1st quarter : Terroir and raw material

Claire Quiñones from the ONF (the French National Forest Office) explains to us the management of oak forests in France. An oak, renowned for its fine grain, which will require the savoir-faire of Frédéric Canadellstave maker and owner since 1950, to design staves of exceptional quality for the Cadus cooperage. This quality research is also essential for François Grangé, vineyard manager at Domaine Chandon de Briailles, to express the terroirs of the Corton hill in Burgundy. Axel Marchal shares with us his analyses of the influence of the terroir on the taste of wine, associated with the impact of the human hand

François Grangé

François Grangé

Vineyard manager since 2012 at Domaine Chandon de Briailles in Savigny-lès-Beaune, owned by the Nicolay family since 1834. The 14 hectares of vines are spread over Aloxe-Corton, Savigny-lès-Beaune and Pernand-Vergelesses and are managed according to the principles of biodynamics.


In Burgundy, there are two grape varieties: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and a multitude of appellations. How do you manage to reflect the terroir of each plot in the bottle ?

The goal is to have healthy grapes that reflect each terroir. At the estate, we work with 11 appellations and more than 18 different plots. We try to have as few filters as possible between the terroir and the bottle. When we plant the grafts, we use long roots between 15 and 20 cm so that the graft can be well established in the soil. On 11 hectares, we work the soil almost exclusively by horse to avoid compacting the soil. In the period of vegetative growth, we try to use as few products and inputs as possible. We work in organic agriculture and we are well aware that copper in high doses is harmful to the soil. We use only 3 kg / ha / year of copper and we have managed to work completely without sulfur since 2012 in our treatments against powdery mildew. These measures allow us to have very interesting flora and fauna in our vineyards. A vigorous vine that enjoys the terroir will have beautiful foliage and nice wood. We will therefore have several options when disbudding, pruning, stripping or trimming which allows us to adapt to the weather depending on whether the conditions are rainy or dry. In the end, this allows us to obtain good maturities, which is what we want, and therefore a good balance at the time of the harvest.


What did you replace the sulfur in the vineyards with ?

We replaced sulfur in the vineyard with skim milk found on a farm less than 10 km from Beaune. It is not an invention on our part because it is a common practice in agriculture and gardening. We have tried this technique first and foremost for us, the teams who handle sulfur and work all year in the vineyards.


As a vineyard manager, what are the current challenges to maintain this quality of grapes ?

I would like to gain flexibility to adapt to climate-related problems. Working with horses makes it easier to enter a vineyard, but it is not yet ideal. You have to be prepared to have soils completely dried up by the sun, to have lower yields because the grass will compete or have slower maturities because of the grass. Having a vigorous vine is important if it is to fight the competition from the grass. These are precise ideas but the implementation is not simple. Biodynamics is good, but it's also a lot more work, so we must not lose sight of the fact that teams are made up of men and horses, and that we cannot afford the luxury of doing everything on 14 hectares as if this labor and this work cost nothing.


What is the opportunity in exploring all of these ideas in a region such as Burgundy ?

The main advantage of Burgundy is that we have more resources because Pinot Noir is popular and we can experiment with more ideas. Afterwards, we are fortunate to have very different terroirs in a small area. We were able to observe the impacts of our actions and the differences of a plot of Savigny les Beaune 1er Cru and Corton Clos du Roi Grand Cru. The results are almost immediate year after year.


Can you tell us more about the impact of plowing with horses ?

Since we’ve had our four horses, we can choose the way and the time, which is a real advantage when there are weather constraints. Being able to choose allows us to decide how much grass we leave. The notable change has mainly been seen with obtaining a more vigorous vine and softer soils. In the end, the most difficult thing to manage since we have been working horses is the speed of grass growth. You have to keep in mind that you shouldn't just put horses on the estate and then go with a treatment tractor. Don't just stop sulfur if you’re just going to use 15 different products instead. We must try hard and use common sense. It is by observing that we come to understand things. The vine is a perennial plant, we start the actions every year but we do not replant it every year so we can easily make observations.


Read the interviews of  Claire QuiñonesAxel Marchal and Frédéric Canadell

Interview by Marie-Pierre Dardouillet @Cépagescommunication for Cadus - 2020