From HVE to Organic, Burgundy makes the pledge to the environment
By Jean-Paul Burias - Photographs : Courtsey of the estates, posted on 28 November 2022
When a legendary wine region makes a firm commitment to the environment, its status is enhanced even further. In Burgundy, the number of wineries certified High Environmental Value has doubled since 2020, a trend which mirrors the region’s long-standing quality-driven focus. Gilbert & Gaillard went to the heart of the region to find out more about the phenomenon.
The vineyards at Domaine Yvon et Laurent Vocoret.
Investing in an earth-friendly approach to winegrowing using more environmentally friendly techniques is becoming part and parcel of a winegrower’s life. Renowned for its prestigious appellations, Burgundy is benefitting from the commitment of a growing number of estates that produce wines organically, both in the vineyard and the winery. In France, High Environmental Value (HVE) endorsement crowns the highest level of environmental certification for farms. Since the scheme’s inception in February 2012, the number of certified farms has grown steadily. By 1 July 2021, more than 19,000 farms had garnered the certification, including a large number of wineries. At the end of the certification process, HVE endorses properties that promote biodiversity and offer a complementary network for crops, preserve life in the soils to maintain fertility, develop positive synergies with the natural environment of the crops and encourage the development of useful fauna, including precious pollinators. These criteria are core components of work in the vineyard, entailing a more independent approach to plant protection products and treatment, along with water management. The certification gives winegrowers the freedom to act as they see fit. They can choose the techniques best suited to the characteristics of their vineyards, soil, climate and plot size in order to develop environmental practices that treat the unique character of their vineyard sites, and therefore their wines, with respect. “To secure the endorsement, winegrowers must put together an application and then request an audit by an accredited external organisation”, explains a spokesperson from the Burgundy Wine Bureau (BIVB). “An initial intermediate audit is carried out 18 months after certification for review. Then a renewal is required every three years. The process is not necessarily a stepping stone to the more restrictive transition to organic farming. There is no connection between the two initiatives. Everyone can follow the route they choose – they can view HVE as a step towards organic, stay HVE or go straight to organic farming without transitioning via HVE”.
We follow the unique environmental journey of eight Burgundy estates, which illustrate to perfection how varied this wine region can be.
Domaine Jessiaume: A worthy cause
Domaine Jessiaume is located in Santenay, in the Côte de Beaune, at the heart of Burgundy. Its 15 hectares of vines cover the hillsides of some of the region’s most storied villages, including Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, Auxey-Duresses and Santenay. Founded in 1850 by the Jessiaume family, the estate subsequently came under Scottish ownership with David Murray (between 2006 and 2020). He introduced environmentally-friendly techniques, where handling and crushing were kept to a minimum. The fruit is picked in crates by hand as is sorting. Elevator belts are used for vatting, natural yeast is used for fermentation and gentle, controlled extractions are favoured. The estate was taken over in 2020 by Dr. Jean-François Le Bigot, who maintains the same high standards to produce elegant, pure, fine wines which show respect for the vineyard sites and mirror a desire for sustainable, high-quality wines. “Farming organically allows us to enhance pure terroir expression”, says the estate’s winemaker William Waterkeyn. “In the winery, we go above and beyond the requirements of certification. We use wild ferments, no winemaking aids or sulphites before fermentation, which allows us to fully express provenance. Our wines have a signature terroir style that is recognisable in a blind tasting. They show great complexity and that is a strength”.
William Waterkeyn, the winemaker at Domaine Jessiaume.
Jean-François Le Bigot, the owner of Domaine Jessiaume.
Domaine Doreau: Seamless transition
At this remarkable estate, passed down through the generations, family is the common thread. At the end of the 19th century, Pierre Doreau bought plots of land in order to replant vines decimated by phylloxera. The business then prospered and grew. The present-day Domaine Doreau crafts authentic wines from prime grape varieties grown on 6 hectares of vines located within top appellations such as Monthélie and Pommard. Sustainable farming and respect for the environment and vineyard sites dictate choice of vineyard management and winemaking techniques. This stringent approach enabled the winery to secure High Environmental Value certification in 2019. Tillage is used in the vineyards from March to July but for the rest of the year, natural ground cover is left with grassed headlands.
Gérard Doreau, with his wife Réjane and his two children, Jérôme and Emilie.
Much thought is given to vineyard treatments, with products authorised for organic farming the preferred option wherever possible. “Securing the endorsement did not have any particular effect on our farming methods because our practices already aligned with HVE standards”, stresses Jérôme Doreau, the estate’s manager. “Also, it is difficult to ascertain whether switching to HVE led to greater appeal and demand for the wines because Burgundy is so popular at the moment and inventory is low. The endorsement does not necessarily act as a magnet. However, it does reassure customers who come to the cellar door and ask us how we farm, though it has yet to become an advantage for exports”.
The Famous Village of Monthélie.
Domaine Berger-Rive: A family affair
Skills are passed down from generation to generation in the Berger-Rive family, and for the past two years this knack of sharing has taken on a new meaning. With 26 hectares under vine, 16 of them located in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, Bourgogne Pinot Noir and Bourgogne Aligoté appellation areas and 10 in the northern part of the Côte Chalonnaise, in Rully and Mercurey, the winery has been HVE certified since January 2020. The first vintage entitled to the endorsement was 2017. The estate’s history began after the French Revolution, when the Berger family's ancestors bought the Prieuré de Mercey and its vineyards. Over the generations, the estate evolved, mostly due to the input of Gérard Berger who planted 12 hectares of vines, before renaming the property Berger-Rive in 1960 by appending his wife’s maiden name to his own. Gérard’s son Xavier joined him in 1977 before taking over management of the estate in 1989, gradually extending acreage in other areas to a total 22 hectares. The fourth generation arrived in 2015 when Paul Berger, the youngest of Xavier's three children, decided to perpetuate the family’s impressive winegrowing heritage and culture.
Paul Berger who took over at the helm of Domaine Berger-Rive in 2020.
Xavier Berger, who ran Domaine Berger-Rive From 1989 to 2020.
After working with his father for five years, Paul took over the reins of the estate in 2020, increasing vineyard area to 26 hectares which are managed using sustainable, earth-friendly techniques. “This is a great source of pride for our entire team and recognition of all the efforts made over the years on the family estate to promote biodiversity and the environment”, he says. “The vines are managed sustainably with a focus on reintroducing ancient farming techniques such as hoeing”. Two thirds of the estate are planted with vines reaching 2 metres in height, with row spacing of 2.5 metres. This planting technique creates a healthier environment, reducing disease pressure and plant protection product usage.
Yvon and Laurent Vocoret: Excellence in Chablis
Yvon and Laurent Vocoret love their job, which has provided the common thread for 5 generations of their family. “Our family has been a part of the history of winegrowing in the heart of Chablis since 1713”, says Yvon Vocoret. The story began with winegrower Jean Vocoret, and over the years the fruits, nobility and passion of producing wine have been passed down the generations. “For 40 years, we have been using organic amendments, which forces our soil to transform organic matter into mineral matter to provide nourishment for the vines. Producing sustainably guarantees a quality crop”.
A future winegrower.
For the past three years, the estate has switched to tillage and hoeing in order to do away with weed killers and put a cap on spraying, thereby treating the soils with respect. “This requires a great deal of monitoring to ensure the quality of the harvest and the lifespan of vines in good health”, explains Laurent Vocoret. “We no longer use anti-botrytis or grey rot treatments. This way, the grapes ripen harmoniously and develop finer and richer skins that promote better quality must”.
Laurent and Clémentine Vocoret.
Domaine Vincent Wengier: An unfailing commitment
Vineyards here are managed in narrow rows, typical of the region. After ramping up its commitment to environmentally-friendly techniques, the estate is converting to organic, and will be a fully-fledged organic producer by the 2023 harvest. The family estate grows 25 hectares of vines, spread over five appellations – Chablis, Petit Chablis, Aligoté, Bourgogne Chardonnay and recently Bourgogne Rouge, with a first crop in 2021.
Vincent Wengier in his vineyards.
The vineyards are weeded by machine 4 to 5 times a year and yield clean, precise wines with lots of fruit, richness and roundness. “HVE endorsement highlights good winegrowing practices”, stresses Vincent Wengier. The product itself is not the issue, but rather a reduction in inputs, reined in fertilisation, the amount of plant protection products applied every year and the development of grass-covered strips of land, hedges and trees. Organic farming and HVE certification are different and complementary. One is agri-environmental, whereas the other aims to produce an end wine with no pesticide residues. “It's a bonus when we talk about it with private customers”, says Wengier. “But the schemes are still not well known by the general public. Most consumers think that HVE is the first step towards organic, whereas it is different and complementary”.
Preparations at Domaine Vincent Wengier.
Vignoble Angst: A couple with a mission
Céline and Antoine Angst use every opportunity to prove their commitment to the environment. Although they do not come from a family of winegrowers, the couple founded Vignoble Angst in 2013. The vineyard has been converting to organic since 2020 and is certified HVE. The aim is to turn the spotlight on Burgundy’s terroir through a varied range of wines, embracing Chablis, white and rosé Burgundy, Irancy and Crémant de Bourgogne. “Farming vines sustainably is a no-brainer for us”, explains Céline Angst. “We produce terroir-driven wines as simply as possible in stainless steel tanks to express the minerality of soils that are different to those in other regions, with as few inputs as possible. This is also a bonus in export markets, adding value to the product. For example, we have been selling to Canada for a year because of our switch-over to organic. Our buyers no longer take on new partners who don't have the endorsement”.
Céline and Antoine Angst.
The Vineyards at Domaine Angst.
Domaine Camille et Laurent Schaller: Iconic grape varieties
Set in the heart of Chablis, the village of Préhy attracts many tourists for to its spectacular views out over the hillsides and Sainte-Claire church, surrounded by vineyards. Laurent Shaller and his son Camille grow three iconic Burgundy grape varieties over 18 hectares – Chardonnay, Aligoté and Pinot noir. The vines are planted on clay-limestone soil, typical of Chablis, instilling the wines with finesse, minerality and purity. The wine is matured in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks or barrels on fine lees. In 2020, the estate was awarded High Environmental Value certification. “In 2014, after I joined the family business, we started vinting and marketing our own wine”, recalls Camille Schaller. “The endorsement recognises the estate's commitment to environmentally-friendly techniques, fostering a low-impact approach to biodiversity and minimal reliance on inputs”.
Laurent and Camille Schaller in their vineyards.
Domaine Jean Féry & Fils: When diversity becomes an advantage
Set between the legendary towns of Beaune and Nuits-Saint-Georges, Domaine Jean Féry & Fils’ 30 hectares of vines are spread from the North to the South of Burgundy. Embracing a mosaic of ‘climats’ or vineyard sites, the estate produces 22 different appellations, offering a skilful testimony to the region’s diversity. After taking over from his parents in 1988, Jean-Louis Féry sought to give his estate the resources to grow and invested in renovation work and buying vineyards. The estate switched to organic viticulture in 2011 and its staff is unfailing in its efforts to energise the property under the guidance of Jean-Louis’ two sons, Frédéric and Laurent.
Frédéric Féry in front of the entrance to Domaine Jean Féry & Fils.
“Our wines are the authentic expression of the ‘climats’ for our 30 white and red wines”, explains Frédéric Féry. “Being certified organic since 2011 is a fundamental pillar of our strategy focusing on quality and respect for nature and our soils. In practice, it involves more work. For example, we only use machine tillage or annual digging for our soils. Work throughout the growing season is constant”. Every year, an audit is required to check that in-house rules are working properly. “From an economic perspective, the operating cost of farming organically is estimated to be 30 to 40% higher than for conventional techniques”, says Laurent Féry. “We have seen renewed appeal and demand since the switch-over. The endorsement is recognised by French and international wine enthusiasts and is an advantage for exports, particularly to Europe and Asia”.
A superb location for growing wines at Domaine Jean Féry & Fils.
HVE, an endorsement very popular with winegrowers
Ten years after its inception in 2012, the High Environmental Value trust mark has piqued the interest of many Burgundy winegrowers who have made environmental issues a core focus of their businesses. Certification applications are developing in a logical, thoughtful way. However, the endorsement remains inherently French and is not necessarily a selling point in export markets, despite the fact that it costs more to implement than conventional techniques. HVE is still unfamiliar to consumers outside France, although it is starting to gain genuine traction, particularly in Scandinavia. Though part of a positive drive towards more earth-friendly practices, the downside of the schemes is that they expose vineyards more to adverse weather conditions and lead to greater vintage variation in the wines, which can seem less consistent and standardised from one year to the next. This can, obviously, be seen as an advantage and HVE is viewed as a sign of professionalism and a genuine commitment to the future. In the specific case of Burgundy, there is an expectation by consumers that growers will farm responsibly, mirroring the level of quality and reputation of the wines. This type of endorsement therefore offers a purposeful solution for meeting these expectations.
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