The wines of the Thillardon family, in Chénas — the smallest of the ten Beaujolais Crus — represent the next generation of natural wine pioneers. Not only are they focused on making wine in an artisan way, and farming with organic and biodynamic methods, but they are also dedicated to fostering a supportive community.
Although the Thillardon wines have become some of the most heralded wines in Beaujolais, the family remains ever humble. Indeed, Paul-Henri Thillardon tells us that if it weren’t for Domaine St-Cyr, a fellow winery, he might not even have embarked upon his path as a winemaker in the first place. It is this humility and open-minded approach to sharing knowledge, which they are now extending to younger winemakers in the region, that reminds us we are all capable of striving for a greater good. And what medium is better than a bottle of wine to serve as inspiration to do so?
LITTLEWINE visited Paul-Henri Thillardon in October 2022
People: Paul-Henri, Charles Jean-Baptiste and Aude Thillardon
Place: Chénas, Beaujolais, France
Varieties: Gamay, Chardonnay, Chardonnay Rose and Aligoté
Did You Know? Paul-Henri was mentored by organic and natural Beaujolais winemakers, Thierry St-Cyr, Jean-Louis Dutraive and Yvon Métras
Working organically has always been crucial for Paul-Henri. When he was learning to make wine, he spent time in Ardèche, where he learnt about organic viticulture, as well as the importance of farming organically for fruit and vegetables. He says,
“I found it really interesting — by conviction, but also because the taste and the quality of the fruit was much better for natural winemaking. So, when the time came for me to farm my own vines, the only way I could envision to do so was organically.”
Next, he began biodynamic trials in 2012, in the Chassignol vineyard, and now farms all of his parcels biodynamically. He says,
“At first, we decided to try working biodynamically out of curiosity. The results were almost immediate. It was incredible. The vines were healthy, everything growing around the vines was healthy, and that simply made us happy. It made us feel good. I really think the presence of the animals; working by horse; has even more of a positive impact. Then, it’s also a personal feeling —working in this paysan manner resonates with us. I’m not dogmatic; it’s not a religion for me. It simply suits us. At the end of the day, I’m pragmatic. We do what we can, we love working with animals. It’s not that biodynamics per se is somehow ‘superior,’ but it’s about looking at everything you are able to do, personally, and how this contributes to your place.”
For Paul-Henri, tending animals is a key part of this belief system. He says,
“At its core, biodynamics is a very rural approach. You need animals on the farm in order to create your own compost, and to have them graze and tread the ground of your vineyards. We have bees, chickens (from la Ferme de la Ruchotte), pigs and cattle. This is very important to also have a positive energy in the wines.”
He is currently trialling cover crops, namely wheat and peas, to protect the soil against erosion, particularly when there are extreme storms in the area. Additionally, the peas bring nitrogen to the soil, and the wheat dries out early in the season, hence it doesn’t compete with the vines. It also acts as a ‘lid’ of sorts on the granitic soils of Chassignol, helping the soils to retain more moisture and...