A 15 minute drive on the D26 took us from Verzenay to Ambonnay to visit Benoît Marguet, but despite the proximity, the two producers couldn’t have been more different. If Pehu is learning his parcels and the wines they make employing conventional farming methods, Marguet is a man dedicated to all things natural in his vines. Shortly after we arrived he was telling us about his commitment to a low/no sulfur regime and how, “wine should be positive for the body.” He was ready to give us the standard dog and pony tour, but when we expressed interest in his natural techniques and biodynamic practices he offered to take us to the “dirty area” where he makes his teas, infusions, biodynamic preparations, and quite literally where the magic happens.
I’ve been to enough biodynamic wineries to have seen a variety of setups and commitment to the practice, but his “dirty area” was impressive and substantial, including a walk in cooler for all herbs, spices, extracts, and god knows what else to help him farm in natural and biodynamic means. He uses these practices to raise the vines natural immune systems rather than consistently spraying chemicals to protect them. To continue the journey into the more woo-woo side of biodynamics he is a proponent of crystals both in the vineyards and the winery to promote positive energy and help direct the vines to grow tall and not too many leaves. He does all of this extra work because he feels, “wine isn’t just for parties, but also to feed people elements they need, and for spirituality.”
I am painting Benîot as a bit of a nutter, which he is, but this isn’t entirely fair, he greeted us in an Aston Martin racing shirt and seemed like a normal guy. In many ways he is, but our conversation went back and forth between mundane areas of wine and life to the crunchy, woo-woo topics without getting bogged down by too much culty preaching on high that many spiritual folks can easily fall into.
Benîot is fortunate to have access to a lot of vines both that he owns as well as those of his friends from whom he purchases fruit. He has 10 HA of vines in Ambonnay and Bouzy, eight for himself and two he sells to Krug, all of his land is farmed biodynamically and plowed by his two horses. He purchased/s fruit from Aÿ, Avize, Bouzy, Chouilly, Cramant, Cumières Mesnil-sur-Oger, and Trepail. He knows how hard it is to convert vines to organic and biodynamic practices, so he’s willing to purchase fruit from growers who are in the process of converting rather than only those that are already certified.
In the cellar, Benîot is a big proponent of oak, he has about 300 barrels. The barrel room, whether because of the crystals, his personality, or some other factor, is a peaceful and reverent place. More like a temple or church than part of a wine. Amidst this calm, was the fascinating fact that his wines in barrel is sulfur free, yet doesn’t show signs of oxidation. He has a large range of wines which I’ll discuss below which includes a few blends. He thinks blending wines is like people meeting, sometimes they don’t like each other. With all of the blending, and the range of wines, he tries not to worry and just lets the wines do their thing because they change all the time. Whereas he feels, “industrial wines are fixed in taste.”
Before and during bottling, Benîot does a few things that I found very interesting. First, like most biodynamic producers he works by moon cycle, which in his case includes disgorging. When the time is right, the night before he makes a new liqueur d’expédition from organic cane sugar and reserve wine aged in jeroboams. The other interesting technic he uses is jetting, which I hadn’t heard of before this visit. Immediately before the cork is put in the bottle, a micro drop of water is added so the champagne foams up to the top of the bottle with pushes out the air in the bottle thereby reducing the amount of sulfur that is added to the wine.
Marguet’s range of wines is substantial and has been changing over the last few years. The Elements wines are now his flagship wines in both white and rosé versions. He’s still making the blanc de noirs which he labels as premier cru even though its now exclusively from Ambonnay. Its just the younger vines and lesser fruit so he doesn’t think it deserves the grand cru moniker. After these wines is where it becomes interesting, if not overblown. Benîot makes two terroir specific ranges. First is the Cru series, where much of the purchased fruit goes, in the near future you’ll be able to find single crus from Aÿ, Ambonnay, Avize/Cramant, Bouzy, Chouilly, and Mesnil-sur-Oger. The other terroir line focuses on single parcels of vines he owns in Ambonnay, Les Bermonts, Les Crayères, Ruelle, and Le Parc. Unfortunately many of these wines were between vintages so we didn’t get to taste them all. That being said we did taste the Mesnil-sur-Oger, as we did with David Pehu. I think producers who are accustomed to Pinot end up making Chardonnay in a bigger, rounder style with less minerality and not so lean as the Cotes de Blancs producers. Interesting to see the same grapes made with a different accent.
His final wine is Sapience, which is an evolving project focusing on biodynamic grapes originally purchased from Benîot Lahaye, Vincent Laval, and David Leclapart. The fruit sources have been changing over the years to include Marguet’s grapes when they became certified biodynamic. This wine isn’t cheap, but its an incredible wine. Its not a powerhouse that will wow everyone that tastes it, but rather it’s a wine for contemplation and meditation. I believe it exemplifies Benîot’s philosophies and biodynamic practices. It’s a journey for the body, and well worth seeking out but only to drink in a calm environment when you can focus on the wine and how it moves in your body.
Overall, I think Marguet’s personality carries through to his wines. There’s lots of good energy in the wines. However, he is pulled in lots of directions and this shows in his wines. The wines(and the man) are constantly changing and showing different sides of themselves. These wines are not static, nor is the man who makes them. This is exciting, but also hard to predict what you’re going to get when you pull a cork, and where the wine will go over the course of a bottle.