Bordeaux embraces greener viticulture

10th September, 2013 by Patrick Schmitt

Bordeaux is embracing pioneering viticultural and winemaking techniques according to three estates, which have grouped together in order to promote themselves and the region.

Chateau de la Dauphine

Chateau de la Dauphine

Representatives from châteaux Marquis de Terme, Couhins and La Dauphine hosted a dinner in London last week to discuss “innovation and change” in Bordeaux, highlighting the increasing adoption of organic viticulture and GPS technology as well as novel winemaking vessels in the cellar to augment complexity and quality.

Initially, Guillaume Halley, owner of Château de La Dauphine in Fronsac said that his 50-hectare estate had switched entirely to organic vineyard management from last year, including a 3ha experimental biodynamic plot.

Motivation for the change, which forbids the use of synthetic fertilisers or pesticides, is a desire to improve the quality of the wines made at the property, having observed the positive results of organic and biodynamic viticulture on the wines of Bordeaux’s Châteaux Pontet Canet and Fonroque.

“Our aim is to achieve more pure aromas,” Halley said.

He also commented that organic farming techniques would help protect the soils at the estate as well as the health of his vineyard workers, and noted that the number of vineyards making the conversion is increasing, despite the threat of disease in Bordeaux due to its oceanic climate.

“At the moment 7% of Bordeaux estates are organic but 10 years ago that was only 3%… and in 20 to 30 years, I think all of Bordeaux will be organic,” he said.

Already, Halley has noticed changes due to the new viticultural approach.

“We now get maturity earlier, from one week to 10 days, because the treatments [under conventional viticulture] stop maturity as well as disease,” he said.

He also said that the switch to organics had caused a 10-15% drop in yields across the 40ha of vineyards at La Dauphine, and, as a result, the château opted not to practice a green harvest in 2012, which involves the removal of a proportion of immature bunches before veraison.

Ludovic David

Ludovic David from Marquis de Terme. Image:

In terms of winemaking, Halley admitted that he had replaced one famous Bordeaux consultant with another – he has stopped using Denis Dubourdieu and taken on Michel Rolland.

Rolland is helping La Dauphine achieve more youthful appeal in its wines by encouraging the property to pick later.

“He wants perfect maturity, and so we take more risk with Michel – he picks 10 days later than Denis Dubourdieu – Michel wants to find the limit.”

He added that he had switched consultants because he wanted “immediate pleasure” in his wines.

“It is nice to have wines which are fantastic to drink in 10-15 years time but I think it is important to have wines that are good to drink just after bottling, and we look for that.”

As for the cost of the new consultant, Halley said, “Michel is not expensive… and he is the same price as Denis Dubourdieu.”

Returning to the topic of organic viticulture, Ludovic David, winemaker and general manager at Margaux’s Château Marquis de Terme said that he had converted 2ha of the estate to organic practices this year to test the effect on the wines.

However, David’s main changes since he joined the third growth estate in 2009 have concerned winemaking techniques.

In particular, three years ago he started experimenting with concrete 600-litre egg-shaped vessels for ageing wines at Marquis de Terme, and now puts 8% of the production in the containers.

The eggs, which are manufactured by Nomblot and cost €3,000 each, bring “roundness” to the wine as well as “a freshness”, but not the toasty characters or oxygenation from new oak barrels.

“I like the egg for a proportion of the blend,” he said, adding that he might increase the amount of wine aged in the concrete containers from 8% to 12%.

He also recorded that more are using the eggs in Bordeaux, notably Château Pontet Canet, although, as previously reported by db, the Pauillac property has now installed a collection of 80 concrete amphorae, half of which feature a limestone component for the Merlot, while the rest incorporate gravel for the Cabernet Sauvignon.

David also said that he is planning to expose the wines aged in the concrete eggs to a “nano-oxygenation” which sees minute quantities of blended Nitrogen, Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide bubbled through the wine.

Couhins vigour assessment

Vigour assessment at Chateau Couhins

Finally, sales manager at Château Couhins, Romain Baillou, said that the Graves-based estate had improved its white and red wines through the use of GPS and infra-red technology in the vineyard.

The property, which is owned by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), has used the tools since 2007 to identify parcels with the same vine vigour and berry ripeness.

Baillou said that Couhins was, along with Château Cheval Blanc, the first Bordeaux property to use GPS to measure vine vigour and soil “resistivity”, although other estates have since adopted the techniques, in particular, as previously reported by db, Phelan Ségur.

Couhins is also using infra-red technology to measure the polyphenol content in the berries on the vine, which helps the winemaker decide when to harvest.

He also said that all the classified growths in Pessac-Léognan had grouped together to try and identify a safe level of copper for using in the vineyard.

Copper, which is used to prevent the spread of fungal infections in the vines, can build up in vineyard soils to toxic levels.

Indeed, Baillou admitted that too much copper makes the vine more sensitive to disease, rather than inhibiting it.

The results from the collaboratvie research will be released late next year or early 2015 according to Baillou.

He also said that Couhins was looking into the use of molecules that stimulate the vine’s natural defences to disease as a preventative treatment in place of copper.

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