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Secret Burgundy

Marine algae sprays, anti-hail nets, a secret vineyard… I was in Burgundy in June and some fascinating things emerged at visits to Louis Latour, a company whose tendrils reach unusual places. As well as being a domaine producer with 27ha of Grands Crus and a négociant with an outpost in the Ardèche, it owns Simonnet-Febvre in Chablis, Henri Fessy in Beaujolais and, rare in Europe, it has its own cooperage (I’ll revisit the latter in a future post).

Back to sprays, nets and secret vineyards. They’ve tried spraying vineyards with marine algae (seaweed to you and me) for the first time this season, in the hope, more I think than in solid expectation, that it’ll help yields. It’s not that Louis Latour wants a big crop, it’s just that they really don’t want another minnow. 2012, ’13 ’14, ’10 and ‘08 were all smaller than average and 2011 was small for reds. You see the problem.

Anti-hail nets. Hail fell somewhere in France on 265 days in 2014, against an annual average of 160. Some Premiers Crus in the Côte de Beaune, particularly in Volnay and Pommard, were hit for the third year running. Anti-hail nets aren’t authorized, but Louis Latour has experimental rights for three years. Nets create a bit of shade around the grapes (one reason they’re not authorized), so Boris Champy, vineyards director, says they’ll pick three or four days later.

The secret vineyard. No, sorry, I don’t know where it is, but I do know broadly what’s in it: 600 Pinot Noir and 300 Chardonnay vines, selected by 40 top domaines from their old vineyards. Louis Latour picked six of theirs and three were chosen. Overall, 80% of the 900 plants are known to produce good wine and 20% were chosen for biodiversity. Why the secrecy? The last thing they want is Australians, Californians etcetera crawling over it discovering which are the best clones in Burgundy.

This post first appeared on on 21st August 2015.

Photograph of Chardonnay vines in Burgundy by Joanna Simon

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