The Bordeaux region is not the first French wine region you think of when you look for biodynamic farming. That said, the wineries of the region have been more and more practicing sustanainable agriculture, if not full-blown organic farming, especially the high-end wineries where it is well understood that a healthy vineyard is the base for a good wine. This 2001 Wine Business article paints an interesting picture of the region in this regard, even if since then more wineries have adapted their vineyard management.
But on the whole, the Bordeaux region is not a hotbed of organic farming. There are still, though, a few isolated vignerons in the Bordeaux area who are pioneering the biodynamic way in spite of adverse weather conditions like rain and humidity. Michel Favard is one of them and he makes wine out of a small vineyard surface in St-Emilion (less than 2 hectares). We met him in his beautiful house in Jugazan, on the entre-deux-mers side of the Dordogne, 15 kilometers from Chateau Meylet and its vineyards. He lives in this house where he also rents a few "chambres d'hôte" (bed & breakfast) to visitors. Note this address (les Sources, Jugazan) if you visit come to Bordeaux vor VINEXPO, it is not that far from Bordeaux and the accomodations are so scarce at this time of the year in the region that most "chambres d'hôte" are booked.
I had tasted some of his wines in Paris last year if I remember, and I was particularly impressed by his Chateau Meylet, Serpes 1998, a beautiful wine in the mouth and an unfiltered-unfined, no-aditives and no SO2 wine which went through a 15 to 20 months elevage on its lees.
The Saint-Emilion Appellation is spread over 9 villages. Michel Favard says that the Appellations on the labels have lost their initial meaning because the soils have been damaged over the years by intensive chemical sprayings and treatments (weed killers, fertilizers...). The nature of these soils have radically changed compared when the Appellation zones were set. This change to chemical viticulture took place after WW2. He says that there are very few vignerons who changed their viticulture management to adopt the organic way, compared to the Loire where the trend is pushed by a new generation of vignerons. He says that he is a member of the organic/natural-wine group AVN. This group shares the same philosophy and to be a member you need to be parrainned by a vigneron-member who knows how you work, not only in the vineyard but in the cellar. People who are part of the group farm organic and don't use machines at the harvest. He says that as organic-farming has become a marketing argument, there is sometimes a dysfunctionment between an actual organic vineyard-management and vinification practices that still include the usual chemistry and manipulations in some newly-converted estates.
His vineyard which is 60-year old on average is planted with 70 % Merlot and the rest in Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a little bit of Malbec. The grape varieties are complanted, meaning the Merlot and Cabernet are planted on the same vineyard, which explains the better maturity of the late varieties, while the early varieties are carried along. Some how, the complantation makes the late varieties less late, and the early varieties a bit lazier. As he replants regularly to replace the old vines, he adds more Cabernet for the taste and the fruit.
The blens are made in stainless vats (the one equipped with Aligal dispenser). The wine then gets 18 to 20 months to mature in casks, 20% to 40% in new casks depending of the millesime. He just uses a sulphur wick at the last racking. The wine stays all this time on its lees, and at the end of the long cask stage the wine has virtually "eaten" most of the lees. The last racking is made from cask to cask, before making the blend. At the end he gets 3 or 4 mgr of free sulphur. The total sulphur must be 4 or 5, maybe less. Once bottled, he keeps some millesimes a few years in the cellar. Right now he sells the 1997 and the 1998.
He necer filtered his wines but used to fine them with the traditionnal egg whites. Then in 1992 as the year was not favorable and the wine was feable, he thought it would be even worse if he fined it so ha abstained for the first time and the result was so nice that he never fined again since then. He remembers that once, Marcel Lapierre had made a test for several vintners and he had organized a blind tasting of several versions of the same wine, like filtered-and-fined-sulphured, unfiltered-but-fined-and-sulphured and unfiltered-unfined_unsulphured and a few more combinations, and the unfined-unfiltered-unsulphured was so obviously better than any other version that everyone was convinced. Back to this pivotal 1992 wine : when this initially-feable wine was commercialized and sold, Michel Favard had an unexpected feedback about it, as a journalist had it with his dinner at the table of Chef Christian Constant, and was so enthousiast that he wrote a piece about it in a food/wine section. The irony is that at the time this wine didn't get the Grand Cru Appellation, the agreement commission finding it too this and too that, and the wine was probably too different from the other standard wines that passed on the commission table. The tasters in these commissions are usually composed of a peer-vigneron, an enologist, a wine broker (courtier en vin) and a négociant, but often one of them is missing and there are only 3 people. So, the 1992 got only the St Emilion Appellation but not the Grand Cru that he usually had, but it still sold at the same price, his clients knowing what they buy. He got also harassed by this same agreement commission in 2000 and 2001 but this time he decided to resist and presented his wine again (you have to pay each time). This time as retaliation, his wine was downgraded as Table Wine, so he sued the INAO and had to go in front of the Bordeaux tribunals several times. The matter went up to the "Conseil D'Etat", a very high judiciary committee, and he won each time even when the other side appealed the ruling. That is a costly fight to resist the Agreement decisions... Whatever, in 2003 and 2004 he was also downgraded (smells like vicious retaliations) and this time he didn't fight back so the wines were labbeled in Vin de Table (table wine). How the wine clergy makes everything possible to keep wines formated...
__ Chateau Meylet St Emilion Grand Cru 1997. Evoluted color. Leather aromas. Jammy red fruits. Nice length, B. says, meat-juice retro-aromas. Time to drink I think. 23 Euro.
__Chateau Meylet St Emilion Grand Cru "les Serpes" 1998. The color is more intense here. Needs prior aeration. A bit of reduction in the beginning on the nose. Very nice mouth. That is the one that took my attention when I first tasted his wines in Paris.
__Chateau Meylet St Emilion Grand Cru 1996. Nose : underwood, mushrooms, eloluted aromas, truffle. Mouth : well-integrated tannins. Animal notes in the retro-olfaction.
__Chateau Meylet St Emilion Grand Cru 1995. Very sunny year, except in september. We swirl our glass for a long time, this wine is awaking after a long time. After a few minutes, it opens and we really feel the aromas coming out of the glass. Nice feel in the mouth and complexity on the nose. "mMagnifique", B. says. intense. That will be also the best one of the flight for me.
Chateau Meylet produces 5000 to 6000 bottles a year. The estate has been temporarily rented to Stéphane derenoncourt since 2005, and Mr Derenoncourt makes his "Trois Origines" wine here. Michel Favard's son is expected to take the reins of the winery later this year.
There are also a few "chambres d'hôte" "(rooms) to rent at Chateau Meylet, and the location allows the visitor to walk along some of the best estates of the region.
Chateau Meylet wines can be puchased at Caves Augé, 116 Bd Haussmann in Paris.