Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Biodynamic in Bordeaux - A Visit to Château Pré La Lande

Located on the hillside overlooking the Valée de Dordogne in the Sainte-Foy sub-region of the Côtes de Bordeaux lies Château Pré La Lande. On a recent trip to Bordeaux, I had the opportunity to meet winemaker and owner, Michel Beaucé and his family.

Beaucé led our group into the vineyard and gave us a brief overview of the small region which, of the five Côtes, is the farthest from the city of Bordeaux. There are twenty-three winegrowers and two cooperatives working 1,640 acres of land on primarily limestone and clay soils. Most are located along the northern part of the river where it is very hilly with wooded areas between the vineyards. The region produces mostly dry red wines but also some dry white and sweet wines.

Beaucé was born in the Champagne region of France. He began his journey into wine as a merchant selling French wines across the globe. After getting married and starting his family, he decided to make a change to a simpler, more authentic life and purchased Château Pré La Lande, an estate which has produced wine since 1860. He quickly learned that although he knew a great deal about Bordeaux wine, he had a lot to learn about grape growing. After meeting with a consultant to discuss best practices for his property, he became appalled at the idea of using commercial chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the grounds on which his children played. After two years of trying to determine which was the least harmful, he made the decision to go organic and was certified in 2007. 

All was going well until 2013. There were many difficulties in Bordeaux that year, quality, quantity, and the market were all down. Beaucé sold his entire vintage in tank to a negociant rather than bottle under his own brand as he felt that it did not measure up to his standards. 
Rather than giving up on organic farming, he decided to take it a step further and seek biodynamic certification through Demeter. He had been tasting more biodynamic wines and was impressed with the purity of flavor. "The taste is straight," he said. 

He found that going biodynamic was very different than when he sought the organic certification. Demeter required two weeks of training at certified vineyards and provided him with a mentor to help with the process. There were many new rules, no industrial yeast or added products. "We are making wine with grapes. I know every winemaker will say, me, too. The difference is we are making wine using only grapes and a few sulfites when doing long term aging in barrels. It's quite difficult to be biodynamic, that's why many winemakers choose organic, because they can still use quite a lot of organic products for problems. When you are making the wine biodynamically, nothing can be used. When you drink biodynamic, you can be sure that you are only drinking something that comes from the grapes." He was also quick to point out that modern winemaking techniques like temperature controlled tanks make controlling the wild yeasts easier.

Château Pré La Lande is not quite 35 acres in size which makes it more manageable to be biodynamic. He feels fortunate to have like minded neighbors, one is organic and the other is biodynamic. He noted, "Part of being biodynamic is having to accept that sometimes we have bad conditions. It's difficult because the work and cost are the same." In a typical year, he produces 70,000 bottles, in 2018 he was only able to produce 14,000 because of mildew issues caused by atypical weather.

Beaucé produces three different cuvées, One has no added sulfites, one is aged in terra cotta tanks, and one is aged primarily in French Oak barrels. He has worked with two different sized terra cotta tanks, both made in Tuscany. His preference is the 450 liter as there is less wine loss. He likes the way it rounds out the tannins without imparting any flavors. His oak barrels are 300 liters as opposed to the traditional 225 liter classic Bordeaux size. He uses mostly French oak but does have four high quality American oak barrels that he has experimented with as well. He blends the wine first and then barrel ages for 12-16 months depending on the vintage. All of the wines spend six months in bottle before they are sold. The wines are vegan as well. If fining is necessary, he uses pea protein.

When asked if he would do it again knowing everything that he knows now, he was quick to respond, "We love being close to the land and to be able to make our own product. We have chosen the real life."

The Tasting
All of the following wines are a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc.

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Terra Cotta 2015 - Fresh, light, soft, and floral with juicy mixed berry fruit flavors and a touch of mocha in the finish.

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Terra Cotta 2016 - Similar but more aromatic than the previous, also fresh, light, and soft though with more acidity and bright red fruit flavors. 

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Diane 2015 - Aromatic, fresh and floral, nicely balanced with black cherry fruit flavors, a hint of coffee, and a smooth, lingering, licorice laced finish.

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Diane 2016 - Very elegant and fresh with lively raspberry and plum flavors, and a bit of mocha. Very round, well-structured and refined with a hint of spiciness in the persistent finish.

Cuvée des Fontenelles 2017 - This very limited production botrytized sweet white wine has no sulfites added. It was nicely balanced with good acidity and was very effusive with tropical fruit aromas and candied fruit flavors.

All of the wines are highly recommended.

The Bonzai tree on the label is a nod to Beaucé longtime hobby of caring for his collection of trees which he has done since his first purchase of one in 1994.


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