“Nous sommes en pleine croissance axée terroir vin, en utilisant des méthodes biologiques pour le faire.”
New Zealand Translation…
“We’re growing terroir focused wine, using organic methods to do so, bru.”
Clos Henri, in New Zealand’s famous Marlborough wine region, is located on a 3,000 year old river bed, which sits just above the Wairau seismic fault line, a strike-slip fault system that extends all the way up to Japan. Within this relatively small site (109ha), there are three distinctly different soil types that winemaker Damien Yvon and viticulturist Fabiano Frangi exploit to grow sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.
“We’ve got three different terroirs and only grow two grape varieties,” explains Damien. “Most of the sauvignon blanc is planted on the stones, and most of the pinot is planted on the clay.”
Clos Henri was established in Marlborough by the Bourgeois family from Sancerre, France, in 2000, with the first vines planted on the property in 2001. The Bourgeois family have a long history of growing wine in the Loire Valley, France, where they specialise in sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. The search for new terroir eventually led them to New Zealand only because, “once they arrived here,” says Damien, “they couldn’t go any further!” The aim of the Bourgeois family is to grow wine that clearly expresses the unique terroir of their place, in Marlborough. They do this by growing the grapes organically, and using some elements of biodynamics.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” says Damien. “I believe that we’re not doing anything different, other than going back to the old ways of farming.”
Marlborough is one the easiest places in the world to grow grapes organically, because of it’s dry, mostly sunny climate, persistent winds and large diurnal temperature variation. Disease pressure is kept relatively low, so the need to use chemical sprays, such as fungicides is virtually eliminated. If the aim is to express terroir in the truest possible sense, then growing grapes organically, without the reactive mask of chemical sprays is a no brainer.
“It’s easy to grow organically in Marlborough,” says Damien. “We live in a region where there is no reason why we shouldn’t. If we can’t grow grapes organically here, then we should stop viticulture altogether.”
“For me, growing organically is very good for expressing the terroir,” says vineyard manager Fabino Frangi (Fabi), “and is a huge jump from conventional grape growing. You consider the health of your soil more, and developing the plants own immune systems. As soon as your stop using chemical drugs, the plant can strengthen its own defences against disease.”
Organic viticulture forces a winegrower to be more engaged with their land, listening, watching and responding to signals and signs that the vines are expressing through their different growth cycles throughout the year. When you have a site that is as beautiful as Clos Henri’s, you should want to take care of it as best as you possibly can. After all, what is a viticulturist or vineyard manager, other than a privileged caretaker of an ancient piece of earth?
“Organics teaches you to observe your farm better,” explains Fabi, “because you have to be out in the vineyard, getting closer to your plants to find out and learn about the certain stresses and pressures it’s experiencing.”
Fabi uses a number of organic inputs to maintain the health and fertility of the soil throughout the vineyard, including essential composting and some biodynamic preparations. He also grazes sheep at various times throughout the year to help out with mowing and cultivating between the vine rows, and spreads out mussel shells from the nearby Marlborough Sounds, which would otherwise be discarded by the mussel farms. The mussel shells are full of calcium carbonate, which can be used as ‘an alternative liming material to restore soil chemical and microbial properties in (a vineyards) soil, and to increase crop productivity.‘
“We’ve noticed that the soil is much softer in our vineyard and can hold water better, which allows the roots to grow deeper,” explains Fabi. “We try not to irrigate that much, but if we do, we irrigate for long hours to give the plants one big drink. Instead of three times a week, we might do it once every second week, or less.”
Less irrigation means that the roots of the vine are forced to seek out their own natural water source in order to survive and thrive, and there are many natural aquifers beneath the dirt in Marlborough. Deeper roots systems make for healthier and more balanced vines, which, in turn, produces better quality fruit – the essential element to any wine professing to express terroir.
“Respect for the fruit is the ultimate thing,” says Damien, who works closely with Fabi out in the vineyard to ensure that what is arriving in his winery every vintage is of the highest quality. “We make site specific wines here, which are authentic expressions of our terroir.”
Clos Henri only grows sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, and each grape variety is planted site specifically on particular soils throughout the vineyard. Damien makes three styles of Clos Henri wine grown on these specific soil sites. Their flagship sauvignon blanc comes from the free draining Greywacke River Stone segment of the vineyard, while their flagship pinot comes from a combination of Broadbridge and Wither clay soils directly opposite.
Their second tier wines, Bel Echo, come from fruit which is planted on the opposite side of the flagship wines. So, the sauvignon blanc is grown on clay, while the pinot comes from the river stone, hence the word echo. This careful attention to detail during the planning and planting stages of the vineyard has resulted in a set of wines that truly capture and express their own unique provenance and terroir.
“I don’t want people drinking our wines and identifying them just as coming from the Marlborough,” says Damien, “I want them to know they’re drinking wine that comes from here (Clos Henri).”
D// – The Wine Idealist