“Biodynamic rules seem simple for us. Working without chemical products, without mineral fertilization, without products in the wine and with life, with our animals, with the wild plants of our land, with cosmological influences …” – Stephanie Chevreux
Among the multitude of producers who have been looking beyond Champagne’s initial grower-producer movement—a movement of growers that began to break free of the big houses and to produce their own wines, typically focused on single plots—are two young and enthusiastic winemakers, Stéphanie Chevreux and Julien Bournazel, of Champagne La Parcelle. Since their debut vintage in 2012, they have been laser-focused on a more homeopathic approach, not only in the vineyards, but in the cellar too.
Upon the acquisition of their first vineyard, a 0.4 ha parcel on the Côteau du Barzy, Stéphanie and Julien immediately began the conversion to biodynamic practices, and to the naked eye it’s evident their land is happy and thriving. The cover crop is verdant with an array of wild thyme, carrots, tomatoes, fruit trees and all things life. The grapes are manually harvested during the cool, early morning hours, when it’s eleven to twelve degrees Celsius, before the short trip to their tiny cellar where they undergo a gentle press, followed by spontaneous fermentation in tonneaux. Following the lunar calendar, battonage is performed regularly throughout the winter months to give the wines more “gras,” a welcome layer to balance the naturally high acidity. The wines are never racked, filtered or fined, and SO2 levels are kept extraordinarily low (between 12-37 mg/L) and added just before bottling.
La Parcelle - 2017 La Connigis
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“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” – Albert Einstein
On the Details
The details included on our website are meant to serve as general notes and don’t precisely represent all the infinite details that go into the crafting of a wine and how it will ultimately develop over time. The majority of the people we represent in our wine portfolio grow their own grapes and make their own wines, but they don’t open a recipe book and follow it no matter what the season presents. Deeply committed winegrowers evolve and embrace constant change because no season is the same as another; they use intuition and intimate knowledge of their vineyards, past vintages and the growing season to make thoughtful and often spontaneous adjustments that suit each year.
Many times I’ve heard winegrowers and winemakers give different explanations or specific details about the same wine on separate occasions; even for them it’s difficult to keep track of all the tiny details from one wine to the next, and year to year. So, which “fact” should we present and how do we pinpoint such a thing when it’s a constantly moving target?
The reality is that we are simply unable to cover such technical details with true accuracy. There is too much variation from one parcel to the next, from genetic advantage and health between vines in the same row, vintage-to-vintage, how the winegrower managed certain moments during the growing season (like pruning, canopy management, cluster selection, etc.), treatments and the dates they were implemented along with how much of each type they sprayed at what precise moment and why, or how much they added of something to the wine (such as sulfites), and all the other off-the-cuff decisions made during the wine’s creation.
On Tasting Notes
How does a wine taste one day after it was bottled, or two months, a year, ten years, or glass by glass and taste by taste? A taste of wine is merely a snapshot in time from that specific bottle which has been influenced differently in one way or the other either by temperature changes, travel, the cork, the glassware it’s served in, how long it’s been open and how we serve it. Was the glass topped up while descriptions were being written, thereby changing the expression of the previous two ounces and rendering those descriptions suddenly less relevant in the mind of the taster? The same might be asked as to whether it was decanted before analysis; both change a wine’s expression and not in a small way for those with a highly tuned palate. What if the taster was tasting on an empty stomach? Or during a meal? Or after eating? All of these contexts elicit various reactions to wine, including a different set of chemical reactions in our mouths.
What if the taster was in a particular mood when they analyzed a wine that everyone seemed to love and they can’t figure out why they don’t feel the same? What was the weather like the day it was tasted, drank, assessed or judged? For those who follow the Biodynamic calendar, was it a root, leaf, flower or fruit day, and did it change when the clock struck 3:00pm from a fruit day to leaf day and did this really impact the wine or did they just think it did because Maria Thun’s Biodynamic calendar suggested it would? Did they find that the wine tasted unexpectedly fruity which was strange because it was a leaf day? Did they taste only the first, middle or last parts of a bottle? Everyone who knows anything about a good wine knows that its least profound moment (although still good) is when the cork is first pulled, and the most inspiring during the last sips. Wine is alive and full of change and so are we; so was it the wine that changed, or the taster?
It’s impossible to present every detail accurately, to tell the full psychoanalytical story of a single vintage, lot, bottle, glass or taste. And once we have all the details, what will we do with them? Yet I understand the desire to get all the answers as the means and method in which to connect the dots of contemplation, study and enjoyment created by our life experiences through wine. The meaning of life can be glimpsed through its nuances, as it can through many other things.
The best I can do is share what I’ve observed along with what the winegrowers or other tasters have also noted. The wines we represent show a range of moments from their gestation in the cellar to the time they were a few months old, all the way up until the day they developed into adolescents with all their potential laid bare. I will attempt to bring to light a wine’s consistencies through many bottles in different settings and moments, starting from the first tastes out of barrel in raw and unfinished form. It’s not possible to satisfy every curiosity, but I hope that I can furnish compelling observations to think on and which might serve to lead us further down the rabbit hole we all keep going down together.-Ted Vance
Terroir: Connigis is Stéphanie and Julien’s second and, so far, latest acquisition. Luckily, it has never been touched by chemical treatments and has been thriving since they bought it in 2016. The subsoil consists of hard limestone, chalk and marne, and has deeper clay topsoil throughout compared to its counterpart, La Capella. It is protected by natural borders and therefore benefits from more temperate conditions, resulting in a wine that shows more opulence and roundness upfront. After about thirty minutes open, the palate begins to show a fine sea-spray salinity that balances out ripe orchard fruit aromas, keeping this wine straight and delicate.
The ubiquity of the word “terroir” in wine nomenclature renders this category the most obvious. It’s the goal in this snapshot to bring to light some (but not all) of the details that influence a wine’s characteristics. Not every terroir description within our range of technical sheets will have the same information—how boring if it was all the same—and throughout our collection it’s our hope that there is information that stimulates new avenues of thought.
The general climate and overview of the region and how it relates to other parts of the wine world is addressed on the website above the bottle photo of the wine page you are on, and within each producer’s profile page.
The altitude, aspect and slope grade of a vineyard are crucial details and play important roles in a wine’s characteristics. Because they are all intertwined and inseparable physical aspects of a vineyard site I have included them into the same explanation.
To distill it down to what’s important, these elements directly influence a grape’s ripening, structure, complexity, taste and aroma. The information concerning altitude, aspect and steepness doesn’t take up much space but these vineyard characteristics greatly influence the shape of the wine and many of its structural elements and aromas.
Elevation influences temperature and the higher up you go the colder it becomes. For example, Jean-Nicolas Meo, from the famous Vosne-Romanée estate, Meo Camuzet, explained on my first trip to the Côte d’Or in 2004 that the difference in the ripeness from a vineyard that sits at two hundred meters and one at three hundred can be a full degree of potential alcohol on the same day, the lower alcohol being from the higher site. This simple concept is one of the great keys to understanding some aspects of the profile of Burgundy wines, as well as many other regions on notable inclines.
The aspect also explains a lot about a wine. For example, an open eastern exposure (meaning with no close topographical features in the way) brings early morning sunshine and can keep wines more fresh and tense when on a hillside due to the direct sun hitting the vines early but also cast a shadow on the vineyards long before the sun sets, sometimes hours before. Direct south may be the easiest to reach balanced and consistent ripeness from one year to the next and there are many examples of this all over the wine world. On a south or western facing plot in the late afternoon during a heat spike, the direct sunlight can push grapes closer to dehydration faster than those facing east and can scorch western exposures and bring a completely different taste to the same fruit nuance compared to one next to it facing toward the east. In my experience, it’s not improbable for a talented taster to recognize in the context of a flight of wines from the same vintage and commune which vineyards are likely facing what direction based on the fruit nuances and the structure of the wines. For the most thoughtful technical tasters, even more clues can be recognized by theorizing how the grapes may have been farmed or crafted in the cellar to work around or exemplify these characteristic tendencies.
The steepness, or slope, is another equally influential factor that directly shapes a wine. In uber wine geek lingo, we often refer to whether a wine is “horizontal” or “vertical” in shape. This is to say whether the wines are more tense, angular and straight (vertical) or more expansive, round and broad (horizontal). Much of this seems to have as much or more to do with the soil composition and structure than the “hand” in the wine. If the soil is completely spare and stony, the wines are likely to be more vertical and less horizontal because there isn’t much flesh on its bones. When there is a deep soil with good water retention the wines may be less vertical and fall into the more expansive, fleshy horizontal description. Of course the idea is that each wine has a level of both but many lean more toward one side than the other.
The steepness often dictates how much topsoil may be available for the vine. Because of gravity, the steeper the vineyard the more difficult to it is to manage to keep topsoil around. Soil types, like clay, perhaps the stickiest of the soils, can stay put longer even on steep slopes as they do in the Côte d’Or, than the decomposing granite on the treacherous hills of Saint-Joseph that once broken away from the bedrock easily slide down the slope, creating constant erosion of the hillsides and exposing rock outcrops while keeping the topsoil shallow. In these kinds of extreme locations with loose topsoil, growers have created terraces to try to minimize this constant challenge.
The flatter the vineyard the more important the grain of the soil becomes in conjunction with the weather. For example, much of Bordeaux is flat and wet, so the well drained gravels workout perfectly for the cultivation of varietals that happen to be well-suited to this soil and have managed to make the most reliable and consistently age-worthy red wines in the world. Put those Bordeaux varieties in a colder area and with more water retentive soils and you may get weedy wines with harsh tannins, or on heavier soils in a hot climate perhaps something blocky, less refined, muscular with more ripe fruit and a larger than life extraction potential which all add up to broadly horizontal wine.
This information won’t be revamped every year unless something has changed significantly in the grower’s practice. Therefore, all chemistry details in this section are not vintage specific and will be supplied within a range of what is common. Of course, one can deduce where the scales are tipped beyond the range if a vintage was extremely cold or hot. Some of the lab numbers were not attainable, either because the grower didn’t have them, doesn’t test for them, or didn’t want to share them. However, if the question was posed and unanswered the category will be filled with N/A. If it hasn’t yet been posed it will remain empty.
On a scale of 1-14 the pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline (basic) the solution (wine) is, 1 being the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline. Finished wines range around very high 2s and very low 4s, but those are extreme cases. The following summary of how pH relates to wine was taken from the Australian Wine Research Institute website and given that I am not a scientist, I think it best to utilize their concise explanation:
“The pH of juice or wine is important to know as it plays a critical role in many aspects of winemaking, in particular wine stability. Boulton et al. (1996) writes that pH influences microbiological stability, affects the equilibrium of tartrate salts, determines the effectiveness of sulfur dioxide and enzyme additions, influences the solubility of proteins and effectiveness of bentonite and affects red wine colour and oxidative and browning reactions.
“Understanding the relationship between pH and sulfur dioxide (SO2) is critical. SO2 has both antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, making it an extremely effective preservative for wine. The amount of SO2 in the free form, and in particular the molecular form which determines the effectiveness of SO2’s antimicrobial activity, depends on the pH of the wine. The higher the pH, the less SO2 will be in the useful free form AND the less effective this free SO2 will be. Therefore, all other things being equal, at a higher pH not only will more SO2 need to be added to achieve the desired level of free SO2, but the concentration of free SO2 required to have the desired antioxidant and antimicrobial properties will in itself also be greater.”
So how does this all compute in the taste of wine acidity and pH? I like what is written on Madeline Puckette’s website, Wine Folly, because it’s a hard thing to describe and this explanation works well. She’s quoted yet another UC Davis professor, Dr. Andrew Waterhouse.
“The basic difference is intensity versus amount. pH is an intensity type of measure, while TA is a quantity. An example of this type is hot water. The intensity is the temperature and the amount would be the volume. So, sourness in the mouth is related to both, just as a sensation of heat in the mouth would be related to the temperature of hot water and the amount. Within a reasonable range, the sensation of heat depends on both. In wine, the TA over its normal range is typically more powerful than pH, but at the extremes pH does have an effect. For instance CA wines are usually in a small range of pH, say 3.5-3.9, with TA’s’ near 6 g/L (tartaric acid equivalent). If the TA is 8, the wine will taste quite tart, and it is 4, the wine will taste quite flat. On the other hand, with a constant TA of 6, it will take change to about 3.3 or lower for a wine to taste distinctly tart, and at 3.0 it will surely be sour!!”
This is also pretty self explanatory, but I am compelled to mention that the sugar level in this category is natural sugar unless otherwise noted. Concerning levels above 2g/l the wines begin to take on some level of influence from the sugar on the taste of the wine, whether it be balancing out big acidity, like many dry German and Austrian white wines which often stay below 9g/l and are still considered a dry wine.