Talking Wine with...

Talking Wine with...

Gert Crum, wine writer

In our interview series Talking Wine with..., we are talking with interesting people from the international world of wine about their love of wine.

How did they become wine lovers? What are their favorite wines?And which producers and appellations should we keep an eye on?

This time we are Talking Wine with the distinguished Dutch wine writer Gert Crum, award winning author of the books "Champagne: The Future Uncorked" and "Le Domaine de la Romanée-Conti"

We talk about Gert's - enviable - annual tastings with Aubert de Villaine at the Domaine (DRC), Lalou Bize-Leroy baking eggs and about that time he and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild shared a bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild 1945 together. And is it true that he wasn't supposed to become an internationally renowned wine writer at all, but an Olympic athlete instead? All of this and more, in our interview with Gert Crum.


Favorite producer: That's simply impossible! There are so many good, ever-innovating producers in every wine-growing region. In Champagne, I pledged my heart to a handful of houses and three handfuls of small growers. And every village in Burgundy has a favorite of mine - from Chablis to St-Véran.

Favorite wine country: i have to say France, no matter how classic my choice may be and how boring many might find me. I am also very fond of Oregon, a fantastic state on the west coast of the US, north of the much more famous California, with beautiful nature and an extremely fascinating wine region.


You have a degree in sociology. How does a sociologist become a wine writer?

A few weeks before graduation, I was on vacation in France. I spent the last few days in Burgundy, which was entirely coincidental. At least it had nothing to do with wine and everything with logistics. At the time, I absolutely did not care for wine. I had always been a fanatic athlete and even dreamed of participating in the Olympic Games. Alcohol? No way!

During those last days of vacation in Burgundy, we got lost in the countryside around Beaune and Nuits and a kind stranger helped us on our way again. And that man was a winegrower! Well, that's how it happened. Two weeks later I very ambitiously started to work a research assistant at the University of Amsterdam, with the very best of intentions. But in the meantime, a new, exciting area of interest had emerged. First, you understand nothing, then you understand a little bit and in the end you realize you don't understand anything yet. So it has gone from bad to worse over the years. During the day, I was a sociologist and at night I wrote about wine. In the end, I had to conclude that you cannot serve two masters. I had to choose one or the other and without much effort I chose my passion: wine.

You are not only writer, you also teach wine. What do you prefer: writing or teaching?

I love writing books for many reasons. Especially because you force yourself to profundity. I mean looking for many new sources, orienting yourself broadly and deeply, and studying and then forcing yourself into your own format. It's very educational each time. And if the result is decent and you get compliments and the book sells well, that's a great bonus. My book about Champagne was a great journey of discovery for me, even though I already wrote a book about Champagne more than 20 years earlier. I experience such a journey of discovery as sheer joy. New facts, new people, new insights, new conclusions, new perspectives. I think it's wonderful. But teaching - and guiding wine tours in particular - I think is the most fun  in the end. I love being in touch with like-minded people. It takes a lot of energy, but you get it back in multitude. I can't help it, but I'm a missionary... of a different gospel.

We know you as a Burgundy and Champagne connoisseur. What makes these two regions so irresistible?

In my profession, it is dangerous to focus too much. Before you know it, you will be 'Connoisseur of Burgundy' and/or 'Ambassador of Champagne'. Of course, those are great titles and I am proud of them, but I am interested in every wine-growing region in the world where exciting things are happening. I am curious about any good wine (always taking price-quality into account), wherever that wine comes from. Yet, I have pledged my heart to those two wine-growing regions. It has to do with my introduction to wine and with my comfort zone: I know my way around these areas like the back of my hand and I know almost everyone there who matters. So that is a very personal reason. There also has been a lot going on in Burgundy and Champagne for the last 30 years. Just look around you, I am not the only one who is fascinated by these areas. Michael Broadbent, who died recently at a very beautiful age, was a real Bordeaux man and confessed at an old age that he had converted to Burgundy. And I can mention more names of absolute Bordeaux freaks, who are now orienting themselves towards Burgundy. Unfortunately, it has a huge effect on local prices. But it is - and especially the top in red - such a phenomenal wine!

You are the author of several highly acclaimed wine books. Your book about Domaine de la Romanée-Conti was voted best wine book worldwide in 2012 and has been translated into English, French, German, and Japanese. How did you actually gain access to The Domaine?

I have known Lalou Bize-Leroy from those first years I came to Burgundy, only a few years after I lost my way there. Soon, there was a kind of friendship. So naturally, I quite often went to visit Domaine d'Auvenay and Maison Leroy in Auxey. We would taste the most beautiful wines together. I once stayed at Lalou's house for lunch and I remember her saying "I didn't prepare anything for lunch, do you mind if I bake us some eggs?" and then she made me the best eggs possible, with lots of truffle!

Through her, I also immediately gained access to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (she was co-gérante on behalf of her family at the time) and was introduced to Aubert de Villaine. I remember that I was asked by the former owners of restaurant Inter Scaldes in Kruiningen (Maartje and Kees Boudeling) to organize something unique in celebration of the 25th anniversary of their business. I organized a tasting of all existing Montrachets and had to scour all of Burgundy for that. From Lalou I received 4 bottles of Montrachet 1982 for free (!!). Many people won't believe that, but that is really what happened. In 1986, in an overconfident mood, I proposed to her to write a book about the Domaine. She was enthusiastic, but Aubert did not like it at first. In the end, the book was published, because Aubert later also gained confidence in me. And now every year we taste thourgh the whole cellar together. Those tastings always end with a few old bottles and the question 'what's in the glass'. And when I say “old”, I mean vintages like 1956 or 1954. Aubert has a soft spot for notoriously 'bad' years.

The first edition of my book Le Domaine de la Romanée-Conti was published in 2005. In 2012, the second edition was named Best Wine Book Worldwide and now there is a third, improved, edition on the market in French, English, and Dutch.

"one day, I organized a tasting of all existing Montrachets and had to scour all of Burgundy for that. From Lalou I received 4 bottles of Montrachet 1982 for free. Many people don't believe me, but that is really what happened."

Any tips for Burgundy appellations we should keep an eye on?

The Côte d'Or is of course the heart of Burgundy. This is where the Burgundy wine-growing region derives its fame from. But for two reasons the attention will increasingly shift to other districts and other wine villages in the time to come. What am I saying, in the near future? No, now. The reasons are the high prices of the aforementioned crus, which many wine lovers can no longer afford, and climate change. Burgundy lovers are diverted to Chalonnais, Mâconnais, and Auxerrois/Chablis. Those are areas where finally some money is being made and the intelligent producers are investing that money in the quality of their wines. Where dad was still a member of the cooperation and was paid per kilo, son and daughter now work artisanally, organically, focused on quality, with the result that Rully, Mercurey, Givry, Montagny and all those beautiful villages in the Mâconnais are becoming increasingly interesting. Just like the villages in the second line of the Côte d'Or, which are Saint-Aubin, Saint-Romain, Auxey-Duresses, Fixin, Marsannay-la-Côte, and the three villages of the Les Maranges appellation. The same goes for the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune and the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. The fact that these villages are located in the second line also means that they are often higher up or further north, and that is and will be an advantage given the climate change.

What applies to Fixin and Marsannay, applies even more to Chablis and the wide surrounding area. The French once called this area, with a good sense of exaggeration, 'la petite Sibérie de la France', but due to climate change, this has long been obsolete. Chablis is still the oyster water and you can taste the green apple, but nowadays the grapes can also ripen well here. Chablis 1er Cru and Chablis Grand Cru can measure up to Meursault and Puligny, but the prices are lower by a third.

In light of the impacts of climate change, do you expect us to be drinking syrah from Pommard in 20 years?

I don't think we'll see Syrah in Pommard, Volnay, or Gevrey in 20 years. I think every effort will be made to maintain the red Burgundy and pinot noir duo. A lot of research is already being done into suitable rootstocks, more suitable clones, and mass selection is also being used to find those rootstocks that can handle higher temperatures. Furthermore, new forms of vineyard management are being sought. This also includes new forms of canopy management. So no, I don't suspect that syrah is coming to the north.

To conclude, can you tell us about your ultimate wow-moment with a bottle of wine?

At the risk of sounding arrogant, the first thing that comes to mind is the lunch with Baroness Philippine de Rothschild and the bottle we drank together: Château Mouton Rothschild 1945. The wine was divine after more than half a century. That definitely was a wow! But that moment together with her and the rather special story behind Mouton 1945 was perhaps even more special. It was the first label that Philippe de Rothschild, Philippine's father, had illustrated (except for a one-off promotion in the twenties of the 20th century). The label says 'Année de la Victoire' and that was very special and emotional vintage for Philippe. Philippine signed the bottle for me and I still have that empty bottle. (Under this article you will find a photo of Gert's signed bottle of Mouton 1945)

A different wow was of course in Burgundy, in Vosne, at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. There are actually many wows, but let me mention La Tâche 1966 and La Tâche 1964. Both unforgettable.

But I will end with the one and only wow and that was the time I got lost in Burgundy as a student and a kind stranger helped me on my way again. As told before, that kind stranger turned out to be a winegrower and he showed me his cellar. I had never been to a wine cellar at the time. The only knowledge I had of wine was the supermarket's Pinard that came in Tetra Pak. That man let me taste the latest harvest of three red Burgundy wines from the barrel, one after the other. The vineyards of those three wines lie in a circle of no more than 500, 600 meters. All three wines were different, each with its own taste, its own character, but the frame was the same: elegance.

"The only wine knowledge I had at that time was the supermarket's Pinard that came in Tetra Pak"

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