Bordeaux, Environment, Events, Food, France

For whom the bell tolls: Chateau Angelus and organic viticulture

How is a top Chateau on Bordeaux’s Right Bank preparing for climate change? The big news for Chateau Angelus in St Emilion is they received their organic certification this year (2018) and have put in place new approaches for clonal selection.

Over lunch at 67 Pall Mall with the de Bouard family, the younger generation, Stephaine and Thierry, are clearly enthusiastic about their move to organic viticulture. The older generation present, Hubert de Bouard, was more sanguine. He believed the move to organic was tough, but “it’s a big wave we have to follow, but you can say, you have to do the job.”

It was difficult timing, when 2018 on the right bank is characterised by a battle with mildew. Stephanie told us, while “nature has the last word, we fought very hard.” While some of their fellow right bank Chateaux gave up their organic certification process, because they felt they were “going backwards”, Chateau Angelus stuck it through despite everything and say they were happy with the results. 

Monsieur de Bouard and Chateau Angelus 2015, 2012, 2011 and 2005

Atlantic conditions

When Pontet Canet pushed forward with biodynamic viticulture, some questioned whether it was possible due to the damp humidity of Bordeaux. Mildew damage is one of the more difficult problems for organic vitiuculture and in 2018 this was a problem on the right bank. In the end, you have to spray with copper (only on the surface). Four to five tractors spray the 42 hectares over one day – but with the clay soil in St Emilion, which is not easy to get the tractor through after the rain.

At Bordeaux university under Emile Puynard, Monsieur de Bouard recalled the great enologist saying, “a great wine is great from beginning in the barrel to the end.” Although he didn’t believe that you could necessarily tell a wine was organic from the profile in the glass. Much like tomatoes there can be non-organic tomatoes that are good, but that is where the analogy ends – intensive production can push through anything, “Wine is made in the vineyard, not on a computer, but with boots.”

Massale Selection

Next year, Hubert de Bouard and family will start a new massale selection of the Cabernet Franc. 

In 2019, they will be looking for Cabernet Franc that needs time on the vine, and gives less alcohol and more acidity. In short, better phenolic ripeness. A response to changes in climate over the years. Compare the difference to what he was looking for 30 years ago, where he was looking for Cabernet Franc with the most sugar to gain faster maturity and to gain more power. 

Chateau Angelus has always had a reputation for dynamic thinking, and their next stage in organic viticulture – in which the origins can be traced back to the 2012 vintage – they are planning ahead for a world where climate change and global warming is a reality. They can change the farming, and with Cabernet Franc on clay soils (which are like a tank of water under the vines in drought conditions), they are in a position to confront the climate changes.

There is change in Bordeaux. A response to future climate change challenges. The bells on top of the Chateau may be ringing out: for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee (and for all of us).