FLAVOUR of the month

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am


'I've spent much of my life trying to get people interested in Burgundy, and now there is much more interest, the worry is that there is not enough to go round,' says Jasper Morris, master of wine (MW), Berry Brothers & Rudd's (BBR) Burgundy specialist and the author of Inside Burgundy, an authoritative study of the region published by BBR in 2010.

'Suddenly, Burgundy is becoming the flavour of the month in Hong Kong and the mainland, and we'll have to see how that goes,' he says.

Morris developed an interest in wine while a student at Christ Church college in Oxford, encouraged by his sister, Arabella Woodrow, who is also an MW, which makes them the only sibling combination within the system.

Having read modern history - 'It finished in about 1485' - he went straight from university into the wine trade, and established his own business in 1981, becoming an MW in 1985.

'I spent much of 1981 driving around different parts of France and one of the last regions I went to was Burgundy,' he recalls.

'There I found things which I hadn't seen in the other regions. I discovered this complete starry-eyed passion about what they were doing, allied to brilliant quality wine.'

Morris & Verdin, the company he set up with partner Tony Verdin, had not intended to become Burgundy specialists, but in the early 1980s Bordeaux was well-represented in Britain, while the Burgundy business was in the doldrums.

'We discovered something there and hardly anyone else was doing it, so we got talked about as the people to go to for Burgundy,' he says.

He bought a house in the region in 1981 and, since 1985, has commuted there from a home in England.

'I feel on the inside in Burgundy - hence the title of the book - and most of my best friends now are Burgundian growers,' he says.

Over 25 years in the region, Morris has seen huge changes in the wine business. He says: 'Lots of the growers have become, in a small way, merchants, and the key merchants have concentrated on buying vineyards' - and in the growers' practices in the vineyards, most notably a retreat from pesticides and chemical fertilisers.

'We now have the organic movement and the biodynamic movement, and both are good things, but the main thing is you have to cultivate the soil in a non-chemical way, and that is becoming the norm in Burgundy,' he says.

By 2003, Morris & Verdin's business had grown to a point at which the partners had a choice between selling it or installing additional tiers of management. A timely offer came from BBR, on the understanding that Morris and his expertise and connections were part of the deal.

So, in 2005, he made his first trip to Hong Kong as BBR's Burgundy 'ambassador', to discover that the only name from the region that was universally recognised was Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC).

He has been back every year since and notes that much has changed.

'There is now a much wider infrastructure of knowledge, and people who are interested in Burgundy at all levels because they like the flavours of it, and they want to drink it and enjoy it,' he says.

This pleases him, although he would like to see wider appreciation of Burgundy's magnificent white wines in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

He regards the sudden explosion in demand for high-end red Burgundy at auction as less of a cause for celebration.

'For the auction houses it is the flavour of the moment, but where do they go from here? It is based on DRC and Jayer and maybe a couple of other names, but it's pretty narrowly based and they are pretty small producers,' he says. 'How do you maintain the interest and excitement? It gets dangerous if everybody is trying to buy the same thing. Certainly they have some of the most magical vineyards, but they don't have a monopoly on really fine winemaking. There are plenty of other people out there making beautiful wines.'

Morris' wine interests stretch well beyond Burgundy, and include Bordeaux and the Loire, but his Burgundy background has led him to take a particular interest in New World pinot noir, and he is also a regular visitor to New Zealand.

'There are some startlingly good wines in New Zealand,' he says.

'Now there is a large enough community that is determined to make the best possible wine. But they shouldn't be looked at as New World Burgundies,' he stresses.

'They should be looked at in their own way.'