Ground Control  ( here Earth )

 

Who is Jérôme ?


Jérôme Bourgeois-Diaz was born in 1977 in a family which has made champagne for four generations. His father is a local wine grower and his mother, from Spanish origin, was a member of the farmer’s confederacy; bubbles and Don Quichotte, rooted tradition and the winds of change, ancient connections and the force of new practices. He is the child of both of them, and it is not surprising to meet him off the beaten track. He has chosen the path less-travelled exploring different horizons, those of organic and biodynamic farming, where he follows in the footsteps of Pierre Masson (please read the article dedicated to this topic). His choice requires a lot of effort. 

 

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He looks after 6,5 hectares, of which 3,5 hectares are planted with Pinot Meunier, 2 hectares Pinot Noir and 1 hectare Chardonnay.

His vineyards are planted on a clay and limestone soil and are angled to the gentle and slow-moving Marne, which ambles in its winding bed. This profound peace and harmony is reflected in his wines as well as in his compassionate way of approaching nature; with humility but also with rigorous willpower.
His average vine age is 35 years old.

 

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In 2000 he returns to Croutte-sur-Marne, after a stint as an industrial sales merchant in Deux-Sèvres.
He also would have liked to have been a professional basketball player despite his modest height! He is confident.
He likes music and even sings in a band.
Under his discreet manner, he is not the meek person we may think he is. His convictions are solid, commitments are clean-cut. This straightforwardness shows in his choice of grape farming and the elegant and subtle way of working in the winery. He has experienced many stressful situations; one does not practice biodynamics without a few scares. When the weather turns unpredictable or even hellish the conventional treatments remain proscribed. At that time a healthy dose of willpower is needed to not give in to what is easiest.
All his champagne is produced in his winery with the same care. Chemical yeasts and synthetic sulfur are forbidden, even if this goes without saying, it is sometimes good to say it.
He exports his wines to the US, Japan and Italy among other countries.
His wife Charlotte supports him in his work and also looks after the office. She has taken up studying again to learn about the complex and relentless tasks which touch on the vines and the wine.

 

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The countryside

 
Cross border traders have always had the ability to cultivate a singular spirit, a way of being more willing, more independent and more original. Jérôme Bourgeois-Diaz has this kind of nature; he lives and works where the landscape changes depending on which side of the Marne one is.

 

 

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Hardwood forests on the one side and languorous vines which cover the hillsides on the other. Champagne begins here.
He could have lived peacefully and made champagne like all the others. A label, an appellation, a comfort. Instead, he looked elsewhere for his purpose and decided to break the cycle by not following the pre-drawn lines. He doesn’t just make organic champagne, he also farms biodynamically. Image what audacity is needed to do this?
Audacity but also intimate joy.

 

 

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In the patchwork of vineyards along the mellow Marne river, we can easily recognize his vines. They do not have the same colour or the same vigour. I am saying this because I saw it. The champagne which is created there, has different blood. At every moment, everything here is linked to nature, which can be simple or whimsical. No pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, no violence; the vines are looked after, better still they are loved! Over the years, they have recovered their ancient carelessness as well as their considerable telluric and natural forces.
This is the case on the land but also in the cellar. Jérôme chose a traditional press for it does not shake up the grapes; instead it takes its time and offers the juice rather than extracting it. This implies both work and effort.

 

 

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Like the harvesters in the vines, which work at the rhythm of the grapes without the aggravation or the worry of the yield, the men at the press turn around the heaped grapes in an antique ballet like style for the “retrousse”, an action which consist of rearranging the grapes in between two or three pressings. The aim is to press the grapes in the most loving way and gently extract the juice. The grapes like this extra effort. And here extra effort is a way of being, a farmers effort, which is patient and takes its time.
Furthermore, these human adventures express themselves in the bottle. This wine has been more often caressed by the hands of men than by machine angles. It tells an emotional story. This champagne stands for something different than today’s rumble and uproar.

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The land 


In Croutte-sur-Marne, the bell tower chimes every hour, even at night.
Croutte means cave. It reflects very ancient wisdom. Here the land rules. And there are certain truths as well.
It is the start of the Champagne region; further on, more toward the east, the land is flatter, chalky and full of bloody history. Yet here it is peaceful. The Marne flickers and glows ; it is beautiful, just like a painting of Gustave Caillebotte. On this Marne we row in between the barges.
The sun-coated hillsides pour into the valley. It is beautiful.
Sometimes the fog sticks, just like in the mountains. There is then a sudden shyness.
It is here that Jérôme looks after his 6,5 hectares of vineyard. 3,5 hectares of Pinot Meunier, 2 hectares of Pinot Noir and 1 hectare of Chardonnay. The vines are 35 years old and draw their mysterious substance from a clay and limestone soil. 
Jérôme is the fourth generation here.

 

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The harvest

 
At time of harvest the girls and boys flock to the region. The work is hard but joyful. At Bourgeois-Diaz, we do not pay our pickers by the kilo. We do not want to accumulate the maximum amount of crates of grapes. We pick without this madness, our feet in a bed of wild plants made up of comfrey, burnet, common chickweed, ribwort plantain and dandelions.
Here the vineyards bear names such as “The much loved” or “The princes”.
The neighbours do not farm organic and treat their vines “conventionally”, an expression which is quite bizarre. This is why Jérôme pays attention. The neighbouring rows which have been exposed to residual spray of these treatments are kept separate in specifically identified crates and are later delivered to the cooperative rather than enter his winery.

 

 

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n the cool of the morning, after having drunk a quick coffee at Jérôme’s, the teams head for the vine rows. The picking continues in a murmur of conversations and distant calls, or to the beat of the music blasting from a mobile stereo provide by « P'tit Miche. Around 11 AM, they break for pies and white wine, and at lunchtime they all eat together next to the winery. At 2 PM, the picking continues, the day pierced by the “Panier!”, “Panier!” cries, when a harvester wants to empty his bucket in a crate. The crates are later collected by carriers. The grapes are pampered, gathered little by little, and collected in small containers which will not crush the berries.

 

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Often, a handful of harvesters boards at Jérôme; they share an evening meal, play cards, or go to bed to be ready for the following day.
Once the last grapes have been cut, the convoy returns to the winery in tractors decorated with vine branches whilst hooting their horns. The pedestrians stop and cheer on the end of the hard work.

 

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At night the “cochelet”, a last meal, richer, with wine flowing freely, is enjoyed together. In old French, cochelet means little rooster, like the one adorning a bell tower. Traditionally, the employer would receive a bouquet of wild flowers tied to a long stick, not dissimilar to a rooster on his bell tower. It was the sign of the brotherly libations which are still continued today.

It is also said that the menu of this little banquet often included coq au vin. A last source states that on the last day of harvest, a young rooster was given wine to drink, and that the drunken bird greatly entertained the guests.
Whatever the historic meaning, it is the best moment for everybody. The wine is in the tanks, wages are about to be received, and this is celebrated.
At Jérôme’s, the “cochelet” is called “la glane”. It refers to the time when the neighbouring fields were opened up to gleaning.
When the harvesters are happy the wine is already tasty!!

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Biodynamics and wines with one ear


With biodynamics we address an area which falls outside the realm of exact science; it is a different way of dealing with everything which is alive, beginning with the soil.
The rules where first established by Rudolf Steiner in the early 1920’s. In laymen’s terms they respect everything that breathes, interacts and lives and substitute the harshness of blind chemical treatments for gentle products. In essence biodynamics prefers an airiness and intimate understanding of the environment; this is enhanced by more subtle notions such as the movements of the sun and the moon. The moon creates the tides and is often linked to a certain melancholy. It is silly to want to deny that we are elements of something greater. Hence it makes sense to want to relive this immemorial harmony for it is beautiful and useful. This is not esoteric; it is logic. 
Wine is made up of over 1,000 elements. The oenologist Emile Peynaud put together a list of more than 250 words to evoke its bouquet. Wine is not chemistry; it is alchemy. It is subtlety balanced and we should try to grasp the tiny miracles which turn the grape juice into a flow of emotions. Drinking wine is an exchange of aromas, flavours, ideas, inspiration, truths, romantic stories and sometimes even a few poems.
The wine that does not speak to us, has nothing to say...
Jérôme Bourgeois-Diaz cultivates his 6,5 hectare domain according to the organic principles since 2001. From 2009 onward he began to farm biodynamically. He is close to Pierre Masson. He is certified by Demeter since 2015, after several years of conversion. This is a big commitment in terms of workload, conviction and willpower.
I would be a lot easier to do as all the others and tap into the huge chemical safety blanket. Instead, Jérôme has chosen the path of gentleness and absolute restrictions. The soil is his friend, and it has begun to reward his efforts.
His vines are beautiful, vigorous, and lively. They seem happy – it seems a little stupid to write this – but this is the exact feeling they convey. 
We drink his wines with one ear; they are wines which make our ear cock in appreciation… This is an old French expression of the 17th century… when chemical treatments did not exist yet. 

 

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The press: the last voyage

 
The pressing of the grapes is a subtle activity. We may not imagine it, but the type of press one chooses is essential. Jérôme opted for a traditional Coquard press. (Coquard is an old manufacturer which is closely linked to tradition and has been making Champagne presses since 1924.) Slowness is the key here; the berries are not torn or blown apart, everything happens in an almost voluptuous embrace.
But indeed, this press is more labour intensive. It is necessary to manually rearrange the press load after every pressing; lift up the grapes two to three times in what is the exhausting “retrousse” manoeuvre. Muscles are flexed heavily in this silent ballet which requires a lot of effort. It would be simpler to work faster and less artisanal, but of course at that time the must would be of a different nature.

 

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From gauging the huge power of the quiet cylinders, Jérôme reckons that “the relationship between the press surface and the press load” is perfect.
In between grape deliveries the press room is meticulously and thoroughly cleaned.
During harvest there are always three people present at the press from early in the morning till late at night.
The juice runs unhurriedly whilst Jérôme tests the sugar levels of grape samples, weighs crates of grapes and oversees and assesses everything. Little words are spoken. The two press workers go from job to job. Everybody knows exactly what to do and when; they work together in harmony like a sailing team in high waters. Oak barrels lined up like in an old hold are wetted whist the winery proceeds on road to the future cuvees.

 

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