Clos Henri exemplifes a French Family's love of terroir

17 mai 2017

WHEN LIONEL Bourgeois dug a handful of soil from a Wairau Valley sheep farm, he knew a long journey was over.

After 10 generations growing grapes in Sancerre, and a decade searching the world for new terroir, his family had found a place that would grow Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc unique to its corner of the world, 20,000km from home. "The Bourgeois family make terroir wine and in the Marlborough area you have the terroir," says the viticulturist, sitting beneath the golden hills of Clos Henri, 17 years after that day.
In Sancerre, the family's soils tend towards chalk, and their vines climb the hills above Chavignol. But at this Wairau Valley black, which was then 3km from the closest vineyard, they found a combination of clays, reflecting bath Marlborough's Southern Valleys and Wither Hills characteristics, as well as free draining greywacke soil.

More than the promise of the soils, and the appeal of a mixed terrain of wide flat spaces and gently sloping hills, the land immediately evoked the "feeling" Lionel and his family had been seeking.

The search for a terroir to complement their Sancerre vines had taken the Bourgeois family to Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand's North Island, before they headed south. "And when we arrived in Marlborough we tasted some wine and said, 'it is very good. There is typicity in the wine'," says Lionel. 

"The Bourgeois family make terroir wine andin the Marlborough area you have the terroir."
Lionel Bourgeois

That was February 2000, and by July they had bought land for Clos Henri, knowing they would produce Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs from the clay and from the stones, the hills and the flats, exploring the variables of land and variety. It was also important to the family that the wine be its estate's own style, says Lionel. "We want to make a style of wine that is our style. We don't make Sancerre in Marlborough and Marlborough in Sancerre."
Despite their confidence that the land would speak through the wine, the family's first taste was still a surprise. "We found there was potential and fruit expression that we had found nowhere else before," says Lionel.
Since 2000, he has visited Marlborough each year for one week during summer, and another during the harvest, spending time amid the vines and people of Marlborough and Clos Henri. He admits decision-making can be very difficult, because the soil and climate are so different from Sancerre, and he relies heavily on his people on the ground in Marlborough. "I am the boss, but this is a team. For me that is very important."
Vineyard Manager Fabiano Frangi holds regular Skype meetings with Lionel during the year, and says the advantage of the viticulturist's infrequent visits is the changes he recognises in the vineyards from year to year. "I am not able to see the differences, as for me they are too slight, too slow. But through Lionel's feedback, we can see if the changes in management are yielding the right outcome."
Fabiano led the vineyard through organic conversion, achieving certification in 2013, and from there to biodynamics. It was "a natural way to make better wine," he says. "It helps to express your terroir, if you want to make the best possible product out of that piece of land."
Clos Henri has around 45ha of vineyard on noha of land. Livestock is brought in and out as needed, and areas are protected for biodiversity, including 13ha of native trees and forests planted beyond a hillside of vines.
Organic certification has not yet been viable for the Bourgeois family in Sancerre, despite running part of their vineyard fully organic. Over there a single hectare is considered a big black, and the vineyards are widely dispersed, making the logistics of certification too complicated. Nor is the climate there as forgiving, says Fabiano, on a breezy Marlborough day. "All viticulture is easier here than in Sancerre. Look at today - sunny and windy - when all the diseases that attack the grapevine like shade and wet."
He and Lionel agree it was an obvious choice for Clos Henri. "It was just too easy to not go for it.
We are truly finding out year after year that the vines are in balance." Meanwhile, the team enjoys the philosophy, Fabiano says. "We are going from the land to the wine and it just makes sense." It is also about keeping Clos Henri healthy for the future. "This is a family. They want the land to be able to produce quality product for generations to corne."
Lionel says every time he visits New Zealand he learns something new, and describes his role, spanning Sancerre and Clos Henri, as "living the dream". His family love New Zealand for its unique nature and the special relation people have with it. And they have taken their place in Marlborough because of a love of the land and of the concept of terroir, he says. "Otherwise we would have found something doser than 20,000km away.

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