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Chefs and Vignerons

Posted by Neil McGregor on

Chefs and Vignerons

If you think about wine as just another form of sustenance (albeit a pretty special one) it’s interesting to consider that the skills of the fine food maker (chef) and the fine winemaker (vigneron) are remarkably similar.

In the winery and kitchen, a similar use of senses, skill and creativity comes into play.  Crushing the fruit is like chopping, slicing, dicing, deboning – beginning the transformation of form and shape.  Fermentation is like a cooking process, where questions of marination, extraction, temperature, duration, mixing/turning, settling/resting are all vital to achieving the desired outcome.  The maturation, fining and filtering (or not) carried out by the winemaker are like the final adjustments, seasoning and plating up of the chef, balancing visual and taste impact to maximise enjoyment.  Some of this is following the recipe and being disciplined, but a lot of this, with really exceptional wine and food, comes down to the creativity and imagination of the chef/vigneron.

And really good kitchens care about what happens BEFORE the raw ingredients enter the kitchen and the provenance of their food, a concept intrinsic to winemaking and encapsulated in the term “terroir”.  Traditionally, great chefs have always been close to their suppliers, often going past distributors and wholesalers straight to the grower.  Neil Perry and Kylie Kwong have strong and enduring relationships with their suppliers of meat/seafood/vegetables.   A recent (very enjoyable) trip to Biota in Bowral confirmed their own extensive kitchen garden.  It seems that this trend continues to grow – maybe it’s the “River Cottage Effect”!

With wine making, you can’t always tell the quality of a wine grape just by assessing it as it rolls (forgive the pun) into the winery.  You really need to have seen it grow up – the state of the vines, the season, the canopy, the fruit load, the way the fruit ripened and developed, are all markers of the potential of the fruit.  This very close relationship between the vineyard and the winery, the grower and the maker, the season and the wine, are fundamental hallmarks of a great wine label.  Even if you don’t grow your own fruit, really good winemakers spend a lot of time in the vineyards of their growers.

In fact the term vigneron describes both a fine winemaker and someone who grows grapes for high quality wine production, emphasising the critical role of the vineyard.  Maybe there should be a similar term for a chef who really gets involved in the production of their raw ingredients?

Regardless, the parallels between great winemaking and great cooking are there, from farm to table.

NM


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