“In the beginning is the earth”: in vine-growing we often talk of the “Terroir”, the Land, the soil but also the place, a term which embraces everything which has an impact on the character of the wine. It would be impossible to cultivate vineyards for six generations without having the deepest respect for the soils and their environment. Our approach is reinforced by our Terra Vitis certification, which means that every action we take is considered, and done to ensure the future of our “Terroirs”.
Vines, like any living thing, need a complex and diverse environment to provide natural regulation of pests and diseases. That’s why we maintain the hedges which border the vineyards, we cultivate mixtures of grasses and flowers between the rows to create a refuge for a multitude of insects and, above all, we use no insecticide.
On another level, the soil plays an essential role in feeding the vines and regulating the water they receive. So we have to add compost regularly and aerate the soils by harrowing the surface, which does have its difficulties in our Côte de Brouilly vineyards, where the slope is 48%.
The summer pruning of the leaf cover is done by hand to optimise exposure to the sun and promote good aeration of the grapes. When some tasks require the use of machinery, we have opted for microtractors, which have the twin advantage of using less fuel and not compacting the soil.
Harvesting is normally carried out in mid-September, by a team of forty pickers who are housed and fed for around ten days at Château Thivin. For these young people, who come from all corners of France to help us, it’s a time to enjoy themselves in a lively atmosphere, but for the grower it’s a time of intense importance: the result of a year of toil and a crucial moment for the production of the wine, which will be a reflection of the region, the terroir and the vintage.
The harvest is gathered entirely by hand, to ensure that the grapes are in the best possible condition. They are taken in small baskets to the winery, where they will be made into wine either traditionally in whole bunches, or partially de-stemmed. The winery, which was modernised in 1977, and again in 1998 and 2009, is on a hillside, which enables us to make maximum use of gravity between successive levels, and thus to avoid using any pumps or conveyors.
Once all these steps have been taken to ensure that a high-quality yield reaches the winery, there’s little more for us to do than to leave the alchemy of fermentation and maceration to transform the grape juice into wine. Technology is inimical to producing a wine with true local character. Our only input is to control the temperature and carry out the traditional “pigeage” (punching down the “chapeau” or cap which forms on top of the fermenting juice) or “remontage” (circulating the juice over the cap) so that the tannins and colour are extracted.
Finally we use low-pressure pneumatic pressing to obtain the very best musts, which will complete their fermentation in “foudres” (2–4,000 litre oak barrels, in some cases a hundred years old). The wine will mature in these foudres for six to eight months, during which it settles and becomes more complex.
Our Cuvée Zaccharie is matured for longer, ten to twelve months, in 228-litre casks which are only used up to seven times. Wood is an indispensible material for producing fine wines. Its porous properties allow micro-penetration of oxygen from the air, which is necessary for the wine to age properly. Wine can be compared to a living thing in its composition and in its need for oxygen to develop, but as with any living thing it is the very same oxygen which causes it to age and which, over time, will destroy it.
We vinify grapes from each of our 7 plots separately, for each has its own qualities. This enables us to make single-vineyard wines such as “La Chapelle” and “Le Clos Bertrand”, or to combine our seven plots to produce a wine which represents the «Côte de Brouilly»appellation, “Les 7 Vignes”.