Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Olivier Dauga: One man’s crusade to make French wine sustainable


One of the best things about getting to know the world of wine is the people that you meet along the way. The people I meet who are involved in the world of wine are among the most generous, most passionate, most fun-loving and, fundamentally, most decent people that you could ever hope to meet. They share a deep love of the world they work in and love nothing more to talk about this passion over a glass of wine. A perfect case in point for this was a couple of weeks ago when I was invited attend a tasting of the wines made under the guidance of the larger-than-life Olivier Dauga, at Primrose Hill’s recently opened La Ferme restaurant (a sister restaurant to La Ferme in Farrringdon and jointly run by all-round good guy Mike Turner (AKA @pleasebringmemywine).

The setting


We started off upstairs in La Ferme’s cosy champagne-area with a relaxed Q&A with Olivier, during which we tasted some of his wines over a couple of delicious sharing platters that had been organised by Mike and his chef (the saussicon and foie gras, in particular, were divine!). After this we moved downstairs to the restaurant itself for a light supper alongside more of Olivier’s wines. The supper was delectable too, with a couple of highlights being a refreshing courgette Gazpacho soup (made with basil and an almond milk-mousse to accompany the courgettes), some delicious mini Croque Monsieurs and Madames and, saving the best ‘til last, a selection of absolutely divine canelé served with salted caramel sauce, served alongside some beautiful Armagnac.

Olivier’s “Green Charter”


An ex-semi professional rugby player, Olivier is a tall man with somewhat of a Jeff Goldblum-like vibe about him. His convivial, slightly eccentric nature, was perfectly epitomised by his fabulous bright pink shirt, which he carried off with aplomb.

Olivier has established a wine consultancy business, which advises wine makers in Bordeaux and southern France on the practicalities and challenges of moving to organic, biodynamic and natural winemaking. His passion for this subject comes through abundantly from talking with him - I think his ethos was best summed up when he said that: "our first priority must be to protect the environment, with the second priority being to protect the wine." He is a firm advocate for sustainability (which really shouldn’t be that controversial, after all if you’re not doing something sustainably then you’re doing something unsustainably - and where’s the long-term sense in doing that?) and has translated that into the world of wine.

Olivier's “Green Charter” sets down his sustainable winemaking principles and he uses it to recruit others to the cause through his almost-evangelical fervour, which has resulted in a number of wineries who use him to varying levels as a consultant in order to get their wineries Green Charter acredited. Olivier speaks very frankly about the challenges that one will face along the way, it is not for those who are only looking to make a quick buck; this is a game for those who are interested in the long-term of their winery and the vineyard - but, quite frankly, if you have spent all that money on buying vineyards in France - why would you not want to be in it for the long-run?! 

One of the things that struck me the most about this approach to sustainability was the commitment it takes and the tolerance of risk that one must have. A lot of the chemical interventions and treatments on the vineyard are designed to protect the stock from disease  and maximise yields; moving away from this means that you have to accept that in difficult years you cannot intervene as much as conventional methods, potentially meaning lower stocks, or in really bad years - no stock at all. That takes some guts! What’s the point then? I think it is best summed up by Olivier himself:

“Not all winemakers can or should necessarily become organic, but every producer must work towards complete sustainability if our planet is to continue to produce wine in all its wonderful and varied ways for future generations. I am totally committed to this and am actively encouraging all the wine producers I work with to develop sustainable ways of growing grapes and making wine, as well as marketing and distributing it.”

In the future, Olivier believes, these kind of views won’t be seen as odd, but more of the norm. I didn’t realise, for instance, that by 2020 it has already been agreed that all wines from St. Emilion will have to be on their way to becoming certified as organic - if they haven’t they won’t be able to designate themselves as St. Emilion; that’s pretty huge really!

So what of his wines? We tasted our way through quite a few of them all-in-all, below are some of my highlights:

2017 La Griffe de Pierron Rosé (AOP Cotes de Marmandais) made from 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. The colour sat a lovely light pink in the glass, which was quite surprising for me given the grape varieties that it was made from. The nose was quiet, but on tasting it bristled with juicy freshness and had lovely notes to bright red cherries - just when they are at their most ripe and ready to eat. With an RRP of £8, this felt like an absolute bargain and an excellent summer’s afternoon wine.

2017 Foncadaure (Vin de France) made from 100% Carignan. This is a wine that is matured in plastic egg-like containers brought across from Australia. The nose was really beautiful and expressive, full of rich, dark fruits (black cherries and blackberry), with a super concentrated taste that packed loads of blackcurrant vibrancy as it was backed with plenty of acidity. There was also a slightly surprising heat and power to the wine that I wasn’t expecting. For a wine that is only a year old this has a heck of a lot of personality to it. RRP £20. We also tried the 2016 Foncadaure, which I found similarly impressive - with huge aromas of damsons and loganberries going on (RRP £20).

2017 Wild Selection VB20 White (AOP Bordeaux), 100% Sauvignon Blanc. This is another wine that is matured in those plastic eggs. There was a pleasing, if not a little surprising, depth and richness to the nose of this wine - something so unlike those SBs from New Zealand. The mouth particularly impressed me, the richness continued and I thought I detected a somewhat oily characteristic to the wine that I actually really enjoyed. A great food wine. 

2016 Kaalys White (AOP Cotes de Roussillon), 80% Grenache Blanc and 20% Macabeu). This was all about the rich and decadent butteriness of the wine, which was balanced against some juicy citrus notes (lemons and a bit of grapefruit). If you had told me that this was a decent level Burgundy I wouldn’t have argued against you. RRP £18.

2015 Excellence de Gros Caillou (AOP St Emilion Grand Cru), 100% Merlot. A pleasingly elegant and refined wine, somewhat classical in its standing. The wine had a nice weight to it with smooth, well-integrated tannins that contributed to its fine structure and balance. RRP £30 - £35.

Conclusion


Meeting Olivier and hearing him talk about his wines and his winemaking ethos was truly inspirational. I am a passionate believer in the need for us all to look at what we can do to be more sustainable in our consumption as we look to preserve the world's resources and environment for future generations so that they too can enjoy the wonderful wines that we do today.

I wish Olivier every success in recruiting more supporters in his revolution.

Lastly, I should add thanks to Louise Hill for inviting me to this fascinating event and Mike Turner for hosting so excellently. 
    

No comments:

Post a Comment