Since the early 80’s, as a wine journalist and wine merchant in Paris – I followed with great interest the handful of emerging bio-dynamic producers in the Loire Valley… and the increasing richness and depth of expression they managed to obtain in their wines. When I acquired the Clos des Capucins, I immediately slipped the vineyard into the biodynamic mode. Within the walled property around the manor house, the vineyard is divided into 4 different plots covering just under 1.5 hectares. The vineyards are separated by gardens, bushes, trees, which enables small eco-systems to thrive. The vineyard dominates the River Vienne, and has a specific micro-climate. The river gives off a brightness which is good for the photosynthesis. There is always a light breeze which ensures that the leaves dry quickly after rainfall, and the grapes tend to ripen early.
The grape variety
There is just one grape variety: the wonderfully elegant -Cabernet Franc – the classic red grape in the Loire Valley. The vines vary in age from 30 to around 80 years old, with replacement vines now planted when necessary. (The older the vines, the smaller the yield but the more concentrated the quality of the wine.)
The soil is a mixture of clay and sand on limestone.
My first concern at the Clos des Capucins was to bring the soil back to life. I limit to an absolute minimum the use of a tractor. Principally because the weight of the tractor flattens and hardens the soil and for example makes the earthworms migrate elsewhere. Earthworms are the ones who do all the work in the soil, so my aim is to make them feel as welcome as possible. Isis the plough horse Some of my favourite moments during the year in the vineyard are when Isis, a massive plough horse, comes to till the land. She works with huge strength and great gentleness at the same time, and her mere presence seems to blow life back into the soil. At the beginning of last winter, there was a strange scene when a baby wild boar suddenly appeared and followed Isis in her tracks. The freshly tilled soil revealed a wealth of insects and the wild pig had a delicious day feasting on them.
I moved into the ‘hands on’ biodynamic world with the aid of my ‘druid’ Guy, a follower of the philosopher Rudolf Steiner. He would turn up before sunrise – when the moon was in the right position – to teach me how to concoct my biodynamic preparations, often to be sprayed on the vines just as the sun rises. Exceptional moments of beauty and a feeling of “oness” with nature. The biodynamic preparations include: – infusions of ‘prêle’ – that I pick along the river banks and dry before use. – A couple of tablespoons of powdered silex a year diluted in water and sprayed on the vineyard. – A couple of handfuls of a mixture of cow dung and plants, that once again is diluted in water and that I spray on my vines about twice a year. Apart from that I use copper sulphate – which is tolerated by the biodynamic movement. However the organic movement is desperately trying to find other alternatives.
Wine making at Clos des Capucins
The domaine was acquired in 2010, but I took over the vineyard just after the 2010 harvest. So my first vintage was the 2011.
The wine making
The grapes are hand picked by family and friends. The grape picking is done in a morning. The bunches are sorted. Only perfectly ripe grapes are kept. The bunches are then de-stemmed and put in a vat to ferment and macerate. I may ‘pige’ them, or tread them – depending on the vintage. The length of time the wine macerates with the grape skins, again depends on the vintage, but varies from 10 days to a month. The wine is then siphoned off by gravity and put into oak casks in the carved limestone cellar. There it is aged – the time it takes which can vary anywhere from 6 months to two to three years.
Trying to buy quality second hand or rather “second wine” casks proved to be a real headache. I wanted top quality French oak but definitely didn’t want the oak flavour to mask the expression of the Cabernet Franc grape. I finally broke my through the oak cask jungle! I now simply buy my second hand casks from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. They are no doubt the best oak casks in France.