Skip to content

“Having different elements such as trees and a pond attract different insects and birds – another type of fauna and flora – which improves the diversity of the ecosystem.”

Les Dolomies

In the Jura, there’s a rural village called Passenans, where Steve and Céline Gormally’s house sits. It backs directly onto a vegetable garden, where ducks quack and donkeys bray, with the wine cellar right next door. In a vineyard nearby, there are sixty chickens clucking amongst the vines, and next on the agenda will be a horse and some pigs. This is the epitome of working towards the goal of a self-sustaining ecosystem. 

Once upon a time, in the previous century and before, this was the norm. But with the onslaught of industrial agriculture, the very notion of polyculture seemed to disappear almost overnight. Thanks to growers such as Les Dolomies, it’s slowly but surely making a return, and it signals a brighter future for the land and those who care for it. 

360 Harvest Video

Meet Steve and Céline   

It’s mid-harvest, yet the duo still welcomes us with open arms for lunch. Right before harvest was due to start, Céline fell down the stairs, so she’s in a neck brace. Even that won’t deter her – there’s little time for rest. During harvest, she spends all of her time in the vines with the harvest team, and Steve spends all of his time in the cellar with their two employees. 

Around the lunch table there’s around 15 people chatting and laughing, getting ready to begin harvesting again in the afternoon. It might seem like a well-oiled and upbeat machine now, but that didn’t happen overnight; in fact it was only in 2016 that Steve was able to join Céline full-time.   

Céline grew up in the Jura, and Steve moved here from Isère, working in tourism. Céline began her career working in a conventional winery, where she was also taught winemaking. Although it wasn’t what her own vision of wine would become, she learnt a lot in a small space of time. When the two met in 2005, a stroke of luck hit – straightaway someone from the village could see Céline’s passion for viticulture and offered her a small parcel of red varieties. The first wine (just enough for personal consumption) was made in 2006. It was enough for her to be certain she was on the right path, and bit by bit she began to collect other parcels with help from Terre de Liens, an organisation which support environmentally focused farmers with grants and helping them to find land. Les Dolomies was born.

The Vineyards 

After having taken on the parcel of red varieties in 2006, a friend of Céline’s grandmother offered her a small parcel of Chardonnay in L'Étoile (a tiny Jura appellation). At the same time, Céline had begun working for Domaine Saint Pierre, where she learnt more about organic and biodynamic farming, which she could transfer to her own vineyards. 

Next, she found a vineyard in Passenans, and by 2010 she had three hectares spread across various parcels. It was time to take the full-time plunge. These days, they have five and a half. 

Since the beginning, she has worked organically, and very soon after, she also took a biodynamics training course with the well-known teacher, Pierre Masson. Working without chemicals was the only option in her mind, but it was no easy journey. As she didn’t have any vines in her family, she took what she could find:

“We got all the parcels that nobody else wanted – the old vines which aren’t easy to work with because they’re planted at such a high density, and the vines on steep slopes, so a tractor can’t go through.” 

Although some parcels are difficult and costly to manage, the fruit the vines produce is of an incredible quality. So, perhaps a pain in the backside, but with old vines that portray a swathe of genetic diversity from times gone by, she wouldn’t have it any other way. It was also in 2010 that the group Le Nez dans le Vert was founded: a group of likeminded organic and biodynamic winemakers and farmers from the Jura. Together, they hold monthly meetings and organise wine fairs. 

“When Le Nez dans le Vert was founded it was just so cool. It was a great support. It’s so important to be able to chat and exchange ideas with colleagues who work in the same vein.” 

Although still working with biodynamic principles, her and Steve are no longer as strict as they were at the beginning. 

“We work a little less regularly now – having three kids over four years will do that to you! Biodynamics demands time.”

Working with a diverse array of plants is a core feature of biodynamics

They apply biodynamic teas, and they make the stinging nettle preparation themselves, but their particular passion is working with animals. This began with their donkeys, which they harvest with. Next came fifty chickens. These weren’t just chickens for the purpose of eggs, meat and fertiliser, but rather Céline and Steve had a very specific job in mind for them: curing their budworm problem in the Chardonnay parcel, La Chaux. 

Budworms are a type of caterpillar that develop before harvest, attacking the grapes and making holes in them, which leads to various types of rot developing. It can be hugely damaging, and Céline and Steve had always struggled with it in one parcel. After analysing the lifecycle of the budworm, they realised that they nest in the wood of the vines over winter. What’s more, they discovered that budworm is ideal chicken food. So, they decided to release the chickens into the vineyard after harvest, before nesting season began, and it worked! This year, they have had no budworms at all. 

Three goats also joined the crew. They are released into the trickiest to farm vineyards over winter – those where there’s a lot of grass and which can’t be worked by tractor – Les Combes in particular. 

Meet the Donkeys

Next year, they will buy sixty more chickens together with a friend, to put in the vineyards again, as well as for meat production. They also have their eyes on getting a few pigs, as they have a winemaker friend who has successfully introduced pigs to vineyards. Céline will also take a draft horse training course with a friend, with the end goal of working some of their vineyards by horse and plough.

“We really believe in the importance of integrating animals into the vineyards. We want to bring diversity to the vines, and animals are a form of culture. They help us to break the monocultural mould of a vineyard.” 

Ducks at Céline & Steve's home

When it comes to replanting vineyards, they are now doing so with principles of agroforestry. When replanting a 0.25-hectare section of their parcel, Les Boutonnieres, they will keep a 10-metre row to plant with fruit trees, again with the aim of avoiding an overly monocultural  system. They will seek advice from a friend who runs a local tree nursery, La Pépinière d'ici et d'ailleurs, which works with several rare and old species of fruit trees. They will also make a pond -

“Having different elements such as trees and a pond attract different insects and birds – another type of fauna and flora – which improves the diversity of the ecosystem.”

In terms of soil management, everything is carried out very gently; ploughing is mainly done under the vine, and occasionally between the vines if the native grasses become too competitive for the vine. All vineyard work is delayed for as long as possible, in order to disturb the natural system as little as they can. Last year, they began studying their bird population together with an association for the protection of species.

“We have many birds that nest in our vineyards; we see the eggs, the fledglings, every step. That’s why we keep the grasses high late into the season, as this helps to leave them undisturbed.”

To ensure they don’t eat too many of the grapes, they have installed decoy bird scarers that mimic birds of prey and predators in the peak season. They also have electric fencing to keep the wild boars out, which have a particular fondness for the red Jura grape variety, Trousseau. 

The Wines

All of the wines of Les Dolomies have become renowned in the natural wine world for their delicious, moreish saltiness. Whether this comes from the eponymous dolomitic limestone found across their vineyards, or whether it comes from their natural yeast populations or winemaking techniques, nobody really knows, but that’s part of the magic. 

The white wines – Chardonnay and Savagnin – are pressed directly in wooden horizontal Vaslin presses, after which they are fermented in tanks at a cool temperature (maintained by ensuring good air flow and that the doors are shut if it’s hot outside). This is the key element that they have adjusted over the years. When they first began making wine, they would transfer the juice straight to barrel, but they noticed that fermentation would stall and take a very long time. This meant that from time to time they would have some volatile acidity (caused by a bacteria, which gives a sharp taste). 

“If the wine is complex and structured, then some volatile isn’t worrisome. The balance in the wine means it won’t be noticeable, but we wanted to see what we could do to reduce it.” 

They went on a training course with a well-respected natural winemaker, Jacques Neoport, but with winemakers from all over France asking questions that varied immensely to one another, they weren’t quite satisfied. So, together with fellow winemakers Valentin Morel and Loreline Laborde, they invited Jacques to come and see them in the Jura. They discussed at length their difficulties. 

“We still call Jacques regularly. Discussions are so important; just the act of discussing helps; and he has so much experience.”

He suggested that they should try to ferment the wines at a cooler temperature, as warm temperatures favour bacteria. Hopefully, by making this extra tweak, they’d have less bacterial issues and hence be able to make wines without sulphites (without problems). So far, so good: the 2019 vintage was successfully managed without sulphites, and 2020 is on track to follow in its path. In addition, Céline decided to see whether a concrete hexagonal fermenter might make fermentation somewhat more dynamic and speed things along. Time will tell.

A hexagonal concrete fermentor

The wooden tool on the right hand side is used for hand destemming

Meanwhile, for the red wines - produced from Pinot Noir, Trousseau and Poulsard – they place some whole bunches at the bottom of the tanks with destemmed berries on top.  Maceration is gentle and the length of time is quite short; usually between seven and fifteen days, depending on how fast the fermentation is (they press when the wine is almost dry). Céline shrugs, smiling as she says,

“And that’s it really. We look at the wines, taste and discuss things together of course, but I’m in amongst the vines almost all the time during harvest, I’m almost never in the cellar. Steve manages the winemaking; that way we share the work.” 

It’s that classic tale of fine wine being made in the vineyard, and raised in the cellar. Few demonstrate it as emotively as the wines of Les Dolomies. 

Recently Added

Checkout View Cart