Q: Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, when did Champagne Louis Roederer first become interested in a more environmentally friendly approach to their winemaking?
It is not something new! As a family business owning a large estate for a long period of time, Champagne Louis Roederer has always been searching for a long term, patrimonial management of its assets. With that in mind, we can say that Roederer has naturally put into place an integrated vineyard and winemaking management system well ahead of the recent green movement by:
1) closely monitoring what the vines produce in order to adapt our practices for a reasonable yield, i.e more concentrated wines;
2) using only organic fertilisers and
3) using as little pesticide and herbicide as possible.
Q: Given that there is no official certification for Environmentally Friendly or Biodynamic wine in Champagne what are the benefits and drawbacks of following this approach?
More recently (2000), we experimented with some new approaches to vineyard management in order to limit even more drastically the chemicals used in the vineyards. We have reintroduced traditional tilling of the soil (no use of herbicide), cover crop management (permanent grass, grass management) and biodynamics.
We have put in place some targets in our Plan 2012: the idea has been to re- invent a new way of farming our vineyard and managing our production by the year 2012. As a matter of fact, we believe that the future of vineyard management is not just one technique but a range of different techniques (a cocktail you might say) adapted to different situations and rotating over the years in the same vineyard. In that scheme, we have also increased our massal selection in order to improve biodiversity and be able to get even greater complexity from the vineyards.
In one sentence, this is about finding a more ethical approach to vineyard management where a mix of natural curiosity, humility and a real presence in every vineyard site everyday... is essential to take the best that mother nature offers together with a strong reduction in our impact on the environment.
Q: Of Roederers 214 hectares how many are under organic or biodynamic cultivation? Why did you select these vineyards?
Again, this is not so much a question of one technique (either organic or biodynamic) because we would make a big mistake by just selecting one approach. This is about finding your own philosophy, your own path, your own practices which work best, today (although perhaps not tomorrow), in your own terroir that is unique. You must look and try any kind of approach that makes sense and reach your target of quality and environmental sustainability. It is by definition a learning curve where you adapt, build and change every day. There can be no fixed recipe!
Today, at Roederer, we can say that 50 hectares (out of our 214 hectares in total) see at least one of these techniques. These vineyards have been selected because of their situation, their terroir, their age. Of these 50 hectares, we have 5 (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) in full biodynamic cultivation.
Q: Is the intention to convert more of the estate to organic/ bio? If so, what is the timescale?
Time will tell... Over the last 10 years, we have multiplied the Plan 2012 hectareage by a factor of 10! The important thing for us is to learn how to walk before we try to run. One step at a time but, each time, must be a significant step.
Q: Is there any discernible improvement/ change in quality/ yield/ health of the vineyards?
We do have some first impressions but they are only first impressions as it takes time to reach a new balance in the vineyards. As always there are some good and some less good results. Overall, the plan 2012 project remains very exciting and promising.
Q: Is the changing climate making a conversion to organic/ bio production easier or more difficult?
This is a very difficult question to answer as climate change produces different effects: if the general pattern is known (for Champagne more heat as well as more rain) we do not yet have any real idea on the regional effects. Once more, we would be well advised to observe nature.
Q: And in conclusion...?
The answer will not be found in just one practice, it will be a combination of ideas and approaches. So lets not fall into the trap of being influenced by fashionable movement. That would almost certainly prove wrong over time. At Roederer we will follow our own path.