Delve into Winemaking through the Mind of an Alchemist
When you meet Anne-Sophie Dubois, you probably wouldn’t realise that this young lady already has thirteen vintages under her belt, and that’s not even counting her internships in Champagne and Burgundy! She is still so young, and she has such an exuberant, youthful energy about her. She has an enigmatic smile, pixie-like hair, and an infectious laugh.
When we met with her to create a winemaker profile about her life, vineyards and wines, we ended up having such an in-depth conversation about the complexities of winemaking and natural fermentation, so we decided to publish an excerpt of the interview to highlight this bright mind, for all to see. Anne-Sophie may already have a lot of experience, but she is not resting on her laurels.
LITTLEWINE: Tell us a little about how you make Gamay, Anne-Sophie?
Anne-Sophie: “I wanted to destem when I first started making wine here: that’s how I’d learnt to make wine in Volnay, Burgundy. It took me a while to realise that actually for Gamay I prefer drinking the wines that are made from whole bunches - so I started to work with whole bunch fermentations in 2015. That said, there is no recipe. In 2017 I destemmed Labourons [her top wine]. Such low yields meant we had these teeny tiny grapes - the proportion of stem to berry would have been enormous - so I decided to destem.”
LITTLEWINE: Tell us how the different Fleurie cuvées Les Cocottes and l'Alchimiste are made?
Anne-Sophie: For the Alchimiste and Les Cocottes – well now (it wasn’t always like that) – I blend together all of the fruit from the vines, from the start. I used to keep them separate, but I think co-fermentation adds something – the different types of berries somehow complete each other. Then, I decide which becomes which - L’Alchimiste has a longer maceration period, whereas Les Cocottes has a shorter maceration, as it’s a wine I think should be delicious young - an easy drinking wine, whereas L'Alchimiste has a little more structure.
LITTLEWINE: How about ageing?
Anne-Sophie: All in old barrels. Les Cocottes is taken out of barrel into cuve to clarify naturally in February: it stays in cuve for two months - bottled in April. The others stay in barrel until June, then three months in cuve to settle naturally, then bottled in October, just after harvest.
LITTLEWINE: We have your 2018s and 2017s in the Bottle Shop. What were the two years like?
Anne-Sophie: They’re not at all the same type of wine, but that’s Nature for you! In 2017 we had a bad flowering period, so we got these teeny tiny berries at harvest and not much juice, which means the wines have a tannic structure, and they’re very concentrated. 2017 wines want to be structured, whereas the 2018 wines are all about generous fruit: they’re so juicy.
LITTLEWINE: How do you achieve this juiciness?
Anne-Sophie: Firstly, I never add sulphur during vinification, only the tiniest amount at bottling. Also, vinification-wise, after the grapes come in they’re kept in concrete tanks, and I do almost no remontage or pigeage, just “infusion” style.
LITTLEWINE: How long does it start for them to start fermenting?
Anne-Sophie: Well, I only ever use natural yeasts, so it varies. Some take five to six days to start, then stay in the tanks for fifteen days more. Others start right away and only stay in there for ten days before going into barrel.
LITTLEWINE: Wow… Six days before they start fermenting is quite a long time. Do you ever get scared?
Anne-Sophie: When you work with natural yeasts in this manner, you need to smell the wine often - to make sure it smells healthy. Then, I also look at the juice under a microscope to see what’s happening on a microbial level – the different populations of bacteria and yeast.
LITTLEWINE: Cool! We’ve heard of people doing microscope studies before, but we’ve never seen it in action.
Anne-Sophie: “Yes, we owe a lot to Jules Chauvet [a wine merchant and biochemist who worked for decades on fermentation and promoted organic farming, today often dubbed The Godfather of Natural Wine]. Afterwards, Jacques Neoport, who worked with Marcel Lapierre [fellow Beaujolais winemaker who sadly passed away, the domaine is now run by his children Matthieu and Camille]. They’ve left so much knowledge for us… a “connaissance.” Do you want to see something cool?
Anne-Sophie: Well when you do natural fermentation, before you hit 5% ABV, you have all sorts of other yeasts at play. Above 5 though, saccharomyces [the main yeast for wine fermentation] takes over. So look here - this is a photo from my microscope. Here you can see all the other yeasts - the long one here is one called Schizosaccharomyces.
LITTLEWINE: So cool. So how does the microscope help?
Anne-Sophie: If the fermentation seems to not be starting, or if it’s really slow - particularly if it’s a cold ferment - you might not get enough of an indication from taking the sugar readings. So if you look under a microscope, you can see what’s going on, and that’s reassuring.
LITTLEWINE: It’s so precise, that’s amazing to see.
Anne-Sophie: Yes! It’s not just about organic grapes; it’s about avoiding additions, and listening to your grapes. You have to have a passion for viticulture and vinification. Yes, you’re a farmer, but you also need to pay attention to the wine you are making. I don’t accept faults. This way of making wine - it’s not about “doing nothing…”
LITTLEWINE: Yes. When a fault is noticeable it shouldn’t be passed off as part of the wine’s aromas. But what about the good aromas in general - what do you look for in a wine?
Anne-Sophie: Tasting is so subjective. We all have different preferences! My boyfriend and I, when we go to a restaurant, we can never decide. He loves Grenache, whereas I love Gamay (of course), Pinot, Syrah, Chenin… but that’s fun - to have different tastes. In the end, it’s about well-made wine, made by people who care.
Want to taste Anne-Sophie's wines?
We agree: taste is subjective and that's what makes it fun. Prefer light, delicious gluggable reds? Go for her Les Cocottes. How about something a little more pensive, a little more serious? Go for L'Alchimiste. Prefer darker, structured styles? Pick Her Gamaret/Gamay blend - Ici et Là.