Showing posts with label masterclass. Show all posts
Showing posts with label masterclass. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Bouchard brothers of Chablis. Organic is a method. Biodynamique is a philosophy.

The Bouchard brothers of Chablis.

Organic is a method. Biodynamique's a philosophy.

That was the word from the Bouchard brothers (above), Damien and Romain (left), as they presented an lively and informative masterclass, the latest in a series of Zoom events from Liberty Wines. The brothers, the 5th generation of their family to be involved in wine run the relatively recent Domaine de L’Enclos, relatively recent  because in 2016 the family domaine concentrated their vineyards under the Domaine de L’Enclos name (Romain had been running a smaller winery since 2007). They are in the heart of Chablis with a newly acquired winery and are “living the dream”.

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:  


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Three Treasures of the Douro with ace winemaker Luís Sottomayor

Three Treasures of the Douro with ace winemaker Luís Sottomayor

On these hills -  the white wines originate

Luís (screenshot)

Offley Vintage
Port 2018

Luís Sottomayor (left), head winemaker of Sogrape’s Douro and Port wines, threw down quite a challenge towards the end of Tuesday’s Liberty Wines Masterclass. He’s so convinced of the “great ageing potential’ of the Offley Port 2018 vintage that he asked Liberty to stage another gathering in 2045, inviting all of yesterday’s participants to meet and check up on the 2018!

Quite a few of us won’t be around then but you don't have to wait that long to enjoy this superb Port which is already drinking very well indeed. But what should you enjoy it with? Aside from good company, of course. Well, as Luis suggested, cheese and chocolate are the usual pairings, tried and tested over the decades.

But he came up with another one, a local Portuguese dish called Feijoada: beans, sausage, pork, vegetables (carrots etc), usually served with rice. “Cassoulet like” wrote participant Ligia Marques who texted in the details.

Luis started off by saying that Offley 18 is “a really classic vintage”. “We wanted to have a wine to be simpler, made for those who want to drink and understand what a classic vintage is, that they might go on and try other vintages. It is easy-drinking, tannins are there but are round.” The only difference from other vintages is that a higher quality of Tinto Roriz (perhaps better known to us as Tempranillo) was used. The others are Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca.

The aromas are pleasant, not overly complex: “Black fruit, balsamic, approachable, a wine for young consumers” “It is made from our best grapes and, on the palate, there are tannins and acidity (so many years in bottle ahead!). Very drinkable from now!”

In reponse to a question by wine-writer John Wilson, Luis said it was not easy to say how long it will last. “But is has all the essential components to live many, many years… will live after me!” Closure - why the regular cork? “This kind of cork is best for ageing the wine.”

Vinha Grande from Casa Ferreirinha

The pleasant morning masterclass continued with tastings of two Vinha Grande, one of the oldest brands of Casa Ferreirinha, itself one of the "pioneering" wine companies in the Douro. While the red was first produced in 1960, the white didn't appear until 2005. Then, as Luis explained: “We acquired high altitude vineyards in the Cima Corgo region with lots of white wine varieties.”


Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro (DOC) Douro Branco 2019, 13%

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro (DOC)  Douro Tinto 2017, 14%

Multiple varieties are used in the Branco. The main ones are Viosinho for its aroma and Arinto/Pedema for freshness. Fifty per cent of the wine was matured in new French oak barrels for 6 months and 50% kept in stainless steel tanks before the final blend is assembled and bottled.

Luis: “Very fresh and elegant, white fruit in the aromas, some citrus, a little passionfruit. I don’t like to say minerality - I feel that doesn’t exist but the soil and the stones of the Douro do. You can feel the acidity and freshness on the palate (because of the altitude), a nicer style of Douro white."

"The grapes come from a big property, amazing quantity of different kinds of grapes, helps us every year to compose the best wines!” Must say, I loved it. It's got everything: aromatics, flavour, mouthfeel, finish. Top notch!

The red is also a blend, the fruit taken from across the Douro’s regions. Soil here by the way is all schist. The terroir and the winemaking makes for another gorgeous wine. Luis pointed to its harmony, elegance, acidity, body and aromas. “It is easy to drink but also can go with sophisticated food and lasts well in the bottle.” The grapes used are Touriga Franca (45%), Touriga Nacional (30), Tinta Roriz (20) and Tinta Barroca (5).

It spends 12 months  in French oak “not new”. “We do not want to have the aroma of oak but use it instead as a medium to knit the blend. We always like a good freshness in our wines. And the first job of wine is to pair with food.”

That led to a question: “What is your favourite food with the red?

“I prefer meat usually but Vinha Grande is more elegant and goes well with dried cod - we eat a lot of that in Portugal! And it’s brilliant with octopus.”

For me, this was another beauty, smooth, packed with flavours and fresh on the balanced palate, magnificent depth, rounded tannins and the finish is smooth, dry and long.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

All The Sun In The World But Pedro Parra Wants Cloud. He'll Go To The Ends Of The Earth For The Right Soil.

All The Sun In The World But Pedro Parra Wants Cloud.
He'll Go To The Ends Of The Earth For The Right Soil.

Pedro Parra is a renowned soil and vineyard mapping expert with a Masters and PhD in Precision Agriculture and Terroir from the Institut Agronomique National in Paris. As a consultant to many well-known wineries across the world, the Chilean has spent much of the past 20 years discovering new sites, digging ‘calicatas’ (pits for soil analysis) and transforming the way wineries manage their vineyards. 

A calicata
However, he always dreamed of one day making his own wines from old Pais and Cinsault bush vines in his native Itata. A fantastic storyteller with a unique and fascinating career, Pedro told us, during last Thursday’s Liberty Wines online masterclass, about his own project and how he has used the knowledge and experience gained working in vineyards in Burgundy, Europe and the Americas to make his own low-intervention wines from the oldest wine region in Chile.

This renowned consultant is now, it appears, on his way to being a renowned winemaker. The desire to make his own wine took root in Burgundy while he was doing his soil studies in France. “It was in 2002”, he recalled. “I was extremely lucky, I knew nothing about wine when I stayed at a producer’s house. My palate was immediately and strongly influenced by the wines I tasted there.”

Then he started to wonder why Chilean wines were not as good, why they were so soft. “Why? Was it the winemaker? Was it the soil? What else? I figured it was a mix of everything.” “So, from 2004 to 2010, I worked hard as a consultant to open minds, to get people to look at other options, always with the idea to make my own wine, but where?”

“I knew where not to go, not Limari, not Elqui, not Casablanca. I wanted terroir with cloudy weather so I was looking to the south of Chile which has more wind, more cloud.”

And then there was the question of terroir. “Terroir has been very important in my career. Ninety per cent of the best wines come from just five different soils. Limestone is one. There is very little limestone in Chile but we do have fantastic granitic soil.” Again, the south fitted the bill.

“My grapes though were still a mystery and, in any case, my wines were to be about the place, not so much about the grape.” But he was drawn to two grapes. One was Pais, brought by the Spanish 400 years ago and widespread. The other was Cinsault, though that was grown only in one small town in Itata.
Pedro on screen from Conception last Thursday

He started in 2013. Not being a winemaker, he was not confident. “You don’t have the security,” he said. But then an experienced friend told him that not all good wines were made by winemakers and eventually he built up the confidence to make wines the way he wanted them made, once he selected the sort of granitic soil he required. He dug his calicatas and avoided clay. “Unless I have the  very best clay, I’d prefer not to have it all. Bad clay is horrible.”

“Little by little, I understand the plateau in Itata.”  And in 2013-15 he researched many plots to find the ones he really likes. “By 2016 I had found some places I now work, where I can apply my ideas. I use the horse, 2 or 3 times a season, to keep the soil in trim. It is not expensive, it’s a beautiful thing to do, I can go with the family.
A handful of quartz

Now he produces about 30 different wines. “My goal is a maximum of 5,000 cases. I don’t want to go more. Over that would be hard to control for our three person team. We are economical. Our destemmer is not new - you don’t need to spend €40,000 on a destemmer.”

“Great wines come from great terroir. Maybe I was too focussed on Burgundian methods at the start. It took me years to understand my method of extraction.” A tip from a Spanish winemaking friend put him on the right road with the extraction. He is getting the fruit and the wine he wants, the kind of wine he’d like drinking himself. “I am so happy. 2020 has been the best quality so far.”

I’ll be looking out for that 2020. I thought his 2018 “Vinista” was a cracking wine made from Pais. Colour is light to mid ruby. Wild red berries feature in the aromas, with herb notes in the background. Refreshing bright juicy fruit on the palate, a hint of spice too. String quartet rather than full orchestra, it is immediately harmonious right through to the engaging finalé. And this gem, the fruit sourced from 120 year old vines planted at 300 m above sea level, is one of the results of Pedro’s amazing dedication and expertise. The wine has spent one year in untoasted foudre and then spent 8 months in bottle before release. Time well spent!

As were the 90 minutes of that superb masterclass.

Links to Previous masterclasses in this current series, all recent:

Friday, June 12, 2020

Les Frères Bréchet are busy in the Southern Rhone. Making wine in Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and now Rasteau.

Les Frères Bréchet are busy in the Southern Rhone.
Making wine in Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and now Rasteau.

The Bréchet brothers, from the Southern Rhone, were the presenters of the latest in the  Zoom series of Liberty Wine masterclasses. Laurent works in Châteauneuf du Pape (Château de Vaudieu, the family flagship) while Julien may be found in Gigondas (Domaine des Bosquets). Liberty MD David Gleave introduced the siblings saying they each had a top estate in their respective appellations, both primarily growing Grenache. “So Gigondas or Chateauneuf, which is better? That’s today’s question.”

But the Bréchets were not to be drawn on that one! Indeed when David asked which wine they’d be having for lunch the reply, a nifty sidestep, was “We love Burgundy!” 
Laurent (left) and Julien

Towards the end, in the Question and Answer session, they were asked which was their favourite from the other brother. No hesitation from Julian: The Cuvée “Val de Dieu” from 2016. It has an extraordinary balance, a wine I would like every day". Laurent opted for Julian’s Le Lieu Dit 2017: The right expression of grenache, even more than the ’16”. So there you are, two good tips for you!

Q: Which region, aside from the Rhone, is best for Grenache?
A: Laurent picked Espana (Priorat) and California. Julien: “The same. But we are in a good place here!”.
Flowering in progress

Another questioner pointed to the tendency of Grenache to be high in alcohol. What other variety would you use to keep the abv down? Cinsault makes a very fine wine and with an abv 1.5% less than Grenache it could be the answer.

The men were sitting in Gigondas for the presentation  and reported that the growing season was going okay, a good period in flowering, the key to make good things. As it stands, all goes well, we’re happy, not late or anything, we are smiling!
Château de Vaudieu

Laurent said he was harvesting earlier and earlier, “Not just because of rising temperatures but to keep acidity. We might lose a little colour but we want to make a wine with personality. The soil, different to Gigondas, makes a difference.” And then he smiled: “as does the winemaker”. Julien said he was helped by being able to harvest a little earlier as compared to Chateauneuf. “Perfect maturity is an aim, we are always seeking the balance. Gigondas tends to have more freshness, while you get more maturity at C-d-P.”

Julian: “When I was younger I used oak but wines were not as expressive as I wanted”. Now he uses big old vats as he doesn’t want to put too much between the consumer and the expression of the terroir. Laurent wants to emphasise the elegance of the wine, so he makes wine with precision and attention to detail.
Domaine des Bosquets

Julien is now in organic conversion and that leads to lower yields and he’s happy with that as, with higher yields, you “can lose the personality". Laurent seeks the happy medium saying that “less is not always better.”

David Gleave asked Julien why he had chosen organic. Julien: “In order to be honest, you have to be clean. The best way to express the terroir is to go organic. Bosquets is a small estate, so not hard to convert. We are also a more isolated vineyard and the neighbours are organic as well. Clean grapes need less intervention in my mind, a good way to be.”

Laurent is not organic but sustainable. “We try to spray the  minimum. No herbicides, reduced sulphites and we limit production.”

And then there’s the style of wine. Julien has learned his terroir. “It's like a mosaic of terroirs, very different, different exposures, different altitude (from 180m to 400m). Each plot must be considered on its own merits.” Fourteen different plots have been designated and are each matured separately. “Blending is now more precise and better”. Indeed, so precise, that in 2019, only four of the 14 were considered good enough to be used. You do hear Julien using “No compromise” quite often.

Laurent said that while the traditional style is still loved by some customers that “we now like to have more elegance, more acidity, better balance. That’s what people like to drink now. If wine is too big, you might start the bottle but not finish. With harmony and acidity, you can enjoy it fully.”

“We are not against tradition,” said Julien. “We are improving on it by being more precise. No compromise in the process and the wine will not be just good, it will be better.”

Laurent is excited about a new project in the Rasteau appellation: “When I saw the plot, I said we’ll make something nice here. The idea is not to go too rich, to go more easy-drinking. It is a small plot, easier to control. We have a good team there and using old oak from the existing vineyard.”

And if you like the Rasteau Vin Deux Naturel (red, white and rancio), as one participant does, then rest assured. “It is still being made in the appellation and we want to restart it in our plot. We work on that. It will take time.” Laurent himself was quite excited about the ambré version of the VDN.