The SOMM Journal

August / September 2016

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50 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2016 { steven spurrier's letter from london } This was the title of a fascinating late April week spent in the Côte d'Or leading a group from Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours. Biodynamism in its modern form only came to Bourgogne* from the mid-1980s, spearheaded by Lalou Bize-Leroy and the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in the Côte de Nuits, Domaines Lafon and Leflaive in the Côte de Beaune. Although only a tiny percentage of Bourgogne growers, pretty much limited to the "top" estates, apply this viticultural practice based on the lunar calendar, many more are certified as organic, and the realisation that the health and sustainability of their vineyards is of primordial importance is plain to see. Only three decades ago, due to over-use of chemicals sprayed by heavy tractors that compacted the ground thus stifling natural vigour, the agronomist Claude Bourguignon sounded the alarm declaring that "there is more life in the Sahara Desert than in the soils of Bourgogne." Today, horses may be seen ploughing the narrow rows between the vines, and the regeneration of the soil is recognised as the major reason behind the quality of this century's vintages. It is worth pointing out that the term biodynamic comes from two Greek words: bios (life) and dynamos (energy) and that its influence is on the soil and the health of the vine and does not spread into winemaking. Indeed "winemaking" in France is viewed somewhat negatively—the great Jean "Johnny" Hugel said that the French language does not have such a word—and if biodynamism does its work in the vineyard, work in the cellar is very much simplified. On being questioned how Domaine de la Romanée-Conti produces wines of such purity and expression, Aubert de Villaine replies, "We just pick the grapes when they are ripe." Biodynamism is a holistic approach to agriculture which treats the vineyard as a living system that interacts with the environment in alignment with planetary cosmic rhythms to build (or re-build) healthy soil. When Nicolas Joly first put such methods—based on a series of lectures by Austrian philosopher and scientist Dr. Rudolf Steiner in 1924—into practice on his family's famed Clos de la Coulée de Serrant estate in Anjou from the late 1970s, he was viewed with suspicion bordering on derision. The fact that this sys - tem of vineyard management, the origins of which are long lost in history, has become one of the beacons for quality in wine is largely due to his determination. Our visit began in Joseph Drouhin's his - torical cellars in the centre of Beaune with a tasting of Bourgogne benchmarks—Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu 2013 from their Domaine de Vaudon, a fine Meursault "vil- lages" 2011, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatières 2012, Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Damodes 2008 and Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Mouches 1996—and three magnificent wines—Beaune Clos des Mouches 2001 white, Mazis-Chambertin Hospices de Beaune 2008 and Beaune Clos des Mouches 1993 red—with dinner, which showed us how wonderfully wines from top vineyards will evolve if ever one has the patience to wait. (The 2002 reds in my own cel - lar are now ready, the 2005s are beginning to open up, the lighter 2008s are showing very well, while the 2009s and 2010s need a few more years.) Our first day was devoted to the Côte de Nuits. Beginning at Domaine Michel Magnien in Morey-Saint-Denis, fifth- generation Frédéric Magnien explained his aims of revitalising and intensifying organic life in the soil, practicing cosmic bio-lunar phases of viticulture that allow the vines to strengthen and energise themselves thanks to natural powers. His philosophy to create "the pure and perfect transla - tion of Bourgogne terroirs" has led him away from 100% use of the traditional 228-litre Bourgogne oak barrels towards 160-litre terracotta clay amphora-like "jars," of which already he has 106 in the cellar and many more on order. These add no woody sensations to the wine, while their micro-porosity brings less oxygenation, thus obtaining rounder and more mineral flavours while protecting the purity of the aromas. A tasting of his Bourgogne Pinot Noir and Morey St Denis Très Girard 2015s and 2014s against older vintages proved his point. Biodynamic Bourgogne by Steven Spurrier P HO T O: W Y L IUS V IA TH IN KS T O CK

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