The twelve labours of Edmus
« Our mission is to produce a great wine of Saint Emilion, up to the historical prestige of the estate. This goal is constantly at the forefront of our decision making process ». This ambition, which we had proudly posted on the pediments of our web site, we can say, with now over 10 years of practical experience, that we lived up to it.
When we try to explain what we have implemented to produce a fine wine, we connect all the works we do each year to the progress we accomplish in meeting one of three following goals : Expressing our terroir with more intensity, improving the concentration of the wine and increasing its complexity. We then illustrate each of these three goals with four actions which, in all, form, what we call for this paper, the Twelve Labours of Edmus.
This presentation is of course somewhat reductive. Some actions may be omitted while others may contribute to meeting more than one goal. But, by so doing, we apply a method valued by Jean Boissonat when he was explaining his job as a journalist specializing in economic matters : « First, I simplify, second I exaggerate ».
Expressing our terroir more intensely
Expressing our terroir with more intensity is a condition to produce a wine with a strong identity, representative of its appellation, Saint Emilion Grand Cru. To this end, we resort to plot selection (1) retaining for our first wine, Château Edmus, the plots offering the more distinctive soils, those alternating sands and gravels. We have increased over the years the density of the planting (2) to develop competition between vines forcing the roots to go deeper to find their nutriments. We have, as much as we could, lowered each vine (3) to shorten the path of the sap between the roots and the fruit, limiting the energy dedicated to feed the woods rather that the fruit. Last, in early 2017, we engaged the formal process of converting to an organic wine (4) which rests in particular in promoting the soils biodiversity and consequently the vine’s immune system, the plant no longer having the protection offered by invasive chemical products. The photo above shows a plantation of « feverolles », a leguminous plant, planted after the harvest every other row, to naturally enrich and decompact the soils.
Improving the concentration
A wine’s aging potential depends in a large part on its level of concentration. The sub-soil is a factor in the vine’s capacity to produce a concentrated grape. But the winegrowers also have available some tools or methods which will impact the degree of concentration. The first such method is the yield monitoring. The winegrowers, solicitous about the quality of their production, will reduce the yields well below the authorized levels, 51 hl/hectare for a Saint Emilion Grand Cru wine et 60 hl/ha for a Saint Emilion. In a normal year, we, at Château Edmus, target a yield of 40 hl/ha. Green harvest (5) is the first tool to regulate the yields. They consist in limiting the number of bunches on each vine, cutting (see photo above), generally at the end of July, 4 to 5 bunches per plant out of the 10 to 12 bunches which each vine will naturally grow, so that the remaining bunches benefit from all the sap produced by the plant for the last few weeks before harvest. Hand harvesting (6) as opposed to mechanical harvesting, allowing the selection of the healthiest and ripest bunches is another tool as well the control of maturities (7) made significantly more effective with the improving reliability of the weather forecasts. Last, when the juice of the grapes is diluted as a result of rains near the date of harvest, it is always possible, and we have done in some years, to bleed (8) the output of the harvest on the day of the harvest by withdrawing some of the juice, 10 to 20%, letting the remaining juice, 80 to 85% benefit from 100% of the skins and tannins during extraction period, the 3 to 4 weeks following the harvest.
Increase the complexity
The complexity of a wine is its capacity to express multiple aromas, a little bit like swirls of smoke which intertwine, twist together before blending into a new taste. Complexity gives the wine its signature, its personality. The terroir plays a determining role but there again the winegrower, by its industry and its know how, has a say on the level of complexity of his wine. By combining two or more varietals, blending (9) is the first step towards the complexity of Bordeaux wines. It is supplemented by the process of extraction (10), made of the fermentation and maceration, which requires subtelty and talent to elegantly balance concentration and acidity, then by the aging (11) in oak barrels which will enrich the wine with new aromas of toast and vanilla. One should not forget the continuing process of aging in the bottle (12) eventhough this last step is more in the hands of the final consumer. It has been our experience that, whatever the vintage, it needs a minimum of 4 to 5 years after harvest, to start revealing its qualities. And, if you forget it in your cellar for a few years, all the better.