Latour, biodynamics and Demeter
by marcin stojak
Latour’s conversion to organically produced vines began almost 20 years ago when they stopped using chemical herbicides. Since then, they started experimenting with new techniques, and in 2015, 100% of L’Enclos was organic and 50% of it was biodynamic.
Producing according to biodynamic techniques is not new. This method applies ancestral practices of using only ingredients from the farm and maximising their impact. For example, fertilizing is from the manure from the cows and horses living on the estate, mixed in with different flowers of certain specific properties. This main idea is to create a sustainable and circular ecosystem aimed at protecting the earth and make it more fertile by freeing nature to multiply the microbial activity in the soil.
Pontet Canet can be considered as one of the pioneers. They did their first biodynamic trial in 2004 and the results turned out to be very positive: the vines were brighter and tighter. Alfred extended the test parcel and the vineyard became fully converted in 2006; a first for a Médoc Classified Growth. Ten year’s on, and their most recent vintages show an aromatic complexity that is quite clearly much more evident when compared to their wines from the mid 200s.
Now more and more vineyards use biodynamic practises to grow their vines and in the winemaking. After decades of intensive farming many of the top vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux, including Domaine Leroy and Domaine Leflaive, began looking for new options since their soils were being exhausted and couldn’t sustain healthy vines with good grapes.
The biodynamic label, Demeter, has recently gained popularity in the Bordeaux region. Chateau Durfort-Vivens has this year been fully certified by Demeter, with the designation proudly added to their bottling in the form of a strip label. In a variable year the Margaux appellation, Durfort-Vivens 2016 showed out of cask as a wine of character, with a lovely aromatic profile,crunch fruit and a chewy, black cherry infused finish.
But it’s far from a one-way argument. As weather patterns become more extreme, protecting the plant and its fruit from the element under a strict biodynamic regime can be risky.
A wave of quality obsessed Burgundy producers increasingly use biodynamic treatments in a mixed approach to vineyard husbandry where the focus is on the soil’s microbial strength. But with repeated hailstorms, and the risk of rot in a warm humid environment, it takes a brave man or woman to forgo other practical fall-back options.
It’s a rich man’s game. Small Burgundy producers cannot afford repeated losses to disease when conditions get really rough and biodynamics might not be sufficient without heavy and repeated doses of copper sulphate,something which producers adopting biodynamic viticulture are reluctant to do with concerns about creating copper residues in the soil.
Château Palmer is a leading proponent of biodynamics and has been undertaking a great deal of research on test barrels of recent vintages, both in the vineyard and in the cellar and reducing use of sulphur as a stabilising agent. In 2016 they misjudged with one too-few copper sulphate treatments resulting in an attack of mildew, reducing their overall production volumes to just 28hl/ha, a miserly figure for Bordeaux in a generous year where most quality producers cropped at 45-50 hl/ha.
Yet biodynamics is ‘back’ here to stay, even if those who apply for Demeter certification are likely to be outnumbered by those who simply practise biodynamic principles and use many of the treatments.
Further north in Saumur, the legendary Loire estate Clos Rougeard has been practising biodynamics for ever. In the 1960s and 1970s when their neighbours embraced synthetic fertilisers and chemicals, they were mocked for holding true to their ancestral principles practised since the time of their great grandfather.
The last word goes to Nadi Fourcault, the remaining brother of Clos Rougeard (only recently bought by the Bouygues family who also own Chateau Montrose). “The only thing that’s revolutionary about us is that we’ve never changed.”
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Tags: biodynamic wine, Bordeaux, Bordeaux wine, Burgundy wines, organic red wine, organic white wine, organic wine, organic wine brands, sulfites in wine, wine without sulfites,