Bottles with a seal of approval

<span>‘Marco Simonit has transformed the way winemakers think about pruning’: David Williams.</span><span>Photograph: EAQ/Getty Images/iStockphoto</span>
‘Marco Simonit has transformed the way winemakers think about pruning’: David Williams.Photograph: EAQ/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2021 (£19.95, The
Great Wine Co)
The notion that ‘great wine is made in the vineyard, not the winery’ has become something of an article of faith in the modern wine world. The phrase isn’t always used in good faith (you find it on the labels of some of the most industrial, additive-ridden rubbish around). But it does represent a genuine shift in emphasis in winemaking over the past couple of decades, analogous to the prioritising of quality ingredients over flashy cheffy skill in the restaurant world. One intriguing side-effect of this change has been the rise to prominence of master-craftspeople in fields once seen as unglamorous drudge work. The Italian Marco Simonit is a famous example: a trim, stylish figure with a shock of quiffy white hair à la Jim Jarmusch or latter-day David Byrne, he has transformed the way winemakers think about pruning, his methods and skills much in demand among leading producers such as Sicily’s Planeta, the makers of this exotically perfumed, pomegranate-tangy red.

JL Chave Mon Coeur, France 2022 (£17.25, Yapp)
Something similar appears to be happening in France with Lilian Bérillon, who has made his name for his convention-breaking approach to another vital but previously somewhat under-respected part of the wine-producing cycle: the vine nursery. Bérillon believes most commercial nurseries are producing short-lived vines thanks, among other factors, to failures in the process of grafting (where two plants are joined together to make one plant, keeping the fruit characteristics of the top of the plant, aka the scion, with the root system of the lower part, aka the rootstocks) and a lack of genetic diversity in the plant material. Earlier this year, the Bérillon Nursery made a compellingly well produced film, Un Point C’est Tout (‘That’s All’), which sounds the alarm about global vineyard decline, and helps explain why so many leading winemakers – such as the great Rhône winemaker JL Chave, maker of this darkly intriguing, spice-flecked, succulently berried red – are turning to Bérillon’s plants.

Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc, South Africa
2021 (£12, Tesco
If Bérillon and his clients are concerned about the longevity of the young vines currently being planted in the world’s vineyards, other prominent viticulturists have made a name for preserving the very old vines that are so important to the wine world’s heritage. One of the biggest and most respected names in South African wine, for example, is Rosa Kruger, a viticulturist known for her work in finding and helping preserve valuable old vines, many of them neglected or completely ignored, all over the Cape’s winelands. Thanks to the work of intrepid vine hunters such as Kruger, and winemaker partners such as Eben Sadie, South Africa has become known for some of the best old-vine (35-year-old-plus) wines in the world, notably from its ample stocks of old chenin blanc bush vines. These can be incredible value, incidentally: I can think of vanishingly few white wines below £20 with anything like the verve, honeyed concentration and balance that Bellingham’s Bernard Series has at £12.

Follow David Williams on X @Daveydaibach