Soil Life. 21 January 2018.

Loire Valley 1998.  Claude Bourguignon 2018.

We spend a lot of time looking across and above our vineyards. We admire the easily evident beauty of ordered vines embellishing the landscape. It’s very infrequent, and certainly not Instagram worthy, to focus below the surface and below the microscope.

In 1998 I spent my usual few weeks roaming the vineyards and cellars of Burgundy before spending one week following the Loire from Nevers to the coast. Much of my trip was visiting producers for importer Paul de Burgh-Day (which is now Robert Walters’ Bibendum Wine Co) where the focus was (and remains) on the finest vignerons with a bent for promoting soil life and low input vinification. Burgundy was its usual inspiring self for wines and conversations of terroir and typicity however it was in the Loire that I felt the dynamic stirring for a lowering of the vision. It was in the Loire that I felt a gathering momentum for seeing and feeling the earth. It shook me up and put us on a patient and determined path to improvement.

In 1998 the name Claude Bourguignon kept arising and as I moved from grower to grower I came to understand that his knowledge, passion and evaluations were integral to driving many in this group. Growers like Dagueneau, Chidane, Mellot, Angeli, Bossard and Joly (well, more philosopher than grower!) walked and talked me through vineyards where much of the conversation was about soil life and structure and how this was critically important to vine health and wine quality.

Twenty years later when Robert organised for Claude to visit a few Australian vineyards for the first time we were excited to take the opportunity. Excavating several holes alongside our vines aged from four years to thirty years and having a critical eye cast over our decades of work was exciting and educational. Claude is an engaging and well humoured man with a searing intelligence and vast knowledge of soil microbiology specifically relevant to vines. He has travelled the world for decades and has worked with the greatest vineyards and vignerons. Claude’s mind is focused and energised by the relationship the vine has with soil structure and soil life and the way the vine is farmed. His knowledge of wine and capacity to taste wine and reflect upon where and how it was grown is quite remarkable.

It will take several weeks to contemplate and digest his observations and our conversations from this weeks visit. It’s very pleasing to reflect on how things were here 15 years ago and to assess how they are today with the improvements that have been made. To contemplate the bare sheep grazing paddock prior to 1988 is head shakingly distant.

Thirty years on, to excavate Quartz, to follow the roots and soils down and to understand the complexities involved was inspiring. To talk worms, fungi, microbes, minerals, deep roots and fine roots, composts and cover crops, ploughing and grasses was defining. To taste this Chardonnay 100 meters away in barrel, and then nine years old in bottle, with Claude Bourguignon was a precious and significant occasion.