Margaux trialing “voodoo” biodynamics

9th April, 2013 by Lucy Shaw

Bordeaux first growth Château Margaux is experimenting with the “voodoo” of biodynamics, according its managing director Paul Pontallier.

A horse ploughs the vineyard at Château Margaux

A horse ploughs the vineyard at Château Margaux

During an en primeur tasting of the 2012 vintage at the château last week, Pontallier told the drinks business: “We’re currently looking into biodynamics and seeing how it compares to organics.

“I have a hard time believing that the voodoo will bring anything extra to the wines as I’m not a religious person, but the only way to find out is to try.”

Pontallier went on to compare biodynamics to a religion: “People believe in it, so they think it’s the way to go; that their god is better than their neighbour’s god.

“I haven’t seen much of a difference yet to be honest and am looking at it objectively. I find it all a bit weird and it makes me laugh sometimes, but we have a biodynamic consultant who guides us and tells us what to do,” he said.

In contrast to his doubts about biodynamics, Pontallier is adamant that Margaux must take an increasingly organic approach to viticulture.

“It’s not a religious choice, but long-term, we have to go increasingly organic – this is the way forward for us.

“The fact that we are now almost entirely organic and yet didn’t lose a single berry in 2012 is proof that we can do it. Last year was set to be our first organic Château Margaux, but in the end we had to spray once,” he told db.

Lord Norman Foster

Lord Foster was enlisted to design Margaux’s new cellars

While Pontallier is pro organics, he is not seeking certification for the first growth.

“If there’s a high risk of losing some of our crop one year, then we’ll spray. There’s no point sacrificing your children for your principles, and my grapes are like children to me,” he said.

“I don’t want to commit commercial suicide, you have to be pragmatic, but the aim is to use less spray each year and adopt an organic approach,” he added.

Pontallier is busy building up a collection of Cabernet Franc clones, the wines from which will be trialled in Margaux’s experimental cellar, which will take centre stage in the new cellars designed by Lord Foster.

With building work set to start in two weeks and be competed in two years, Foster has designed an underground bottle library for back vintages and a cellar that will allow both the reds and the white to be made in the same part of the estate for the first time since the ‘70s.

Plans for the cellar have been slow to progress because Château Margaux is a listed building, meaning the new design must be in harmony with the existing structure.

“I specifically chose Foster because I needed an architect with vision. The planning permit had me sweating for months, but it was finally granted last September,” Pontallier told db.

Meanwhile, workers at the estate recently discovered a late 18th century orangery enclosed within the walls of one of Margaux’s barrel rooms.

“It’s 600 square foot, making it the largest non-royal orangery left in France. The room was named ‘the cellar of the orangery’ so I’m surprised it wasn’t discovered sooner,” Pontallier quipped.

4 Responses to “Margaux trialing “voodoo” biodynamics”

  1. Tony Mason says:

    Full marks for experimenting with biodynamics, but if you start off with that attitude, how likely are you to achieve better results?

    • Caroline Gilby says:

      Because if biodynamics is anything more than placebo, it will work whether you believe in it or not. That is the point of doing scientific trials.

  2. Frederic Ballario says:

    Not wanting to sacrifice your children but willing to kill the Mother sounds rather strange…

    • Jim Lumbers says:

      Two comments, first, the clear religious zealotry of two of the above replies certainly underscores Pontallier’s “voodoo” concerns.

      Second, the zealot who talked about “killing the mother” in the most recent reply should understand that organic rules require the use of copper sprays. Copper is a toxic heavy metal. It accumulates in sprayed vineyards and has been responsible for permanently poisoning 100s of hectares of vineyard and orchard soils. On this basis, organic viticulture has already killed many mothers.

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