Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Leclapart on biodynamics in Champagne

I caught up with David Léclapart, the much sought after, cult Champagne producer, at the recent Terres et Vins de Champagne tasting. Here is a transcript of their conversation highlighting a few of David’s thoughts on producing great Champagne.
Me - So David, can you tell us a little about your philosophy of Champagne.
David - Do you mean my philosophy of Champagne or my philosophy of the vine?
Me - Both!
David - OK, because they are two different things. There is the philosophy of the vine, namely the plant that is cultivated, and then there is the philosophy of terroir, which has to do with where we are located. And those are two different things.
In terms of my philosophy of Champagne, here goes…
Since we’re in the most northerly of wine regions in France, the work in the vineyard is even more important than elsewhere because we have very little sunshine, little heat and so the work in the vineyard has to be very meticulous. Everything else follows from that work.
My philosophy of vinification is to work out how the year has impacted the grape and the wine. What interests me is to know how a vintage is going to express itself: a rainy vintage, a sunny vintage, a windy-wet vintage, a cold-wet vintage, a vintage that only had sun and heat, and so on. And it’s for that reason that I only make Champagnes without reserve wines, because I want to show how nature expresses itself through Champagne in a very northerly region. The objective is to respect that which is born in the vines and to enable that to be transmitted to the wine drinker without modifying, amputating or removing anything. Just accompanying it, following it and preparing it so that the drinker can understand, enjoy and get those elements from the wine they’re drinking.
My vinification follows this principle, which also means I use very little sulphur… I am very low-intervention in my winemaking: I don’t fine, I don’t filter, I don’t cold stabilize it, I don’t induce malo-lactic fermentation. I do everything as naturally as possible: natural yeasts, no enzymes, no artificial settling agents, and then natural malo-lactic bacteria. MLF happens systematically but naturally. I don’t induce MLF.
Me - So if you have barriques in which the MLF starts to occur, you just leave them?
David - Voila.
Me - So do you have cuvees that haven’t gone through MLF?
David - No, all the wines go through MLF, but they go through MLF at different times.
Me - When they want to?
David - Yep, when they want to. It’s not me that organizes the malo-lactic fermentation, it happens when it happens.
Then there’s the philosophy of the vine. This is about giving grapes, or transmitting to the grapes, the two forces that create life on earth: the earth force and the sky force. And if you do everything within your power to unite these two forces, then this will be shared in the berries and in the subsequent wine as well.
Me - So, basically, “between the earth and the sky you find wine”.
David - Yes. My work as a vigneron is to unite these two forces: the force of the sky and the force of the earth. And when this energy is in the grape, it passes into the wine and it is then into you, and you, the drinker, or ‘amateur’ (in the sense of one who loves), benefits from it.
Me - So I can say that it’s the energy of the wine, not the alcohol that makes me feel good! Is that why I’m liking your wine?
David - Exactly!
Me - Superb.
David - Evidently there’s a little bit of alcohol, but the key is that there is alcohol and alcohol. For example, I don’t chaptalize, except for in very, very difficult vintages like 2001, a little 2007 and a little 2011. But all my other vintages since 1998 have not been chaptalized. And well, the alcohol produced without chaptalisation is different to that produced with chaptalisation.
Me - I guess it’s alcohol from the fructose rather than alcohol from sucrose.
David - That’s right, and when you drink the alcohol from chaptalisation, it’s alcohol that passes through you very quickly, and makes you drunk very quickly. Whereas when you drink alcohol from the grape sugars it’s a different sort of alcohol. There are different qualities of alcohol, just as there are different qualities of acidity, and so on.
Me - Well that makes sense to me, because if you look at the different vibrational energies of the sugars - fructose, glucose, sucrose – they all have different vibrational spectra, which is measurable and is thought to play quite an important role in how we smell and perceive different molecules. For me it would follow that an alcohol derived from grape fructose could have a subtly different set of vibrations to that of one derived from added sugars.
David - Yes exactly. The different geometric shapes of the molecules can be analysed using modern techniques and you can see the differences. It’s because of these differences that we see a different effect in our bodies. For example, there are wines, that when you drink them, they make you feel happy and light, while there are those that make you feel heavy and sleepy. It’s all about the transfer of energy from one element to the next. Either the alcohol was derived from energy that is noble and energizing, or it is not and instead adds heaviness to our body and consciousness.
Me - Excellent, thank you, we look forward to seeing you at RAW!

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