Biodynamic Winemaking as a Second Career

There are thousands of vineyards to try and to visit in the Bordeaux wine region. With 57 appellations, or AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) in Bordeaux and so many variations of wines within, there is a wine for anyone. Visiting one of the more Easterly wineries in the AOC Sainte-Foy Cotes de Bordeaux gave me a really good idea of the variety, between the grapes and terroir, available in this large wine making region. It also introduced me to two very passionate and experienced winemakers who took a leap of faith nearly two decades ago.

Meeting the English winemakers of Chateau de Claribes

Helen Kelly with her husband Nick, are the winemakers and owners at Chateau de Claribes in Gensac, Gironde. Originally from Oxfordshire, East of London, Helen and Nick were working in IT and decided to make a major life change. Like so many who move to France, the choice was for a better quality of life. More balance. While both travelled often for work and leisure, most importantly holidaying in a vineyard in the Entre-Deux-Mers, the final decision to permanently move seemed clear. This family vineyard they would holiday in seemed to have a wonderful balance of work and life, all aspects of life playing out in their vineyard.

When I visited Chateau de Claribes in April with my friend Ira (you probably know her from Lost in Bordeaux blog) we were walking through the bright green vines. Helen was discussing all sorts of matters with our group that I hadn’t in prior vineyards, the conversation was much more candid. Which was refreshing. Helen shared their methodology behind maintaining the vines, only when needed. Otherwise, the let nature run its course. This biodynamic farm was a whole host to wild grasses and critters. This clean style of winemaking leaves their wine with zero detected chemicals. The grape leaves covered in what could appear a pest to the less informed, was in fact covered with spider nests. These spiders would in turn eat the bugs attacking the vines (with the help of friendly bats and birds). In the distance, a large swath of land had been rewilded to return to forest, as it was too humid for vines anyway. In fact, this conversation inspired me to let nature run wild on our property, having been well manicured over the decades it didn’t make sense and wasn’t what nature required.

Back in their sustainably renovated gite or holiday let, Helen spoke about more facets to being a winemaker outside of the vineyards. There are the transporters, authorizing bodies like Quali Bordeaux and INAO. CIVB and Douanes (to name a few). Winemakers pay a fee to belong to many of these associations, which in turn market their wine. Or, as has happened this year, create wonderful fliers and take home wine tasting guides for tourists. She has done her best to learn and be a part of as much as she can, and needs.

Helen and Nick also want to be involved and constantly learning about winemaking and working the vineyard, and blending. Always ‘working with nature, rather than trying to control it’. Prior, while working in the UK, they had plenty of professional certifications. They have continued to acquire additional certifications in France in relation to owning and managing their own property. Their experience working internationally before has helped the business side greatly. Nicks interest in antique cars and planes has helped them with equipment maintenance. So many skills from their prior lives have been transferable.

When first arriving to Gensac Helen and Nick were introduced to a ‘groupement‘ which was a business shared between multiple small vineyard owners. This has lead to their becoming shareholders and working with the employees to know exactly which work is required in the vineyard during different times of year. Consultants then come to Chateau de Claribes each week to aid in accessing the health of the vines and guide in any required work or treatments. Edwige, which works for the Chamber of Agriculture, specializes in organic certification and has helped in emergencies such as late frosts or sudden hail. Events which can destroy a crop and that require specialist responses.

Helen and Nick have been working their vines for 18 years and are happy to share their story and experience. The location they live and grow in is bucolic, the holiday let charming, and their many wines…needless to say…delicious. There are multiple styles, changing yearly, but you can enjoy their “Sauvignon Cent pour Cent” with oysters, or duck with their “Marpeau” – just like Helen and Nick Kelly do!

Chateau de Claribes is a biodynamic, vegan winery open for visits on request / Chateau de Claribes – Organic Bordeaux Wine and Holidays / 7 Claribes, 33890 Gensac / 05 57 47 16 62

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