The Bouchard brothers of Chablis.
Organic is a method. Biodynamique's a philosophy.
Going organic takes a few years. Damien: “When chemicals stopped, it takes 3 or 4 years for the soil to recover. Now we have brought back a large variety of plants in the vineyard.” The vines of course need care. Romain: “We do some treatments but really low quantities… copper has no bad influence on our soils. We use low amount, no problem. Mistakes can happen when you are not experienced but now we have the experience.”
They were asked about the costs if going organic. Romain: “Organic is more expensive, costs are higher. Much of the process is manual so more employees (they employ 15 year round), more material, and yields are a bit lower. We now spend less on treatments - chemicals cost a fortune.”
Would they consider going biodynamic? Damien: “We are often asked that question. Organic is a method, bio is more of a philosophy. Some say ‘I don’t believe in it’ but then say ‘it is working’. Next step maybe, a big maybe!”
How have your wines been received by your neighbours? “We are not alone, we have colleagues and friends, is not a problem. A lot of people are quite interested. It is moving, if slowly, but you will sell your wines!”
While they have terrific soils (Portland, J9 on map below, and Kimméridgien J8) in their fields, they also have obstacles. The weather, including cold nights and rain and hail, can be a problem and so too can the steepness of those stony slopes in the area.
Romain: “The weather and the slopes mean there are not that many organic wine-growers in Chablis. The steep slopes and the stones make for difficult work as does the complicated climate. But we can testify that the climate is changing. Now the problem is becoming a lack of rain!”
Care of the soil is a major ongoing part of the business. They want it “living and balanced” to get plants in good health. “We don’t touch it this month (November), we let it regenerate. First ploughing will be the end of March and we will then also cut the grass that has grown between the rows. The grass and weeds would provide too much completion for the vines if allowed to thrive between March and July.”
They are happy with progress. “Now after years of organic, we can see many different varieties of grass and herbs - very satisfying. When you have healthy soil, your vines are stronger - key to making good wine.” Pruning starts December. It is long and slow work (it continues until March) but very important,
|Beauroy. And its lake!|
Do they net against frost? Romain: “I would prefer nothing! But, in Beauroy, we do have a lake, created in 1978 and we use the water to spray against the frost. And we pray!”
How has acidity impacted on their wine-making over the last decade? With riper fruit, acidity has reduced. Damien: “This is another frequent question but acidity is only a part of the process. I prefer to talk balance. Can we have good balance now? Yes, even if we don’t have the acidity of earlier decades. It is not just a question of acidity. Thirty years ago it was quite difficult to have balance because of the acidity at that time.”
|Their winery in Chablis|
Chablis is of course famous for its acidity. “It is a strength we built in the 70s and 80s, but you cannot fix nature you know! But there’s been no need to add sugar since 2011.” Romain: “Last few years, ripeness is quite high, it is a different Chablis from that if the 90s. We want to do the wines with the grapes we have.”
Could global warming lead to vineyard re-classification in Chablis? “That’s a good question,” replied Damien. But they said it would not be easy to change in the area as the slopes face in all the directions, even though Premier Cru are south-facing mostly. They emphasised that such changes would be long-term, maybe 50-years. Besides, there is a lot of politics around this question. ”Best thing may be not to touch it!”
The brothers are “very happy with the 2020 vintage” though the long dry spell (May-July) and then rains in August didn’t help. Yet harvest was early - it was their first time starting in August. Maturity was a bit lower compared to 2018 and 2019. The result “is quite a classic Chablis style, more fresh and light. You’ll see!”
Liberty MD David Gleave, who brought the masterclass to a close, has been impressed since he began to deal with the brothers, impressed “by the beauty of the property, the energy and enthusiasm of the brothers, the quality of the vineyard and the quality of the wines.”
Here’s to many more vintages from Domaine de L’Enclos. Check out the Liberty website for availability in your area. Ireland: https://www.libertywines.ie/