Clau de Nell winemaker and manager Sylvain Potin says he is determined to honour the biodynamic legacy of the estate's late co-owner, Anne-Claude Leflaive, and he believes the winery's first commercial vintage of Chenin Blanc from its own vineyards could hardly have come in a better year.
Potin told Decanter.com that he believes Loire 2015 is set to be ‘a beautiful vintage’. It is also the first year that Clau de Nell plans to make a commercial Chenin Blanc from some of its own 1.5 hectares of vines planted in 2012 and 2013.
The move is the latest chapter in the revival story of Clau de Nell which was founded in 2000 in the Anjou area and now produces wine from Cabernet Franc, the local Grolleau grape and also Cabernet Sauvignon.
Financial difficulties meant the biodynamic, Loire estate had not produced wine for three years when it was acquired by the late Anne-Claude Leflaive and her husband, Christian Jacques, in 2008. The pair had established a project to help biodynamic wine estates across France.
Potin, a sommelier-turned-winemaker, joined Clau de Nell a year later. In London this week with Jacques, both told Decanter.com that they were determined to honour Anne-Claude’s memory by pursuing the biodynamic principles that she espoused.
Not that Potin believes biodynamics in itself is the secret to a happy marriage between great wine and environmentally-sound living.
‘For us, it’s about always trying to be more precise,’ Potin says, during a visit to Decanter’s offices in London. He believes biodynamic practices are inextricably bound to this degree of precision in the cellar, as well as acute attentiveness in the vineyard.
‘Everything is re-inforced by biodynamic preparation,’ Potin says. He argues that biodynamic philosophies, and the associated lack of chemical sprays, help vines to build natural resistance to diseases and fungi, such as oidium and mildew.
But, the concept cannot work without close attention to detail. ‘For example, just before a full moon, we know that mushrooms grow easily, so we can prepare treatments for it,’ he says. ‘This is not biodynamics, this is an observation; it is something that many generations have observed before us.’
Does he believe biodynamic methods specifically can be found in the taste of a wine? Potin says his initial feeling is that minerality and an overall sense of freshness can be enhanced in well-made, biodynamically produced wines.
‘It’s harder to know in the Loire, because our location means it’s easier for us to get these qualities [in general]. But, I think in hotter, dryer areas such as Languedoc-Roussillon, you can see this.’
Clau de Nell’s Cabernet Franc 2012 is a fine example of how to combine a distinct freshness and acidity with a core of berry fruit lined by soft tannins. Whether or not biodynamics is making the difference – over and above singular winemaking skill – is something that is likely to continue being debated among critics and producers alike.
Jacques points out that the human and environmental advantages of working with as few chemicals as possible should not be overlooked. ‘The human cost of [conventional vineyard management] is something that people don’t think about enough,’ he says.
When they have, it has proved contentious. Last year, a French court ruled in favour of a vineyard worker who claimed to have been made ill by pesticide exposure.
Biodynamics itself is still very much an emerging phenomenon in the Loire, as it is in several regions. But, there is interest among younger winemakers who have settled in the region – often having arrived there after a different career in the city.
‘Everyone talks to each other in the Loire,’ he says. ‘There are no secrets between winemakers. If someone has a particular quality in their wine, everyone will ask how they achieved it.’
Even so, Potin refuses to be too dogmatic. He won’t, for instance, lay-off the sulphur dioxide altogether, as some self-styled ‘natural wine’ producers do. ‘Our wines do contain some sulphites, but it’s small amounts and always the minimum possible,’ he says. ‘Maybe it’s my sommelier background, but I like my wine to taste like wine,’ he says.