We had the chance to meet Anne-Claude Leflaive and go see the vineyard with her. Anne-Claude Leflaive heads one of the most respected wineries in Burgundy. Her biodynamic approach that she implemented in the vineyard for quite a number of years now with the help of Philippe Bourguignon, coupled with the purity of her wines helped give biodynamic farming visibility and respect. She began working on biodynamie in 1990. At the time in the region, there were few people following this organic-farming method. In Beaune, there was Jean-Claude Rateau, Didier Montchauvet and Thierry Guyot in Saint Romain who were the pioneers, having begun to work this way in 1986. She says that she owes them a lot because they were examples. Otherwise on Puligny there was nobody and when she started, she was looked upon strangely by the vignerons around. Now, things have changed and people are more open to this farming discipline, some of the vignerons around even come to the biodynamie wine school that she and other same-minded vignerons have opened.
As soon as she arrived at the winery that day, she led us to the vineyards for a short interview there. There had been rain and cloudy skies earlier in the day, but the light was beautiful at the hour of our appointment, and the view on the Chevaliers-Montrachet, Montrachet and other vineyards was gorgeous.
If you click on the picture on the right, you will see a general view of the Montrachet/Chevaliers-Montrachet vineyards as we arrive on the spot, following Anne-Claude Leflaive : on the centre-right of the picture, you can see the stone door through which you walk into the walled Chevaliers-Montrachet vineyards.On the center-left, at mid-slope inside these Chevaliers-Montrachet, you can see two stone heaps called meurgers in Burgundy.And in the background behind the two hikers along the road (Burgundy by foot, that's a good idea...), you can see the white van used by the Domaine Leflaive staff who work in the vineyards below.
To reach the Domaine Leflaive's rows, we walk a bit toward the south, or lefthand after passing the stone door. The ground is a bit humid, there has been lots of rain the previous day. B. asks about blossoming time in the vineyard this year, Anne-Claude Leflaive says it was in mid-may. Counting 90 days or 100 days later for the harvest, they can anticipate the picking stage, somewhere between september 5th and 7th.
The Chevaliers-Montrachet vineyard (the Domaine Leflaive part of it) beyond this door is about 40 years old. When a vineroot dies, they take it out and replant another one. Sometimes they have to uproot all the vineyard and start from scratch, like elsewhere on a village vineyard that they bought some time ago : this one-hectare vineyard was formerly conventionally farmed and they preferred to start anew and plant new vines in its place. When they have to do that, they replant with massal selections made in their own vineyards and not with clones. This method asks for a long selection of vineroots along consecutive years.
in 2008, the weather has been difficult and they suffered like others but still made a relatively satisfying harvest. They had to make a severe sorting and lost 20% of the grapes compared with the previous years. She expects 2008 wines to yield nice results. 2009 until now seem a good year. Spring was not too hot, winter was a real winter, cold and long, which is important to let the vines rest and to kill some pests. She says also that a cold winter is good for the décavaillonage stage which consists in a first plowing at the foot and a second one later to push the earth back in place. For the plowing, she uses both a tractor and a horse, but recently the guy who guides the horse got stuck between the horse and the van and had a broken rib, so she prefers to keep along the two plowing methods. She used to have the biodynamic sprayings made by a helicopter but they discontinued this because the calendar is very important for these type of sprayings and the chosen date was not often compatible with the weather (the helicopter needs relatively good weather conditions to fly). Now the staff do the sprayings on foot with back containers, walking together, each in a different row. That's good for the spirit and the understanding of the staff for the biodynamie. Plus it's at a very nice season, after the harvest and before the leaves' fall, in october.
As we walk along a few rows which seem different, she says this is not Domaine Leflaive's. The vines there seem not to have been trimmed, with branches raising high over the rows. She says the growers make an experiment there and she adds that they're also interested at Domaine Leflaive to try this non-trimming mode. They have been experimenting it for a while elsewhere but they have to rethink their training system and handling of the vines. Leaving the apex grow for example might force them to raise significantly the height of the wires. But it's quite positive on the maturity level, the photosynthesis and the sap flux. The exchanges in the plant are better this way, so they might decide to extend the experiment.
On the didease front, the main worry in the region, in Burgundy is oidium and mildew.Mildew is relatively easy to fight. For example, in 1993 which was a year thick with mildew, they could get through the rough waters with reasonnably-low copper sprayings, although they had just begun working biodynamiclly in 1991. For oidium, 2004 was a difficult year in Burgundy with a strong disease pressure in the vineyards of the region. But actually Domaine Leflaive vineyards were relatively spared by the brunt of the didease and she credits biodynamy for having made their vines strong enough to get through nearly unscathed compared to some other vineyards. The harvest was even excellent with nearly perfect grapes while elsewhere the situation was disastrous with many unusable black clusters. It's by the way the first year where neighboors realized that this biodynamie thing at Domaine Leflaive was maybe serious.