”

Cazes states that in higher yielding vintages in Bordeaux, you can also get higher quality. “There is definitely not a relationship between quantity and quality as long as you keep the yield within a reasonable range. The best vintages of the past in Bordeaux - ‘82,’85,’89 and ‘90 were the highest yielding. And the lowest yields of the ‘80’s - ‘84 and ‘87 - were the worst vintages. I am not saying that it is a rule, that you must have high yields. I am saying that quantity and quality are not contradictory, that just because you produce a small volume, it doesn’t mean you make better wine. I remember a time when if you looked at the highest yields of the commune of Pauillac, it was Latour and they made the best wine. Latour was kept as a garden, it was absolutely perfect, not one plant missing. I wish that people who write about low yields would look into this.”