Bourgogne Winegrowers Battle Climate Change With Organic Farming

Food & Drink

Bourgogne’s 2023 harvest is complete. Despite roller coaster weather and a persistent lack of water, the Bourgogne Wine Board reports an overall positive outlook: “Sunshine and grapes.”

After spending a week in the region this spring meeting with next generation vignerons, a persistent theme arose – wine freshness is under threat from rising temperatures due to climate change. While the newest generation are dynamically tackling the issue in the cellar; one key viticulture solution presented itself repeatedly—certified organic farming.

“At Maison Jadot we began organic conversion in 2021,” says Amandine Brillanceau, cellar master of Maison Louis Jadot. “We are very involved in the Bourgogne Wine Board. We want to lead by example and give good energy toward conversion.”

Legacy Wineries Organic Conversion

The Ninot family have been barrel-makers and winegrowers since the 14th century. “My grandfather was one of the spearheads for the Rully appellation, when the Cote Chalonnaise was not well known,” says Erell Ninot, who now runs Domaine Ninot with her brother, Flavien.

After studying business in Beaune, Erell returned to assist her father in running the winery. Flavien joined her ten years ago as vineyard manager. Erell realized quickly they were not working their grandfather’s vintages. “With climate change, it’s always a surprise,” she says.

Once a volume production domain, Ninot’s focus today is on smaller vintages with higher quality. With this goal, she pushed her brother to convert the vineyards to certified organic farming immediately.

“I prefer mineral-driven, fresh wines with enough acidity. With rising temperatures, we cannot pick early because we need the acidity, but if the grapes hang too long alcohol rises. We believe because we are organic, we can keep more acidity in the grapes due to the balance of the soil,” says Ninot.

Ninot believes certified organic conversion is a trend with the newest Bourgogne vigneron generation. “It’s this generation making the organic changes. Young people with new estates want organic immediately, but those who start with their parents have to migrate to organic more slowly.”

The Derey family traces their Bourgogne vine growing roots back to 1650, with the modern estate beginning in early 1950’s, in the village of Couchey. Today, Pierre Derey’s three sons are taking the historic Domaine Derey Frères into the future.

“It’s easy to sell wine in Bourgogne,” says Romain Derey. But, with increasing climate-driven weather unpredictability, attention to detail in the cellar and vineyard is key to success. Going from one vigneron to three allows the brothers more time to address climate issues.

Their first focus was migrating to certified organic farming practices, which they achieved this year. Through pruning, cover-crop, and soil management adjustments, their focus is on growing old vines. “We have to be intellectual working in the vineyards, softer pruning, utilize more cover crops and less tilling so we can grow an old vineyard,” says Derey.

“Our dad says do what you want, love the wine you make, but remember you have to sell it, so don’t make shit,” says Derey.

As a hydrologist, Nicolas Thevenot spent years studying climate change impact in Benin. However, life in a laboratory became unfulfilling, the beauty of Bourgogne and his family’s winery beckoned his return. He returned in 2005, and today he and his sister Hélène are the fifth generation managing Domaine Thevenot Le Brun.

Created in 1960, the Domaine is located in the heart of the Hautes Côtes region, in the village of Marey-les-Fussy. Nicolas’s grandfather, Maurice was one of the founding fathers of the modern Hautes Côtes. The family had long incorporated organic practices into their farming. However, Thevenot began the certification process in two years ago.

“I decided to seek certification because of the Covid crisis,” he says. “I had time to think. In Bourgogne, the wines sell well. We have to use this to be better for the environment and the people working in the vineyard. Certification is become more common in Bourgogne.”

Crafting high-quality, fresh wines is top of mind for Thevenot as well. He believes modern technology and improved viticultural understand allows for more balanced wines than forty years ago. However, every vintage is different with climate change.

Thevenot worries about the lack of water in the region. He sees places water once flowed are now dried up. “What will be the consequences? Hard to say. Vines are resilient, they surprise us.”

Starting Off Organic

After obtaining a master’s degree in wine, viticulture and oenology, Pierre-Etinne Chevallier stepped onto the Bourgoge wine scene in late 2022, when he purchased Domaine de la Monette. One key aspect that drew him to the domaine is its twelve-year organic certification.

Walking the vineyards with Chevallier, he draws attention to the stark contrast of his vineyard, rich, dark soil that feels like walking on a damp sponge and biodiversity in the cover crop, compared to a neighboring vineyard of dead, cracked grey soil, bare between the vines due to spraying from the herbicide Roundup®. Chevallier has three young children; he wants them to run through the vines without worrying about chemical exposure.

“It is very rare to have a new winemaker in Bourgogne. To be accepted, you have to demonstrate you know the area and how to make quality wine,” he says.

What began as a micro-negotiant project, became a winemaking dream in 2017, when Canadian-born cellar master Matthew Chittick and Burgundian Camille Thiriet launched Maison MC Thiriet. Although small in size, they understand farming methods matter.

“I think organics is the minimum today,” says Chittick. “In these first few years, we want to just make sure the vines are healthy. We have a lifetime to work on the vines and pass them on to someone in the future.”

Maison MC Thiriet seeks fresh wines with supple, approachable tannins and lower alcohol. However, as the weather warms, they say maintaining lower alcohol is becoming increasingly challenging.

“We are very lucky, it’s been a great experience,” says Chittick. “Even though we are small, there is a great responsibility to care for the vineyards for the future. Young people are really improving viticulture through organics and sustainability. We are making wine for a better future.”

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