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Aubonne and good wines at the Château d’Es Bons

 

Es Bons is a family mixed farming estate on the hills of Aubonne with a newly acquired organic label, an estate that has collaborated with Cave de la Côte since the very beginning.  43-year-old Es Bons winegrower Christian Streit represents the fourth generation, working alongside his wife Antje, an art therapist who works with him on management and sales. The estate comprises six hectares of vineyards and around sixty hectares of field crops. Christian’s training as an agricultural engineer and several years spent at the federal research station in Changins helped convince him that the production-based culture reliant on chemical inputs is heading for disaster.

The Es Bons vineyard is made up of hills that slope towards the lake and land rooted in the moraine of the ancient glacier of the Rhône. Historically, most of the six hectares were reserved for chasselas; today, half of this remains, while the rest is divided between various red grape varieties: pinot noir, merlot, cabernet-franc, gamaret, garanoir and divico, one of the new varieties created in Changins two decades ago.

“Divico is the result of a cross between gamaret and Bronner and is resistant to mildew and powdery mildew”, explains Christian. “We planted 2200 square metres of it in 2015, replacing a plot of chasselas, and it’s already yielding excellent results. It’s a pleasant red with excellent potential, although only time will tell due to its recent invention. For the moment, it’s used only as part of a blend with other reds from the estate, but we envisage using it more over time, although small quantities are more difficult to vinify. It’s resistant to disease, requiring fewer treatments, although there’s always a small risk of resistance: we will therefore limit ourselves to treating twice during flowering, the only period where there’s a real risk.”

Cave de la Côte carries out the vinification of the estate’s three vintages – a chasselas and two reds, one of which is aged in barriques – that form part of the Organic and Natural Wines Collection. “Tolochenaz’s state-of-the-art installations allow for flawless separation of the flows”, says the winegrower. “In organic production, it’s essential to avoid all contamination from musts that come from conventional vines, otherwise we would risk the entire harvest losing its classification.”

Throughout the year, and up until the last tastings, the grape is monitored by Cave de la Côte’s oenologists. But before the alchemy of the musts and fermentation, what is the daily life of the vine like?

 

The life of the wine, in six key moments 

 

Winter work, pruning

The vegetation is still dormant, and the winter weather is forecast to be gloomy: in early January, it’s time for pruning. It’s a lengthy process known as guyot pruning, commonly used for chasselas, explains the winegrower. “It takes my employee Higino around three months to prune the six hectares, three of chasselas, and the rest of red wine varieties. It’s also the period when we make the most of our time to maintain and, if necessary, repair the infrastructures, as soon as we finish pruning and before bending the wood. “The cut wood is collected and ground on site, in the middle of the row, for its organic material content…”

Bud burst

In early March, vegetation was halted in its tracks by a cold snap. The buds retained after pruning generally begin to open in this period: this is known as bud burst. Small green tips appear discreetly, an initial sign of life that is quickly followed by the appearance of the first leaves.

It’s then necessary to nip off the buds, selecting the most lively, best positioned shoots, and retaining only a maximum of eight per vine. Selection of the year’s branches begins in around mid-April and lasts a good month.

It’s also the time to clean the vine, taking extra care for organic production. It’s vital that the vine is clean in order to prevent spores of mildew from attacking the plant from the ground. “We have to remove all the vegetation that spreads from the ground. In organic production, we pay particular attention to prophylactic measures.

Grassy or weeded?

The topography of the vineyards lends itself well to mechanical weeding: the tractor, fitted with discs, gently hoes between the rows. “The idea is to gently work the earth, just removing the small grassy covering without damaging the vines or roots.”

In organic production, the vineyard remains grassy between the rows. “The machines and techniques used for organic cultivation have undergone a real revolution over the past few years. Between the vines, it’s especially important to manage vegetation appropriately. We now have a whole range of possibilities for working on our vines with respect for the environment, the soil and biodiversity.”

Organic treatments

The first traps are laid in the spring: aimed at warding off the grapevine moth, they resemble spaghetti or sometimes capsules, and diffuse pheromones with the scent of females. “It’s the classic method known as sexual confusion, which prevents the males from finding females likely to lay their eggs in the grapes.

The vine then enters its period of strong growth. It’s also time for the first preventative organic treatments: “Homoeopathic doses of copper and sulphur are distributed over the areas at risk, where the mildew threat is strong. The Agrométéo website, which measures the temperature and humidity to model the risks, suggests preventative measures for organic wine growers. Copper and sulphur are natural substances accepted by the Bio Suisse organic agriculture association, over very small areas and in micro doses. If the threat of fungal diseases remains too strong, another treatment can be carried out between May and July, a maximum of ten times.

Defoliation

In early May the grapes are formed, generally arranged on a horizontal axis.

Defoliation is the name for the intervention that will allow them to be well exposed to the sun and wind in order to ripen in the best conditions.

Defoliation is carried out by machine in around mid-June, all around the grapes, in order to promote the circulation of air: the presence of humid and warm areas promotes the development of diseases.

 

Before the harvest…

The harvest usually takes place one hundred days after flowering, around 10 to 15 October. The date is planned in advance and the infrastructures are reserved, in agreement with the oenologists from Cave.

Prior to this, an estimation of the crop must be carried out in order to determine whether the quantities conform to the quotas, but also – and above all – whether the intended quality may be obtained. For chasselas, the quotas are fixed at 1.050 kilos per square metre, but for organic and extensive cultivation, the output is always lower. If necessary, stripping must be carried out in early July.

“The advantage of mechanisation is a certain flexibility: you no longer have an entire team of grape pickers who are reliant on you and the weather forecast. It’s also a force in favour of quality that helps to target the ideal maturity, the best time to pick.”

On the big day, one hectare will be harvested in two hours, so a full day must be set aside to harvest the entire estate. The grapes are then delivered to Cave de la Côte in Tolochenaz, where they will be vinified.

 

From vine to glass

Throughout the year, Cave’s oenologists visit the vineyards to monitor the development of the grapes. At every stage, from vine to glass, everyone’s priority is to aim for the highest possible quality. Once the harvest has taken place and the wine has been pressed, the oenologists prepare a few samples of the output for tasting, which is carried out as a group. Discussions take place on the vinification or the possible duration of the fermentation in barriques, for example. This is a great example of teamwork, where everyone recognises each other’s skills.

 

Discover here the Organic & Natural Wines Collection

This article has been written by the journalist Veronique Zbinden