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A winemaker's pursuit of harmony with his vineyards

Submitted by Tony Connell

Stéphane Derenoncourt's work philosophy is to respect nature and the identity of each wine he makes. Taste his wines, they carry a sense of place and character that few in this day of alcohol-laden fruit bombs can rival. Derononcourt's attention to detail in the winery is essential to his success; however, one can not overlook his equally important work in the vineyards to fully appreciate his Midas touch. His desire to achieve harmony with both his wines and Mother Nature has led him to champion biodynamics, a holistic farming approach raising the bar for vineyard management. With a disturbing global trend toward uniform, fruity, uber-rich wines taking hold, Stephane's sensitive approach to biodynamic viticulture is bringing individuality back to wine.

Stephane's basic goals of biodynamic vineyard management are to:

Promote the uniqueness of a property by minimizing outside influences and recycling all farm and wine materials back into the vineyards.
Emphasize soil health as a means of increasing the health of the vine and cultivating aroma, color, texture, and overall purity in the wine.
Use no chemically synthesized fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fumigants, hormones, antibiotics, growth regulators or GMOs. Reliance on these synthetics reduces the ability of the vine to absorb nutrients from the soil, leaving it susceptible to disease.
Total health of winery property, not only the vines but the cover crops and nearby plants and trees to maximize the health of the vineyard environment.
Promote natural pest control through soil management via biodynamic sprays, crop rotation, and addition of diverse animal, bird and insect populations that lead to self-regulating predator and prey relations.
Align vineyard planting and pruning with the earth's seasonal cycles for maximum development of the vines.
It is little surprise that Stephane embraces the ideals of biodynamics as his journey to the top of Bordeaux winemaking certainly did not start with a silver spoon in his mouth. His career started humbly as a harvester in 1982 and continued on with minimal advance until Chateau Fronsac brought him on in 1985 to learn winemaking. Considering that many see Derenoncourt now as the most sensitive vinifier in all of Bordeaux, one wonders whether toiling in the vineyard should not be a pre-requisite for any ambitious winemaker!

Ultimately, the most beneficial work to produce top-flight wine will always take place in the vineyard. Stephane's commitment to biodynamics is making sure every drop of his wines capture the most pure essence of the terroir he works with.