Finding the right balance

Bordeaux’s Château Climens has converted to biodynamics out of a desire to work in harmony with its vines

Little by little, biodynamics is creeping into Bordeaux. The best known example so far is of course Pontet-Canet, the only classed growth on the Left Bank to be certified biodynamic. The château began its conversion process in 2004 and, after some ups and downs, is now happily plotting its course under the eye of technical director Jean-Michel Comme. And Pontet-Canet is inspiring others.

Last year Sauternes first growth Château Climens in Barsac began its conversion to biodynamics, having drafted in Comme’s wife Corinne to consult. The Commes are ardent biodynamic followers and Corinne runs their own estate, Château du Champs des Treilles, along those principles.

Many, though, are still unconvinced that organics, let alone biodynamics, can actually work in Bordeaux. So why has Climens decided to go to the in many ways extremely difficult end of vine care and winemaking?

The reasons behind taking up this kind of viticulture are always varied, ranging from a genuine belief in better farming practices to hoping that the change in farming will lead to a change in the wines. Climens is no different. Owner Bérénice Lurton and technical director Frédéric Nivelle both state their belief that another way of looking after their 30-hectare plot was necessary.

Certainly anyone who thinks that they can use biodynamics for any kind of short-term profit is grossly mistaken; the undertaking is not for the faint-hearted. “Frédéric and I were longing to change the practices in the vineyard to be more environmentally friendly and closer to the real needs of the vines,” says Lurton.

“But we thought that organic was not interesting because it is too narrow a view. We decided to meet Jean-Michel Comme in Pontet-Canet (it was before they were very famous for biodynamics), and we were really convinced by his speech, but even more by the vines.”

Jean-Michel then introduced the pair to his wife who agreed to become their consultant. The usual argument for biodynamics is that it restores the balance of a vineyard.

Corinne states that consulting at Climens was an interesting proposition (see box, right, for the estate’s peculiarities) and she knows exactly what she wants to achieve there: “Too often modern winemaking is a fight against nature. Biodynamics is a chance to work with it to an extent. In biodynamics we try and restore the balance in the vine.

“The roots are the most important thing. The goal is to refind the balance in the wines. My ‘dream’ at Climens is to have deep roots and real expression of the terroir, the clay and red sand. The vine should be a conductor.”

Lurton too talks of the need for “balance” and makes it clear that the conversion is no passing whim, speaking as she does of the “long-term changes” the conversion will bring. She continues: “Our goal is to have a more well-balanced vineyard, to help each plot, and even foot, of vine to find its own balance according to its soil, its environment and according to the season.

“When we visited Pontet-Canet, we were struck by the fact that each vine seems to have its own personality while there’s a real general harmony.”

However, it’s not just about being green that drives people to take up organic or biodynamic practices, there has to be a tangible end result in the produce as well. The talk around Sauternes at the moment, after several very rich vintages, is that acidity levels are falling somewhat. Corinne agrees: “Producers have been noticing that some of their wines were getting too rich in sugar and losing some of their acidity as a result.”

So finding the “balance” again doesn’t just apply to the vines being content in their patch of earth, it also means the wines needed addressing. In any case, Lurton has high hopes for the conversion. “As we have a very special terroir, we have no doubt that biodynamics will enhance the very special brightness and purity of the wines of Climens: we think it will give even more energy and depth to the wines.”

Early days

Having begun its conversion in January of last year, the actual effects of biodynamics are yet to be properly felt. Lurton and Nivelle both say that it is “too early” to tell yet what the effects will be, although we know what they hope they are. Lurton even says that it could take several years before the full effects are realised and the gathering of data to compare against previous non-biodynamic vintages longer still.

“It is really too early to talk about changes, and when the changes come it will be very difficult to determinate real data, and link them without doubt to biodynamics, and not for example the conditions of the vintage, or the climate configuration of the period,” she says.

Nonetheless some small changes have been noted by Corinne Comme and Nivelle, which they do attribute to biodynamic practice. Nivelle thinks that the vines are certainly less vigorous and need less work while Comme notes: “I see a difference in the shape and form of the leaves. They’re less big, more defined. And that’s a good sign. It means the vine is taking back its identity. The shape and size of the bunches is different too, and there are smaller berries.”

Of course, one is not after immediate results and full accreditation won’t be granted for another two years. As for any effect on the coming vintage, that really is hoping for too much but Comme and Lurton are happy with the way things are going so far.

Comme says that disease has not been a problem so far this year and Lurton adds: “Everything is going on very well. It is a very dry year, but the vines do cope with that, and we have had a few showers last week to water our newly planted plot!”

The team at Climens is clearly committed to what they have begun. Lurton and Nivelle were coy on the subject of acidity levels but it is also clear that they hold some sort of genuine belief in the benefits of biodynamics for the good not just of the wines, but of the entire estate. As Comme says though, one just has to “wait and see”.

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