The Oenologist and the Scientist

In 1988, rookie Jaume Gramona, 22-years-old and freshly graduated from the University of Dijon, whose oenology faculty was the first in the world to boast a sparkling wine department, arrived at the gates of the CIVC (Committee Interprofessionnel des Vins de Champagne) in Épernay to embark on his first practical work experience. He was the first Spaniard to cross those doors for an ‘initiation’ into the world of sparkling wines. In actual fact, Jaume came from a family of over four generations of winemakers, including three as cava-makers, but this was in Spain, a country where, at the time, there was a lack of higher education in oenology and little or no academic activity in terms of sparkling wine.

The newcomer was assigned a tutor, Michel Valade, a young microbiologist who worked in the Centre’s laboratory.  30 years later and the relationship between the apprentice oenologist and the scientist has not only endured, but has become a firm friendship.

Michel has since gone on to become the CIVC’s Technical Director, probably one of the most respected scientific positions in the Champagne world, and Jaume Gramona has become the director of Gramona’s cava and winemaking and, for the last 25 years, professor of sparkling wines at the faculty of oenology at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV).

I was recently lucky enough to accompany Jaume on his annual trip to Champagne and was able to appreciate the relationship between the French scientist and the Catalan winemaker/university professor and understand some of the decisions taken by Gramona and perhaps by the world of cava in general in recent decades.

Jaume possesses the legacy of 100 years of Gramona knowledge and learning, rarely proven scientifically, which we could refer to as ‘tradition’, his own 30 years’ experience as a contemporary winemaker, and ‘theoretical’ knowledge, which is the result of 30 years of discussions and learning compared to scientific studies carried out by Michel, his friend at the CIVC. Jaume is probably among the sparkling wine oenologists who stay the most closely abreast of the scientific learning and experiments carried out by Champagne’s top representative (although he is not always aligned with these).

On this trip, I enjoyed seeing the contrast between the pragmatic, can-do mindset of an ecologically and biodynamically inclined Jaume, and a microbiologist who is only interested in scientific proof and yet has accompanied us on trips to share ideas with Selosse, Lahaye and Fleury. I had the privilege of listening to and participating in their discussion on the effects of ageing in cork and its corresponding impact on the quality of the sparkling wine. This was a debate between probably the two most knowledgeable people on the subject in the world of sparkling wine today.

Following this visit to Champagne with these two men, I think I may now have understood why the students attending Jaume Gramona’s sparkling wines lectures at the URV’s faculty of oenology (many of whom are today’s cava-makers), have remained so attentive to the latest scientific studies and learning on sparkling winemaking, ever since this subject has been taught in Spain. They have certainly benefited from a continuous exchange of experience between two worlds that are supposedly in competition. But when it actually comes down to it, the creators of sparkling wines are a brotherhood of committed professionals, who have their different perspectives and experiences, but who together shape the future of sparkling wine.

Xavier Gramona

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