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Romain Bouchard’s Organic Conversion

“Nature is stronger than man,” said Romain Bouchard as he laughed of his struggle; it’s been five years since his vineyards’ conversion.  Starting in 2006 with his Domaine de la Grande Chaume, a 3.38ha property whose activity had ceased, Romain planted another property in 2007, while simultaneously starting the existing property’s conversion to organic.

“ I knew them very well,” said Romain of the vineyard’s owners, “so I had the opportunity…And [because] it’s outside of the family, it was something new for me.”

As the son of Pascal and Joëlle at Domaine Pascal Bouchard, a 33ha estate with vineyards in each of Chablis’ four appellations, Romain has been working and organically converting his family’s vineyards and cellar since 2000. Obtained from Joëlle’s father, the great viticulturist André Tremblay in 1979, the Domain has old vine holdings in Grand Crus Les Clos, Blanchot and Vaudésir.

Beginning with 2.77ha of Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey, which was planted in 1979, Romain welcomed the opportunity to practice farming organically, as it’s something he’d been wanting to practice for some time.  “When you change from conventional to organic, it’s a step-by-step process,” he said.  “The vineyard needs time to adapt.”

For the first few years, the soil was quite compact, until he started plowing.  “You could see the nature coming back,” said Romain.  “For the first few years, I had difficulty controlling the nature, because Chablis can be very wet, so everything grows… the first year was quite difficult.”  However, now that it’s been five years since the conversion, with EcoCert organic certification gained in 2010, Bouchard has come to master the natural growth of his vineyards.

With these 3.38ha divided between two single vineyards – 0.55ha of Chablis AC in the Valley of ‘Grand Bois’ in Fontenay prés Chablis, and 2.77ha of Premier Cru Vau de Vey – Bouchard hand harvests and keeps the grapes intact so he can better employ their natural yeasts.  “In the vineyard, you have 1,000’s of fossils,” he said of ‘Grand Bois’. With a “chunky soil” of white stones, Kimmeridgien clay and fossilized oysters, the property here is very steep, and southwest facing with a 38% grade slope.  “It’s interesting to make single vineyard [wine] with this,” he added.

The Premier Cru Vau de Vey is the larger of the two parcels, and here the soil is of clay and limestone from the Kimmeridgien era, though the parcel is patchworked, with some parts containing more clay and others with more limestone or white clay.

Vinifying his wines in the winery at Pascal Bouchard, Romain allows the fermentations to naturally start each year, even if the first year was trying.  And though his fermentations now start with greater ease, the same can be said for his malolactic fermentations, which are natural and without inoculations.  If the winter temperatures are particularly low, the ML takes longer to initiate.  “This year,” he said, “the winter wasn’t cold, so it started early.”

With low-yielding vines, Bouchard’s annual production is limited to approximately 14,000 bottles.  In general, the “Grand Bois”, whose vines were planted in 2000, sees 11 months on its fine lees, with two-thirds in stainless steel and one-third in old French oak, though this can change depending upon the vintage.  And while the Vau de Vey spends 12 months on its fine lees with half in tank and half in old barrels, the 2011 vintage, which Romain is currently aging, offered higher yields.

In 2007, Robert Parker awarded the Chablis 1er Cru Vau de Vey 91 points, followed by 90 in 2008.  And with the inception of Romain’s second project with his brother Damien, DRB in 2010, we look forward to his continuing success in interpreting terroir, as this is one family with the roots of Chablis in its blood.

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