“Vines are like human beings: young, they need to be tend to more, need to be trained, they are impatient, exuberant! The older they, the more mature, independent, in control.”
Virginie Maignien from Causse Marines in Gaillac, France, is pouring me another taste of her famous sparkling Preambulle: A breathtaking view of NYC is sprawled at our feet as we are standing in the Penthouse of the Wythe hotel during the latest wine tasting for the Dressner portfolio last March.
“Sometime, you don’t control the vine, and that’s ok. One can not control everything in nature. The idea is to grow, explore and learn”.
The combination of the delicate bubbles from the Preambulles and Virginie’s honest & humble words makes me pause for a second. In 2 sentences, she reminded me gently that nature does not need to be bended to accommodate all our desires and was able to outline the basic principle of making biodynamic wines.
When she is in not traveling the word to promote her wine, Virginie & her husband Patrice tend to a 12 acre estate in Gaillac, a very small appellation in the south west of France.
Their approach is somehow very easy: “To make wine, all your need are grapes!”
The reality of it is a bit more complex of course and translates into a very careful practice. The couple tends to their vines following the rules of biodynamie set up by Rudolph Steiner in early 19th century: no machine or chemicals in the vineyards, least interventions in the winemaking and tenting to the land in a sustainable way.
For Patrice & Virginie, the idea is to grow the vines and have them develop the strengths and defenses that they needs to adapt and strive in its environment without a human intervention. The approach is global, sustainable. And if intervention there is, then it is natural, following cycles of the moon, and very carefully & laboriously executed. For example, the couple uses tisanes to fortify the vines, horse manures spread during a certain moon cycle and other very ancestral practices.
“The grapes grow then sainer and healthier, making more reliable wines: a bit like a human being who would exercise and eat healthy would have better chance to have a strong immune system.”
The work that it entails though can be really incredibly demanding compared with modern, industrialized method. On a recent conversation over the phone with Patrice, he explained that the past few weeks were really wet and that it rained none stop for a while but that they were expecting a very hot week to follow and as a result, grass would grow up to 15 inches. As herbicides are not an option and that the vineyard will need to be plotted, there is only one solution: 4 persons, 12 hours a day for 1 week to carefully go through all the vineyard with weed wackers…
But in the end, how all this translates for us, wine drinkers, is quiet remarkable as well: The wines produced at Causse Marines really reflect the terroir and the true quality of the grapes. The energy, honesty & passion put in the vineyard translate into wines with the same qualities ( Les Greilles is the wine in Virginie’s eye that reflects the most her estate: simple and soft, calcaire and mineral like the soil it grows on).
The sun is setting onto Manhattan skyline and Virginie is putting away her bottles before heading to Montreal the following day for another wine tasting.
“One of my deep regret in doing what I am doing though is that French people are so not open to our methods of biodynamie and to our obscure appellations (Gaillac doesn’t resonnate the way Cotes du Rhone does…). As a result, we export the vast majority of our wines, especially the US & Canada where people are so much more open-minded!”.
Well, the French can not have it all, their loss there and once more I was grateful to be able to have such adventurous costumers right here in Brooklyn!