Paul Barre is heading an iconic estate on the isolated front of the organic/biodynamic viticulture in Bordeaux. Chateau La Grave is located in Fronsac near a curve of the Dordogne river east of Libourne. We met him on a work day for a visit during a typical Bordeaux-region day with bright sunny moments and bouts of rain in the same day.
He begins to say jokingly that he could begin his life as a vigneron because his teachers in school where well-inspired to let him go. What was felt as a depreciating exclusion at the time turned out to be a great chance. He followed suit to a retiring vigneron. He was 19 and could have taken the road and travelled the world, but this opportunity to follow the vigneron life came at the right time. His father and grand-father were both in the wine world in Bodeaux, they were wine brokers (courtiers en vin), as well as other family members. He himself tried this profession but didn't feel it was his path. His brother became one of the well-known brokers in Bordeaux (Barre et Touton). He learned the job from scratch then, in 1975. La Grave had a vineyard surface of 4,2 hectares then. He also had a few other vineyards, rented some more for a peak of 15 hectares and came back to the present surface of 7 hectares today. This size fits him well. He began rapidly to follow organic farming with the Lemaire-Boucher structure, but he was not satisfied with the spirit of this system. there was no freedom in this organic-products label, you had to buy all their products and so on. After hearing about biodynamy in 1977-1978 and 1985, the understanding of this method slowly made its way and he decided to apply it in his vineyard in 1990.
He still makes sulphur/copper sprayings from time to time to fight mildew but he is confident about finding alternatives for these type of sprayings. He says that farmers including organic farmers can use a maximum of 37 kilograms of copper per hectare in 5 years (a bit more than 7 kg/year). Last year, his own consumption was 9 kg/hectare over 5 years. he personally uses between 100 grams to 250 grams for one hectare. He regrets that no official study is made to determine which minimum copper dosage is possible. The independance of the public entity INRA being jeopardized by its connections with the phyto-chemical companies, it has not started any research in the subject although it might be a crucial research field to improve viticulture and agriculture and carry a positive outcome on the ecological front. The picture above was shot in a 0,8-hectare plot of Cabernet Franc planted a little more than a year ago, and which already had yields of about 35hectoliter/hectare (the previous vines were Cabernet Sauvignon).
When the grapes arrive at harvest, he fills the vats, cover them with CO2, sets the right temperature and in the matter of 24 hours the fermentation starts with the indigenous yeasts. present on the grapes' skin. He brings some air in when he he feels it appropriate, he respects also the calendar when he opens a vat or when he racks, because these operations are not neutral. The fermentation takes place, the macerations too (3 to 4 weeks), some pumping over, once a day when needed, without predetermined plan, lots of the decisions are made by intuition. After the first fermentation, the running off, then the malolactic fermentation follows suit quite fast at 22°C, even if he would somehow like to have it take place in the casks in spring. Then he puts the wine in casks in the cellar while last year's wines leave their casks for the vats in a sort of millesime exchange.
The wines :
__1 Aux Caudelayres Fronsac 2005, the 2nd wine of Chateau La Grave. Bottled opened may 20th - we're the 26th of may. Nice nose of jammy fruits, clafoutis maybe. There's also some thing like chocolate, maybe coffee aromas here. 7,4 Euro. Great value. He shows us his future labels, where the Appellation is put on the side vertically with the legal notifications (pregnant-women warnings and so on).
__2 Chateau La Grave Fronsac 2005. Aromas of cooked cherries and cherry cake. B. notes the aromatic filiation with the other wine, just this one has more complexity. Beautiful. 12,1 Euro.
__3 Chateau La Fleur Cailleau Canon Fronsac 2005. Nice tannins. Black fruits, black cherry in alcohol. Nice wine. 17,5 Euro. His oldest wine in biodynamy was the 1990, which was in addition a great year and he remembers that he made the mistake to sell some of it in bulk...7 minutes later or so, this Canon Fronsac is so beautiful...All his wines have been unfiltered and unfined for the last 10 years (except 2004). He doesn't even top up the casks, there's some void under the bung. Paul Barre told us an interesting side story : he was the first vigneron to hire Stéphane Derenoncourt when he landed in the region in 1987. He was coming from the north as some sort of dropout and looking for small jobs in the vineyard. He was new to the vineyard world but learned fast. He was to become later one of the most well-known enologist in the world.