Winemaking Philosophy of Claire Naudin
Having reviewed many oenology approaches, some of them qualified of leading edge (like micro oxygenation in 1996-1997, and reverse osmosis in 1999), having observed, segregated, sampled, analyzed the different parcels of the domain to get to know them, or at least to begin to know them, understand their differences like micro climates, soils, plants, to highlight their strengths and weaknesses, the time has come to step aside, ponder the information and choose what is most appropriate.
The conclusion is that you cannot rely on fate. A great wine, wherever it comes from, is cared for 365 days per year, from the vines to the bottling, with the hard work of a team motivated by a common objective: reach for the best with what Nature gave us, dare to believe in the potential of the wine, of the land, and dare to give it the means to express its full potential.
It is undoubtedly the great asset of Burgundy: the winemaker, here, begins often by working on the vine alone or with a few laborers. Those hours of hard manual labor are also hours to think, to observe. The bond between the soil and the plant is a source of intuition to those who want to open themselves to the suggestions Nature hints at us. Used in winemaking, completed by other observations, and a few analyzes, this intuition allows the wine grower - winemaker to adapt the winemaking to each vintage, each batch of grape, all what makes a great wine.
That is how we succeeded in extracting the best of the potential of every batch of grape, to reach the ultimate expression of our terroir, with its diversity, its whole richness. It is also how we accommodate for the limitations of some terroirs, as all are not equal in potential.
What then about technology? If our hard labor is coherent, a comprehensive approach to care and exploit our terroir, technology turns only as a helping hand that we used sparcely to solve issues. It should not be rejected completely, but used wisely. We observe the limitations of some batches, and take the corrective actions when the vines and the climate fail us. Nevertheless, a wine grower attentive to the environment can contain the use of technology driven solutions to a minimum. A summary of our technical choices is available here.
Practically, this leads us, at the Domaine Naudin-Ferrand, to make some choices that go against the tide, which could hurt some oenologists, some journalists, and even some clients. But this strengthens the coherence of our actions. And this evolves as we face new questions and develop new solutions. We take the time to let those questions come to us, sometimes shake our beliefs, but always look for answers that respect our philosophy. Let us tell you a bit more about those answers.
In the Vineyard
Caring for the soils
We remove grass in our vineyards less and less, and aim to avoid this practice completely in the medium term. At this time, we are in a transition phase with contact weed killers, which, unlike traditional (but more efficient) weed killers do not penetrate either the plant or the soil. Therefore, we preserve better the live in the soil, especially the essential micro organisms that contribute to its health. Keeping weed in the vineyard is also a good way to fight soil erosion: not only the roots maintain the soil in place and protect it from drenching rain, but also the galleries dug by animals living in the soil provide for a better drainage. So, the silt so characteristic of our terroirs is staying in place rather than being washed away.
In parallel, we gently work the soil to break the top root network and force the roots to go deeper to find substance. And in case of heavy rain, the vine absorbs less water, the grapes do not swell so much, and the terroir expresses itself better.
Keeping grass in the vineyard also allows us to reduce erosion of the top soil when the slopes are steep. And it reduces yield naturally giving our wines a better balance.
Sustainable Winemaking :
We have been working this way for more than 15 years. The principle is simple: we treat only when deemed necessary. Each treatment is based on earlier observations or tallying, in each parcel or group of parcels. Therefore, not all parcels are treated systematically or with the same approach. Finally we set a threshold of tolerance for the disease : we do not aim for zero occurrence, useless and over polluting. Wisdom is to find an acceptable level that does not harm the quality of the grape. Obviously, this is longer and more complex but making so much senses. And the reduction in pollution does not come at the expense of an increasing risk as we monitor all our parcels very accurately.
Our treatment material has been modified in 1995 to treat at low pressure, 2 to 3 bars instead of 15 to 20, and low volume with less product per hectare, from 450 to 500 liters to 180 to 220 liters. We evaluate that the target is better reached with this new equipment, being the leaves or the grapes. This reduction of active ingredient is done without risk on the quality and effectiveness of treatment. The two key benefits are
- The worker who treats absorbs less product because there is not a cloud hovering above the equipment. The health of the crew is an important consideration.
- The product loss in the soil and in the atmosphere is lowered, so we preserve the flora and the fauna in the vineyard.
Low impact approaches
We use the so called organic methods (pheromones to sabotage pest reproduction, bacillus thurengiensis / BT) and products that respect the auxiliary fauna. Some parcels are treated exclusively with organically label products.
We are not « organically labeled » : we use organic methods as often as possible but do not want to be labeled organic. Indeed, we want to remain free of our options. Some synthetic molecules can be very effective at very low doses, while offering a very low persistence in the soil. They can help, sometimes, to save a harvest. We want to be able to use them if it is absolutely necessary.
In the Cellar
The harvest, manual or mechanical, can be sorted. The layout of the cellar has been completely restructured in 1999 to avoid the need for pumping the juices.
- We can load the press with grape bunches: the pressing is better because the flow of the juices is facilitated by the presence of the stems. Therefore we do not need to increase the pressure which would extract unpleasant phenol compounds. Obviously, this requires longer pressuring (two and a half to three and a half hour!).
- It is also possible to do the same with red grapes when the perfect quality allows it, according to the parcel and the vintage.
Very little SO2…
In 1999, we made our first wine without adding sulphite. Today, many batches are processes this way. Overall, as the quality of the grapes has improved as the result of our work in the vinelyard, we have lowered the amount of sulphite in red and white wines. Obviously, this requires a rigorous sorting of the grapes (except in some outstanding years like 2005 or 2009): to reduce sulphite you must press only grapes that are 100% healthy and perfectly ripe, eliminating the small imperfections
This can appear as a small point but it is part of our comprehensive approach to respecting the natural aspects of wine.
No Tricks, even if they are legal
We use no yeasts, no enzymes, no tannins. For us, those legal tricks are only there to recover weaknesses in the grapes, which comes from imperfections in the vineyard. We prefer to improve the grapes rather than fix its weaknesses in the wine making process. All this mandates to work more in the vineyard, motivate the entire team all year long, and not only during the harvest: a challenge!
The same philosophy made us opt not to acidify even in a year like 2003. The pinot is very sensitive to soil and climatic conditions: it is one of its specificities compared to other red varietals. So why would we want to erase this specific trait? Quite the opposite: years go all with their personality, their presence, it is what makes Burgundy so special. Moreover, once more, it is better to work with the natural acidity of the grapes, with a finer control of the root system and the yield. A grape that presents a well balanced acidity is most likely to exhibit other qualities (phenol richness, complexity, aromatic potential, etc.) Everything is linked, so if you add acid (tartaric), you correct one element but not the others and you lose balance, and obtain a disappointing result.
No Reverse Osmosis
This approach is nothing else than a filtration at very high pressure (about 80 bar) to remove a certain percentage of the natural water from the grape (4 à 10 %). This can reduce the dilution linked to rainfall during harvest. After trying it in 1999 on different cuvees, we refuse to use it for technical reasons.
- To this day, nobody knows the effect of a 80 bar pressure on a simple water molecule… but in any case, the musts so treated de behave differently, so we are playing with fire. Additionally, the extracted liquid is not pure water, just taste it.
- The energy consumption is sky high.
- The natural yeasts (the natural contribution of the terroir in our vision) are destroyed ; actually this technique is a great asset for the domains who are systematically adding yeasts.
- The techniques encourages laziness : why work hard to control yield if the juices can be re-concentrated as needed.
We prefer :
- To control the harvest to have the right concentration in the grapes and respect the natural equilibrium between the different compounds in the grape.
- Allow the grass to grow, under control, in the vineyard, to force the roots to dig deeper in the soil. It has been proven that in this case, a rain just before harvest does not make the grapes swell.
During "Elevage" (Maturation)
Wines are not racked after the malolactique fermentation (since 2003), except in very rare cases. Therefore, they are maturing on the lees. After multiple tries, we came to the conclusion that this preserves all the qualities of the tannins and the fruits, without losing clarity as long as a debourbage is performed before placing the wines in the barrels.
Sulphite is used parsimoniously during maturing to avoid blocking the biological evolution of the wine. What is the purpose of this operation if you separate the wine from the lees that can feed it, and then stabilize micro-biologically with a massive SO2 addition? As we could not answer this in a satisfactory way, we decided to work differently, and this appears to work well for our wines.
Our wines have not been fined for more than 15 years. Henri Naudin had decided to stop fining as it was taking too much out of the wine and often making them harder to the palate.
Our wines receive a light filtration (kieselguhr), or no filtration at all if we deem them sufficiently clear and stable. Once more, why take something out of the wine too early? A deposit in the bottle is a testimony to the live that makes the wine. Not only this is not disturbing us, but quite the opposite: it reassures us as we are confident in the material and our maturation to make the wine stable. It will live long and well in its bottle with this living deposit.
The racking and the assembling of the wines are almost exclusively performed without pumping : either we use compressed air, or simply gravitation. It is much longer but much more respectful of the wine. The wine is not stirred, does not lose too much gas, and aromas: we do not like that the cellar smells the good wine, as we prefer to trap all the aromas in the bottle for the pleasure of our customers.
For 15 years, we have been thinking about the best use of sulphite in conjunction with carbon dioxide in the wines. Overall, we have evolved towards low sulphite addition and a relatively large quantity of CO2 left in the wine. Technical analysis is used as a guide, but only the wine tasting is a guarantee of the proper balance, the harmony of the wine. After a few years of observation, it appears that our wines resist better oxidation and ageing, without the after effects of SO2 to which some of our clients are allergic.
With some other winemakers, we acquired a vacuum bottling equipment. Associated with good corking techniques, this avoids overpressure in the bottles. The corks are selected for their physical (density and elasticity) and chemical (no chlorine cleaning) qualities. Our corks, Spanish, are expensive, but why try to save some pennies at this stage to risk losing the benefits of the hard work we put in all the previous steps?
For the communal appellations, the crus, and the Hautes-Cotes intended for ageing, we selected a bottle with a special collar, normalized in 50mm rather than 45mm : so we can use a longer cork to improve ageing. Yes, the bottle is a bit more expensive but we want to give our wines all the chances of ageing in ideal conditions.
And the Future ?
The years pass and the questions remain, more numerous than the answers. If it is impossible for me to tell you how we will work next year: sometimes it is stressful, often it is motivating, always a passion.
When I think about it, I work the vines planted by my parent’s grand parents (Aligoté vieilles vignes), the wines we plant today will become interesting in one or two … generations ; so I sit quietly and take a fine glass of wine. I do not understand it all, but is it an issue ?
November 15, 2008