My last post about the organic control stirred up a few reactions from a number of people. I don’t set out to upset people but I recognise the debate about organic status. This website from Domaine du Garinet in the Lot summarises the debate quite well, have a look at what it says about viticulture. Organic viticulture allows the use of some chemicals which many feel are damaging to soils and their ecosystem, eg the use of copper is allowed yet remains in the soil for many years and is damaging to potentially beneficial animals such as earthworms. Other winemakers feel that there are now alternative treatments which they can use which do less damage to the biodiversity of their vineyard but are not allowed by official organic certification.
Instead these winemakers use a system called lutte raisonnée or agriculture raisonnée. Jonathan Hesford runs Domaine Treloar in Trouillas, Roussillon with his wife Rachel using this approach. They make excellent wines across a wide range, white, red, rosé and different wines such as a Rivesaltes Muscat and a Rancio. I have visited the domaine several times and bought more in the UK and will continue to do so. Jonathan is one of a number of winemakers who have moved into the Languedoc Roussillon from outside the region and have brought new ideas and a fresh approach. Jonathan and Rachel lived within a few hundred metres of the World Trade Centre in September 2001 and witnessed 9/11. That shocking event influenced them to live differently. Wine study and time working in wineries in New Zealand (Rachel’s native country) gave them the confidence to establish their own domaine in Trouillas.
Jonathan and Rachel put as much dedication, thought and passion into their wines as any winemaker. Jonathan was quick to point out to me after my last post that many, if not most, artisanal winemakers nowadays care about their terroir and minimise chemical use, whether organic or not. Jonathan says, “My decisions are based on on what, scientifically, are best for the vines, the soils, the environment and me, the guy spraying. In many cases the organic product is more dangerous or more environmentally damaging that the synthetic product I have chosen.” He does not seek organic certification as he does not welcome the bureaucracy and feels it is often a marketing tool. I have spoken to other French winemakers recently who have said exactly the same thing. For further information on Jonathan’s approach look at his own website page.
The wines are testament to his skills and beliefs. They shine with the freshness which I love in wine and reflect the healthy fruit which he produces. Particular favourites from my visit in early November were the white La Terre Promise (Grenache Gris dominant) and the red Three Peaks (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) but I can honestly recommend all the wines.
Mas Gabriel is run by Deborah and Peter Core an English couple. The domaine is based in Caux, not far from us and is run along organic and biodynamic practices. Their reasons for doing so are explained far better by themselves on their website than I could do so please have a look. There are many parallels with Jonathan and Rachel in that the Cores left successful jobs in a big city to follow a dream to be winemakers. Both Peter and Deborah studied winemaking in New Zealand and worked in wineries there and then in Bordeaux before settling in Caux.
It is interesting that despite similarities they took a different view about winemaking to Domaine Treloar by pursuing organic and biodynamic practices. Deborah and Peter spend many hours in their vines debudding them when necessary to allow more aeration and therefore less risk of humidity leading to mildew. They, like Jeff Coutelou, are allowed to use copper and sulphur but in fact use less than one third of the permitted level of copper, treating only when necessary. A recent survey by a botanist found over 40 plant varieties in their vineyards, a sign of health and diversity.
Again the proof of their hard work and passion is in the bottle. Mas Gabriel produce 4 wines, a white (Carignan Blanc dominated), rosé, and two reds. The white, Clos Des Papillons, is one of my favourite white wines from Languedoc Roussillon, dry with fruit and body it is a wine which makes you contemplate and smile as you drink it. The reds from 2012 and 2013 which I tasted during a visit at the end of October were also fresh and fruity yet contain complexity and depth. No doubt in my mind that the range of wines is all getting better and better, a testament to their growing skills and experience both in the cellar and in the vineyard.
So there we are, two excellent domaines. They all work incredibly hard and give everything they have to produce the best, most healthy fruit from their soils. Yet in different ways. Both produce superb wines which I would strongly recommend without hesitation. Both have different views about the way to look after their terroir and I have compared them here for the sake of my debate about organic winemaking not in terms of quality. That would be unfair and impossible as they are two of my favourite domaines in France as my own wine collection would attest. Incidentally I say that not because of their English & New Zealand origins but because of the quality of their wines. I will be posting soon about some of the diversity of winemakers in the Languedoc Roussillon.
I attended a conference last Thursday where the famous vineyard analysts the Bourgignons (advisers to Romanée Conti amongst others) set out the chemical, geological and agricultural make up of healthy soil. Amongst the interesting points to emerge was that the vine takes over 90% of its needs from the air and about 6% from the soil but that 6% is what can make the difference in quality of a wine. It is certainly produced by passionate, artisanal producers. But is it best achieved through agriculture which is organic, biodynamic, natural or raisonnée? I have a lot still to learn.
November 30, 2014 at 3:47 pm
Another excellent and well thought-out post, Alan. Obviously, as an importer of Domaine du Garinet (not to mention Treloar and now Mas Coutelou) I have read Mike and Sue’s website that you refer to before. And having spoken at length with Mike, whilst on a tasting visit 2 or 3 of years ago, he clearly has passionately held views, many of which I can empathise with. Jonathan Hesford clearly has similar views.
The biggest problem is convincing people that not all growers who (to a greater or lesser extent) practice biodynamic farming take it to such extremes as burying cow horns and following astrology. For what it is worth, I have never taken astrology seriously (to say the least) but there is no denying that the moon and it’s phases plays a part. After all, what is it that makes the tides go in and out?
As I have said before, and repeated many times since (but initially when writing about Thierry Hasard at Domaine de La Marfée – another grower I urge you to visit) “whatever you think of biodynamicism (extreme organics or just plain whacky) it is a philosophy which does tend to go hand-in-hand with a healthy respect for the land and a fastidious approach to winemaking.” Not that there aren’t plenty of poor biodynamic wines and winemakers – there’s always plenty of space on the bandwagon – but, as you well know, the diffferences between biodynamically (and even organically) farmed vineyards and those of their spay and plough-happy neighbours can often be very stark indeed!
By the way, I recall some or other customer of mine suggesting a few years back that I check out Domaine du Garinet…. was that you? 🙂
November 30, 2014 at 4:12 pm
Thanks Leon. It wasn’t me, indeed I did not know that you had any connection with Garinet at all. This is getting very incestuous!! I read a lot about the topic and came across Mike’s website and thought it was well argued. I was unaware of his wine though I will certainly seek some out and have promised to visit year.
I have absolutely no truck with astrology, I think it is a con. From talking to biodynamic producers and reading (especially the work of Caro Feely) I gather it is more about astronomy in the sense that fruit days, root days etc depend on the passage of the moon across the constellations. I am also convinced that biodynamic producers tend to make good wine because they are passionate and put much love into their soils and wines. That is not exclusive to them of course, as Jonathan would be quick to say.
Strangely enough I am looking into the question of fruit days etc as recently I tasted some wines in a cellar and preferred the reds one day and the whites a few days later. Is that because of atmospheric pressure, personal tastes altering between days or biodynamics? Is there something in the notion of fruit days, flower days etc? I am sceptical by nature but it is something I am investigating. The danger of course is that it becomes self fulfilling. Good excuse for tasting wines though 🙂
November 30, 2014 at 4:23 pm
Alan, I personally don’t subscribe to the fruit/flower/leaf/root day thing, although there is little doubt in my mind that some wines can show differently on different days. Probably down (as you suggest) to things like atmospheric pressure, possibly moon phases, mood (are any of these connected – a whole new subject for discussion!) etc.
November 30, 2014 at 8:29 pm
Discussion and debate is what the post was partly about, in praise of 2 excellent domaines was the other main reason.
December 9, 2014 at 1:04 pm
I thought that the most likely scientific explanation for taking note of moon phases is moonlight and the effect it has on the plants sap.
December 9, 2014 at 5:27 pm
It’s an interesting topic Graham. Do you find your taste for a wine changes on different days?