“Biodynamics has made us richer”, says Jérôme Héranval, of Château Durfort-Vivens

By Tobias Webb
Jérôme Héranval, manager/winemaker at Durfort-Vivens took some time to talk with Sustainablewineblog.com about their wines, their history and their approach to sustainable wine making in Bordeaux. Here’s the audio recording.

Durfort-Vivens is a bit of a hidden gem in Bordeaux. It really shouldn’t be, given it’s ranked higher than the much better known Château Palmer just a few hundred meters away, in the original 1855 Classification.

That of course, means a lot less than it used to, but it shows at the very least that Durfort-Vivens has some serious pedigree.

The place has a complex history, even for a Bordeaux Chateau, as Jérôme explains in the interview below.

Durfort-Vivens has its roots in the 14th century. Later in the 20th it was owned by Château Margaux, used mainly as the second wine.

In 1961 Lucien Lurton bought the estate from Château Margaux. In the 60’s/70’s/80’s there was something of a crisis in Bordeaux, points out Jerome.

Later the wine was produced in nearby Brane-Cantenac. From 1995 onwards Durfort-Vivens has made its own wine. Complicated, but I think I grasped it.

Château Durfort-Vivens

From 2009 they have been biodynamic, certified by Demeter.

“In the wine the impact is very strong…we have high brightness of fruit and consistency. Biodynamics has made us richer”, (in taste) he says.

Biodynamics has helped re-invigorate the domaine, he says, helping them re-define who they are, and to think much harder about the product they make.

Technically speaking, “we make the wine in the vineyard…we want to make our wine unique” using biodynamics, he says. Highly evolved minerality has been a result and that helps them create their own identity and expression.

They had some “bad experiences” with organic he said, on the way, so switched quickly to biodynamics. The reason? “Walking into the vineyards, looking at vines…we felt it was not enough”.

With biodynamics it’s the next level of control, using organic certification as the base. “It’s not enough” on its own, remarks Héranval.

I asked him, mistakenly, about PH levels. My chemistry not being world class, I wanted to know if higher acidity in the wines, meant the PH levels would move. Jérôme quickly corrected me:

“The PH doesn’t move. What moves more i the concentration of acid. PH is the acid taste, the more its acid, the lower the PH. What moves is the balance, the freshness you taste in the wine comes only from the attack, the rest comes from the silky tannins. Margaux wines refresh the mouth:

Tannins in the mouth combine with proteins and dry your mouth Jérôme says. Big tannins react with bigger proteins and create a more rustic feel, drying the mouth, he told me.

Smaller tannin molecules react with smaller protein molecules and refresh the mouth. “This makes the wine very long, fresh and appealing”.

This makes perfect sense, but isn’t something I’d ever thought about much, I have to say. A useful insight reminding one to brush up on one’s basic chemistry.

Château Durfort-Vivens

Their modern work is nothing more than a return to their roots:

“80 years ago there were no chemicals, biodynamics was not a word, it was a way to live” for grape farmers. “We lost this sensitivity”. 

Overall in Bordeaux there is growing concern about sustainability, he says, pointing out that with their weather it’s not particularly easy to move away from using chemicals in the vineyards. “In Burgundy the estates are very small so it’s easier to manage (sustainable approaches)”

In 2016 they lost 30% of production, and half of that was due to mildew, due to a small window between flowering and spraying copper. That cost them in the harvest as they couldn’t use any other chemicals, as others might do.

Other than in 2016 their new approach is not affecting yield, which is around 45-50 hectolitres per hectare. They are allowed to produce 57 hectolitres per hectare but never have, due to selection and other practices always used to make quality wines.

We also discussed grape maturity, biodynamic approaches and the impact on winemaking.  There are two key elements he says; the juice, with the concentration of water, sugar and acidity, and the skins and pips. These are really what make the wine what it is, concludes Jérôme. Biodynamics has given them a longer maturation process, giving them more choice in harvesting and balance in the wines.

Interestingly, at Durfort they are moving to higher and higher concentrations of Cabernet Sauvignon over Merlot in the wine, as Jérôme feels he can express their terroir, winemaking practices and ethos by increasing the levels as high as he can, to over 90% in some cases.

This, I understood, may help with those silky tannins and structure, combined with freshness that they are looking for. I was surprised to hear this, given Merlot’s very useful role in the Margaux appellation, but I enjoyed the wines very much, and look forward to trying some older vintages as and when I can find them.

A wine, slightly off the beaten track, that’s well worth sampling, was my one line take away from the visit.