Being invited to Bordeaux, France to photograph the wine harvest was a life-changing opportunity. I learned much about winemaking, the history behind the vintners, and the terrior.
When it comes to wine being classified as bio-dynamic, it is often considered to be an evolution of sorts in organic agriculture. Listening to the birds chirping this morning, I contemplated just what this vineyard and its caring growers of Pontet Canet have had to adhere to to both achieve and sustain this classification. Pontet Canet holds two prestigious classifications; the French biodynamic classification known as Biodyvin, which was awarded to them first in 2010. The international classification, known as Demeter, was awarded to Pontet Canet in 2014.
When applied to winemaking, bio-dynamic grape growing has roots in the anthropomorphous theory which states that the human being is the middle player between the rhythm of the earth and cosmos,thereby bridging a gap between the spiritual and material world. Things like plants, soil, man and all the natural elements are players in this perspective. This, in turn, guides winemakers in their approach to the practices of agricultural growth. When Justine explained to me about the challenges of keeping things natural but controlling elements like bad weather or conditions or even pests, the Tesseron passion towards keeping things real was evident in both her voice and her expression as she drove us through the vineyard in a golf cart. Very few vineyards in Europe have achieved this classification, and the growers of Pontet Canet intend to hold fast to this prestigious approach, improving and evolving wherever possible each year. The Estate manager/engineer Jean-Michel Comme, whom they have entrusted has full reign over how things are done here- he oversees every minute detail of the winemaking and harvesting operation, and it’s not unusual to see him pick up grapes to examine them closely, or observe over the temperature control workers’ shoulders as they monitor the stored wine continuously. His experience, I’m told, spans over 30 years of expertise, and observing him watching the men lower lit candles on sticks to measure oxygen presence in the Amphoras and Dolias (large earthenware storage vases), you just know he does not miss a thing. No wonder they rely on him so heavily.
Pontet Canet has drilled 67 wells down that hold a temperature consistently of 15 degrees Celsius which allows them to use natural resources to regulate the temperature of each vat. No electricity is permitted in these storage areas either, as even the currents of electricity could disrupt the fine, still and precise conditions required to keep their precious wine at its finest. They refer to it as indigenous or spontaneous aging, and no chemical yeast is added either in line with the rules of bio-dynamics. The grapes are punched down through the mesh and tumble into the Amphoras and Dolias, the vast Roman-inspired containers, where they will naturally ferment under tightly controlled and 100% natural conditions. The Amphoras and Dolias’ shape allow for natural pumping and mixing to occur. 1/3 of 2017’s harvest is currently fermenting in these containers already. There are a total of 31 concrete, 32 Amphoras with more planned as the construction and expansion on the estate proceeds.
On a more personal note, we dined at lunch with the French office administration staff including my source for a lot of this information, Violaine (isn’t that a pretty name?) and other administrators. At night we dine with the male French estate workers who are here all year ’round. (Most of the office and administration workers go home to neighbouring Pauillac or Bourdeaux of course).
I hope you’re enjoying the journey through the harvest and thank you for reading!