It’s time for Guy Krier (Domaine Krier-Welbes, in Ellange-Gare) to harvest his grapes – and he is congratulating himself for having gone organic nine years ago. His vines have never looked so good, and in particular this Pinot Gris plot, planted on the Naumberg, in Bech-Kleinmacher!
When the grapes are being harvested, tension mounts above the vineyard as at no other time of the year. This is an important moment as it marks both the end of one story and the beginning of another. This is the end of the grapevine’s growth cycle as it gives up its fruit – and as the must goes into the vats and fermentation starts the wine comes into being. What is at stake here is decisive: winemakers cannot afford to make a mistake nor will they be given a second chance. The fate of their wine will depend on a few cuts with the secateurs.
Rarely have Luxembourg winegrowers been as calm and confident as this year: since the first buds appeared at the end of April, the weather has been practically perfect. At his Ellange-Gare estate, Guy Krier (Domaine Krier-Welbes) has been enjoying an extremely clement year. “Working conditions could not have been better. A year as perfect as this is a one-off!” Krier has been running the estate since 1993 and 2018 will remain one of his best memories. “In 2003 [when there was a heat wave similar to 2018], the grapes suffered more from drought,” he recalls. When all is said and done, we shouldn’t curse winter’s never-ending rain as it provides the water supplies which the vines are able to draw upon using their long roots.
There is one plot on his estate which holds a very special place in the vintner’s heart. Planted with Pinot Gris in 1983, it is located in Bech-Kleinmacher, in the spot known as Naumberg. “Since 2009 everything I have grown has been organic and it was on this grapevine that I carried out my first test back in 2007,” he recalls. Why here? “Because something wasn’t right and I couldn’t work out what,” explains Guy Krier. “Despite all my best efforts, the vine wasn’t growing.” Somewhat in desperation, Krier changed his methods and banned all plant protection and weed control products. After two meagre years the miracle happened. “I saw that the vine was growing again and today it’s one of my finest!”
It’s amazing to see just how healthy the grapes are: there is nothing to discard!
Looking back now he can see that the answer lay in the quality of the soil. “Before switching over to organic, the earth was very hard and compacted. But now, biodiversity has returned. Thanks to the roots from other plants and the microfauna which has reappeared, air can get into the soil and the vine has been rejuvenated,” he adds enthusiastically.
Converting to organic has not only changed his relationship with crop protection products; the way he goes about enriching his soils is also totally different. “This year, I’ve used one ton of compost for my 11.4 hectares, and only for my young vines,” explains Guy Krier. “When I was using conventional methods, it was 800 kilos per hectare.” With soil as natural as this, it’s quite logical that his wines are a perfect expression of their terroirs.
This cherished plot was harvested by Guy Krier on 18 September and he was in rhapsodies. The stocks were laden, bearing compact bunches with the grapes tight together. “It’s amazing to see just how healthy the grapes are: there is nothing to discard!” he smiles as he holds his secateurs. A little later on, in the cellar, he is delighted with the grapes’ sugar level: “99° degrees Oechsle, that’s really great. Here’s the raw material with which to make great wine.”
In general, these harvests have produced grapes of exceptional quality: lots of sugar and, unlike in 2003, the acidity is still there – essential for giving the wine its structure. “The acidity for the Pinots Gris is more or less 6 [grams of tartaric acid per litre]. For the Pinots Noirs it’s around 7: which is fantastic!” the vintner adds.
However, don’t go away thinking that this has all been easy. If the vines had not been so carefully looked after, the results would have been quite different. “There was disease [mildew] around,” Krier points out, as he turns over a leaf to show spores on the underside. “We had to keep working through the vines on a regular basis to stop it from taking hold.” Fortunately, there was enough in the organic arsenal to ensure that any remaining fungus was confined to a few leaves here and there. This all means that the story of this 2018 vintage can get off to a calm start.