Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Blattner tasting.

Valentin Blattner

Our researches into grape breeding have taken us to Geisenheim, Geilweilerhof, Freiburg-im-Breisgau in Germany, Cornell University at Geneva New York and to Valentin Blattner, private grape breeder of Soyhieres, Switzerland.


These have been fascinating visits and we urge every winelover to try one of these institutions for themselves. They will be welcomed by charming dedicated people and have the opportunity to taste or buy wines especially bred to resist diseases (notably powedry and downy mildew) leading to the reduction or elimination of chemical sprays.


Some of these new varieties are better than others. All are hybrids. There is some truth in what Jose Vouillarmoz has said in that there are so few good wines made from these grapes that perhaps until there are more they should be called something other than wine. That is a bit hard and there are plenty of wines from vinifera varieties that are so bad as to merit another name.


One of the best PIWI (PilzwiderstandsfÀhig or Fungus resistant) wines we know - and one that can definitely be called wine is made from Cabernet Jura which is one of Valentin Blattner's varieties. We have also tasted a marvellous wine from Regent, one of Geiweilerhof's best productions. Solaris and Cabernet Cortis bred by Freiburg have also produced good wines in our opinion.

Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva (NY)

A lot of these are complicated crosses of varieties that are less than distinguished in themselves. Where Valentin Blattner differs from the others is in taking high quality varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon (which he uses in the majority* of cases) but also Viognier and others and wedding them to what he calls a 'Resistenzpartner,' the identity of which is a closely guarded secret. In this way, it seems to us he retains more quality than otherwise.

Paul Troop (left) and Sam Doncaster

We were lucky enough to meet the two greatest proponents of the Blattner school in the English speaking world at least: Paul Troop of Saltspring Island Vineyards on Vancouver Island and Sam Doncaster who is one of the foremost authorities on Blattner varieties and has worked  extensively in vineyard establishment and management, grafting, winemaking and wine sales. Paul has planted about 150 varieties of which 10 are now in production. Both have known Valentin Blattner for many years.

The duo invited us to what must be a unique tasting - perhaps the first ever comprehensive survey of Blattner varieties with wine from from two continents which Sam had been collecting for a number of years and squirreling away under his bed as he told us.

Here is a list of some of the 24 wines they presented;

Rummel (Pfalz), Cabernet Blanc Sparkling
Rummel, Cabernet Blanc (still), 2014, '15 and '16
Graf von Weyher (Pfalz), Cabernet Blanc
Stockel Hoos, Cabernet Blanc, 2015, '16
Schneider, Cal 06-04, 'Namenlos'
Rummel California
Rummel Rose
Unsworth, Sauvignette,
Rummel, Cabertin
Unsworth, Cabernet Libre
Patenwein VB-91-26-29, 2015
Les Mergats, Cabernet Jura, 2015 (Blattner's own production)
Schneider, Pinotin
Leiner, Laurot, 2016
Michlovsky, Rinot, 2015
Metz, Cabernet Noir

Those attending in the impressive purpose-built tasting room at the Plumpton College Wine Centre included students and academic staff.

Paul Troop gave a fascinating detailed account of PIWI varieties and Blattner's work in particular. A surprising amount of this information appeared to be news to some of those present and a lively discussion followed. The Plumpton community was impressively focussed on practicalities and probed both Paul and Sam numerous times from this point of view. Paul and Sam's answers were frequently along the lines of there soon being no choice but to perfect PIWI varieties if the alternative is ever increased use of an ever diminishing amount of authorised chemical sprays. These answers were convincing and so the exercise appeared to be valuable indeed.

On to the wines, it became clear that the white Blattner varieties, Cabernet Blanc, 'Namenlos' (Nameless, CAL-06-04) and Ravel (VB 37-2) are aromatic. For our taste, very tasty indeed.

The reds are maybe more mainstream. We have already paid tribute to Cabernet Jura and Cabernet Noir in this blog. Indeed, we have chosen Cabernet Noir for replacing our unloved Triomphe D'Alsace vines in our little experimental vineyard in the Thames Valley this year. The fact that these and other Blattner reds are obtained from Cabernet Sauvignon (+ 'Resistenzpartner') makes them more attractive than other PIWI hybrids as we have said and that is, for us the main strength of Valentin's work.

* He has also produced good varieties from varieties including Bacchus and Seyval as Seed Parents and Marechal Foch and Leon Millot among others as Pollen Parents.

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