The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
Wine Matters interviews Rhône producer Christine Saurel from Montirius, about deciding to become biodynamic and what it means to them
WM: What attracted you to follow biodynamic production methods?
CS: When our oldest daughter Justine fell ill we started using homeopathic medicine and found it to be an effective treatment. This discovery brought important changes to the way we treated illnesses, our eating habits and our general way of thinking. We starting questioning the methods we used to grow grapes and work the land and began looking at how to make the transition from conventional viticulture to biodynamic production.
We felt it made sense for us to start following biodynamic farming methods as it mirrored, in principle, the way we successfully treated our daughter’s illness, by administering homeopathic doses of natural products to the vine according to the phases of the moon and sun.
WM: How did you make the transition from conventional viticulture to being awarded organic and biodynamic certification?
CS: Achieving biodynamic accreditation was not an easy process, we had to follow stringent stipulations over several years before we could label our wines biodynamic and organic.
The first steps we made were to stop using chemical fertilisers on our vineyard. We replaced these pesticides by using natural yeast and bacteria to control disease and insects. In November 1996 we made the decision to officially convert our estate to a biodynamic way of farming following a meeting with François Bouchet who had been practicing biodynamics for 50 years on his own estate in the Loire Valley. He convinced us that biodynamic production was the best way to improve the health of the vineyards and farm in harmony with the land, ultimately producing the best wine possible.
To get official certification, Ecocert (an organic certification organization mandated by the government), had to come to the farm each year for four years to check we were following organic standards. During the first year we were not allowed announce we were following organic production methods, in the second and the third year we let buyers know that we were making the conversion to become organically certified and by the fourth year, we officially received organic certification from Ecocert.
At the same time as following organic standards, we started following the Biodyvin’s biodynamic rules. Biodyvin is an organisation similar to Demeter but provide biodynamic certification standards solely for French wine growers. On their visits Ecocert also checked we were following the Biodyvin rules and reported back to Biodyvin.
After four years of following Biodyvin’s biodynamic standards we were awarded biodynamic certification. The criteria is so rigorous that even if Biodyvin is satisfied that you are following biodynamic farming methods, your wine has to tasted by the Biodyvin committee before you can they can label it biodynamic.
WM: Do you think that being biodynamic and organic improves the taste of your wine?
CS: We have found that biodynamic production methods, given the stringent attention to detail required, results in better quality. The end result is that the wines have a stronger, clearer taste and are more vibrant and balanced.
WM: Have you noticed demand for biodynamic wine has increased in the last 10 years? Yes. With increasing concern about how the food and drink we consume affects our health we have noticed that many of our customers, particularly those who have had health problems in the past, choosing biodynamic wine. In addition, buyers, whose number one priority is offering customers the very best wine, are realising that there are many top quality biodynamic wines available.
WM: What else have you done to make your wine production more ethical?CS: We have an innovative water treatment station that cleans water without using machines. The unique system uses plants such as phragmites (reeds) water irises, lilies, nettles and algae to treat the water.