The first thing you notice when you walk the vineyards at Chateau la Baronne
are the wonderful aromas- flowers, herbs and trees all emanating their distinctive scents. This is not only very pleasant, but it tells an important story. Passing through a neighbouring vineyard, those aromas are pointedly missing. The ground is free of grass and vegetation, the air free of perfume. " Glyphosate!" says Jean with contempt. Killing everything in its path, plants, animals and ultimately, humans. He is uncompromising about those who use these chemicals, calling them 'killers' to their faces. This is a gentle, calm man who has complete conviction about how he minds the earth.
Chateau La Baronne
While their accountant is concerned about the cost of biodynamic work, and how much work and effort goes into keeping the vineyard diverse and natural, Jean quotes a visitor who described it as "Utopia". Not only is he following his own principles, making great wine along the way, he works everyday in paradise.
I went to Chateau la Baronne to learn as much as I could about organic, biodynamic and natural viticulture and winemaking from Jean and Anne Ligneres, the husband and wife team who run the estate. Jean is the GP in the tiny village of Moux, Corbieres, and divides his time, in a logic-defying way, between his doctor's surgery, the vineyard and the cellar. His commitment to organic and biodynamic viticulture is based on health, as is his calling: the health of the vines, the environment and the people who work with them and who consume them.
Jean & Anne
As a scientist, Anne was sceptical about the biodynamic practices at first, but has come to see how they make work in the vineyard and cellar better. She doesn't just accept things, even Jean's new ideas about wines or viticulture, but she sees the results and is happy that it is a better way of working, making wines which jump with vitality in your mouth.
Their biggest challenge is to preserve the balance and health of everything around them- the whole estate, the soil, the plant the grapes, the chais and the wine. Biodynamic agriculture means that the whole farm including the moon and stars, and the people who work the land, are seen as one living organism.
Regarding the maturing of the wine,
Anne uses the French word 'affinage' - to refine, make finer, than the more commonly used term 'elevage', which means to bring up, rear, raise. She describes the vines in terms of teenage children- they need freedom, but with boundaries.
Regarding the move towards natural wine, or a more natural approach to vine growing and winemaking, Anne talks about the influence of the oenologist, and how the more people used an oenologist, the more likely they were to have a lot of intervention and technology. They began moving towards “less intervention" in the 90s, then to natural wines and became part of Isabelle Legeron's RAW
At Baronne, the harmony between all elements of nature is what makes the vineyard hum: with insect and bird life and in their lively, bright wines. Back to the wonderful smells-the plants from which these aromas emerge not only have a job to do in giving nutrients to the soil, attracting predators and pollinators, creating a biodiverse environment, acting as an early indicator of the grapes' ripeness, protecting the vines from airborne diseases and neighbouring vignerons' chemicals- they become part of the grape though the 'prune' or film which coats the outside of the berry, thus ultimately ending up in our glass of wine.
When you drink a glass of Baronne wine, you are literally drinking a pure drop of this magical place, brought to us through their commitment to nature and the connection which Jean and Anne have to their little patch of paradise.