It’s November, the Christmas fairs have started and every weekend I go to various places and show off my lovely selection of organic and bio-dynamic wines. Invariably someone will ask me: “So, do you make these yourself?” Of course the answer is no. I have chosen the easier option: I source them and sell them. Even though I would love to be able to buy my own organic vineyards, there is no way I have what it takes to make wine myself. This is a tough job and I think I’d have to give up my manicured nails as it is a very hands-on activity. I have a huge amount of admiration for the people who work so tirelessly to produce the wines I sell and entertain with. They need to be completely dedicated to their activity, even more so when they choose to be organic and bio-dynamic.
To give you an idea of what the daily life of an organic winemaker is like , I have asked a few questions to Caroline and Patrice Beguet who produce the critically acclaimed “Très Ordinaire” a wine made from the Jura grape Savagnin and that you can buy on my online shop.
Caroline and Patrice live and work in Mesnay in Jura, near Arbois and both used to have corporate careers until a few years ago when they bought the vineyard. There is a link to a video about their professional conversion at the end of the interview.
- Can you describe a typical day for you at this time of year?
This is possibly the calmest time of the year, since the harvest is over, the wines are now all quietly fermenting and maturing downstairs in the cellar, the vines have just been ploughed, and we’re waiting for the leaves to fall off the vines to start pruning again. In the meantime, I’m busy nonetheless pulling up dead vinestock, hoeing the young vines, repairing the trellising, labelling bottles, preparing orders, dealing with paperwork, and attending wine fairs. Occasionally, when the moon is in the right place and the weather is suitable, I apply a biodynamic spray to the vines, for example, a dynamised (mixed for an hour) mixture of 100g cow horn manure in 15 litres of water to reinforce organic activity in the soil. One of the perks of my job is eating at home with my family for three meals every day, and being able to have a short nap after lunch before heading back out to the vines.
- When is your busiest time of the year?
All year round ! Ever since I began winemaking 6 years ago I’ve been saying that next week will be calmer, but it never happens. People tend to think that there can’t be much to do in the winter, when we do often have snow on the ground here, but in fact an awful lot of work needs doing in the winter. In mid-November I begin pruning the vines, which takes until the end of March. In the meantime the pruned branches need to be pulled off the trellising and either composted or burned, the wires of the trellising all need tightening, the remaining shoots then need to be bent over in an arch and tied to the wires, posts need replacing. With over 20,000 vinestock to tend, it’s a long job. But in fact the summer (May to July) is busier still. At that time of year I have to spray the vines (with copper, sulphur and/or herbal infusions) at least eight times, depending on the weather; plough the soil; cut the grass over and over again to keep it as short as possible; attach the growing branches to the trellis; removing the suckers; trimming the tops of the vines; as well as continuing to deal with paperwork, bottling, labelling and selling my wine. There is sometimes a week or two in late August when there is nothing much more to do but wait for the grapes to ripen, before the harvest begins, which represents another very intensive three weeks’ of work and socialising!
- Why did you choose to become organic and bio-dynamic when it’s not exactly the easiest of options?
For us it would have been unthinkable to use synthetic chemical products which would potentially make us ill, our neighbours too, and at the same time pollute our local environment and water supply… just for the sake of producing wine! We wanted our vineyards to live, to be full of wildflowers and insects, which is now the case. For example, at the beginning of summer we pick wild strawberries in the vines with our young children, which can only be possible in organic vines. Organic farming is harder work, requires more equipment, involves a lot more manual labour, more risk-taking, more understanding about how diseases, plants and the soil function, and forces us to be more reactive to changes in the weather and the vines. We sometimes (nearly always) work at the weekend… But the price is evidently worth paying for us. Using additionally biodynamic methods is about stimulating more life in our vines and encouraging their health and balance, so that increasingly they are able to defend themselves against bad weather, diseases or parasites. Just like people, if we are forced to work too hard, don’t exercise and eat a poor diet, we’re bound to fall ill. It’s the same for the vines. As well as producing grapes, we want our vineyards to be plots of land where nature thrives, full of fruit, flowers, bees, and even sheep! (For more about biodynamics in French, here is an article on our website)
- What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming an organic/biodynamic wine producer?
Do – our countryside needs more and more organic farmers of all sorts. Before deciding to become a winemaker, it really is advisable to follow a serious training course, and acquire as much in the field experience as possible (WOOFING would be a good option.) It’s a life choice that does require some capital at the outset, energy, courage, endurance, and a love of being outdoors whatever the weather. Choosing organics is a sound health investment. Moreover, it is only possible to produce high quality wines with healthy, tasty grapes, which organic, biodynamic farming provides. It would be a shame to farm vines organically without adopting biodynamic principles. Once installed, it seems to me that the key to producing grapes is always to remember the fundamentals of agriculture and biology, to work with nature rather than trying to fight it.
- Can people visit your vineyard?
Yes, we’re always open for business, and seldom away from home! Patrice is happy to explain his winemaking and take visitors on trips around his vines.
Caroline et Patrice Beguet. Video: changer de vie : http://replay.publicsenat.fr/vod/les-pieds-sur-terre/changer-de-vie/151545
Hughes Beguet Wines Website : http://www.hughesbeguet.com/
To find out more about Jura wine and Jura in general visit Wink Lorch’s blog , she is the expert and will make you want to visit and taste the flavours of Jura. But if you can’t book a holiday right now, order yourself a bottle( or two or three !) of “Très Ordinaire” and enjoy this fresh and fruity wine which boasts a very impressive 16.5/ 20 ( 88/100) score!