Minimal Intervention. Simon Barker on what it means to him….

Minimal Intervention is something that our winemaker at Barker’s Marque, Simon Barker and our viticulturist, Vanessa Barker, strongly promote. In response to a somewhat disparaging comment in Wine Enthusiast about what “Minimal Intervention” really meant to winemakers, Simon, who lives on our vineyard in Marlborough, New Zealand, was asked to comment.

His spirited reply is reproduced in full below.


Dear Sir,

“To us, minimal intervention means exactly that – we intervene as little as possible in order to make the best wine possible from any given vintage.  It is not a sound bite, a clever marketing play on words or lip service to a fad which we’ll swap for something else next vintage.  It’s what we do!

It starts in the vineyard.  We grow our grapes with minimal chemical (not “No chemical”), minimal tractor passes through the vineyard, minimal labour intensive work – it’s about getting the fundamentals rights so that any intervention is yes, you guessed it, minimal.  We are not organic or biodynamic but our philosophy is that of sensible practical viticulture with as small an impact as possible on the environment.   Sometimes, though, we have to intervene in order to preserve the crop from frost, or beetles and caterpillars that would decimate our crop, or botrytis, or mildew or birds.  We undertake a timely monitoring program and we react to what we see; and if we see nothing, we do nothing.

 

This philosophy flows through to the winery.  We do not make wine prescriptively by deacidifying to this number, acidifying to that number or chaptalising to produce such-and-such an alcohol; rather we assess the fruit and resulting juice before deciding what to do.  We have never acidified.  We have never deacidified, we chaptalised in one vintage (out of seven, since we started making wine and it was by no means the whole volume) and we use cultured yeast because in the case of Sauvignon Blanc, quite frankly, no-one buys naturally fermented Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in any volume as it is a “quirky” wine that is very much an acquired taste.

Sadly, there is a lot of prescriptive winemaking that goes on, but not by us.  The producers that do it feel they need to do it for commercial reasons. And who are we to criticise them for that – especially if the wine they produce is of good quality.

Wine writers can comment about acid additions, cultured yeast and chaptalisation, but none of them, (or very few of them), have had to make 200,000 cases (or whatever volume) of wine to fill orders in a vintage where the vineyard gets frosted, it is cold and rainy at flowering, there is a downpour in the middle of veraison or it rains for two weeks at harvest.  The winemaker’s choice is then very simple – they intervene appropriately or they make terrible wine which the wine writers then criticise and complain about.

It is very easy to forget that wine production relies, first and foremost, on ripe, clean, high quality fruit.  The retort to this may be that one shouldn’t grow grapes in marginal areas like Marlborough, to which I reply that almost all of the best wine producing regions in the world are marginal.

Simon Barker
Barkers Marque Wines
499 Reserve Road
RD1 Seddon
New Zealand