Daniel, Frédéric and Victor COULON – Domaine de Beaurenard… Let’s talk about ‘Biodynamics’ and ‘Transmission’ (2/2)
After talking to Robert, Marine and Paul Charavin, from the Domaine des Coteaux de Travers we decided to continue our investigations into the biodynamic approach to winegrowing by talking to Daniel and Victor Coulon, from the Domaine de Beaurenard.
Here are the details of our discussion with Daniel Coulon, one of the first to have embarked upon this agricultural approach in the Vaucluse region. Towards the end we also heard the views of his eldest son, Victor Coulon.
AOC RASTEAU : Biodynamics is quite a complex system of agricultural production… Can you define it for us in a few words?
Daniel Coulon : « The foundations of biodynamic agriculture are identical to those of organic agriculture, the idea being to provide favourable conditions for the plant to stand it in good stead to resist disease ».
Like in organic agriculture, , the biodynamic approach is about preventing the ills or, if treatment is absolutely necessary, limiting the doses as much as possible. But where it differs from organic agriculture is that it takes onboard the influence of the forces of the cosmos on living organisms.
He adds that this is above all a “holistic vision”, taking into account the power of everything that gravitates above our heads; the positions and cycles of the moon and the planets have an effect on plant growth. “The moon is the celestial body that is closest to the Earth and it is not surprising that we are sensitive to it”.
First and foremost, this agricultural approach demands attentive observation, which is essential to understand the vines and act in their favour.
We realise that we are dealing with a solar agriculture which, according to the powerful rhythm of the seasons, days and nights, helps the vines to develop their different organs (roots, fruits, leaves, and flowers as explained in this article). The importance of these rhythms and influences reorganises the daily work: « In the vineyard and in the cellar, the main lines of our timetable are defined according to the lunar calendar. »
A heartfelt desire, a taste for risk, and a profound respect for nature
It become apparent during our conversation with Daniel Coulon that we are talking to a winegrower who loves his work and is driven by a deep respect for nature: “I looked for a way to satisfy this passion. It took quite a long time between the decision to apply the biodynamic method and actually doing so… I had to work at it but I instinctively had a good feeling about it”.
… Curiosity and encounters
Daniel visited Alsace, and also the Loire Valley, where this agricultural movement was already established. His encounters with other winegrowers convinced him that he had made the right choice and encouraged him to continue down this path.
« A winegrower’s philosophy »
In 2007 all his plots (60 ha in total of which 25 ha are in Rasteau), obtained the biodynamic certification.
« Now, a decade later, I am still delighted with my choice. I have no regrets whatsoever. We persevered with the project because it was motivated, above all, by a heartfelt desire ».
AOC RASTEAU : It is possible to sense and measure the effects of biodynamic agriculture in the wines?
Daniel Coulon : « It all depends on the initial state of the vines. In our case, we were lucky in that our father Paul Coulon left us a great natural heritage because the vines were already very healthy. Having said that, we saw the first visual differences from the very first year of applying biodynamic principles, and even more so after 7 years. Biodynamic practices have also given us more balanced yields.»
« As for the sensory qualities of our wines, we obtained a definable purity right from the first year. After 7 years it is even more obvious, and even more so in our white wines. The number 7 is very symbolic.»
AOC RASTEAU : Is it possible to be a down-to-earth person and to believe in the biodynamic approach?
Daniel Coulon : « I actually have a scientific training but I had to accept that science could not explain everything. There were moments of doubt. But all in all I believe you can be down-to-earth and ‘up in the stars’!»
«Obviously some people like to caricature this method. It can inspire fear and some even deliberately maintain this aspect. It is interesting to talk to other winegrowers about it. Nature has incredible powers that we should accept!” »
AOC RASTEAU : Do you think you know all there is to know about your vines?
Daniel Coulon : « As the years pass, the vines and the wine change, and react to their environment… It is a constant learning experience. »
Cru Rasteau, biodynamics and you
Daniel Coulon : « The terroir of Rasteau is magnificent and is very well suited to biodynamic agriculture. There are natural barriers and an extraordinary environment with lots of slopes and earthen levees. »
« Rasteau’s fame is beginning to spread and the appellation has a positive image. Our clients ask for it spontaneously, just as they would for the wines of Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape, etc. The terroir has great potential.»
AOC RASTEAU : How does this type of vine growing reflect the values of Rasteau?
Daniel, who exudes humanity and generosity, tells us that biodynamics is “above all a question of encounters, working together, and sharing, and an approach in which human values are very important. Paradoxically the profession of winegrower is quite independent but we make up for that by talking with other people, exchanging ideas and good practices, and so on. In fact, it would be great if we did more of all that”.
AOC RASTEAU : Do you think that the popularity of the biodynamic method might grow in the years to come ?
Daniel Coulon : « Oui je l’espère ! Il faut être prêt, pouvoir y passer du temps, en avoir la volonté. Il faut avant tout aimer cela, être ‘solide’ en soi et pendre le temps qu’il faut pour gagner en sérénité. Rien ne sert d’aller trop vite s’il est question d’abandonner et faire machine arrière ensuite. Il faut avoir un certain goût du risque… »
AOC RASTEAU : Que répondez-vous à ceux qui vous demandent si le « cours aux agriculteurs » de Steiner ou le calendrier des semis sont vos livres de chevet ?
Daniel Coulon : « YES ! » … And I would happily cite some other references: « Viticulture biodynamiquethe latest book by Jean-Michel Florin which is comprehensive and accessible, and Le jour où il n’y aura plus de vinby the journalist Laure Gasparotto and the grape vine nurseryman Lilian Berillon »
We also learn that, as well as his passion for winegrowing, their father Paul Coulon has also written books; Comment faire du bon vin and L’âme du musée vigneron.
AOC RASTEAU : What can we wish you for the years ahead?
Daniel Coulon : « That people really start waking up to the environmental problem and that a collective effort will prevent irreversible climate change. Things are progressing, but it would be better if we could move faster… And to continue educating everyone, in terms of respect for the environment and respect for other human beings »
AOC RASTEAU : How does generational transmission work in your family?
Daniel Coulon : « I have 3 sons; Victor, 29, Antonin, 25, and Justin, 8. Ever since he was a little boy Victor has always been interested in the vines, cellar work and the profession of winegrower. On the other hand Antonin always had his sights set on discovering other things but now his passion for wine is astonishing… he came back to his roots quicker than expected. I never told my boys that they had to get involved in the winery, but I never told them that they didn’t have to either. As for Justin, well, he’s still a bit young!” Meanwhile Daniel’s brother Frédéric Coulon has two sons: Jules, 25, and Léon, 24, who have also caught the wine bug.»
Generationaltransmission, our interview with Victor Coulon
AOC RASTEAU : Tell us about a childhood memory that left its mark on you.
Victor Coulon : « I remember the smell of the cellar at harvest time, the crates of grapes, everything was open. When I came home from school I would taste the juice. I got used to smelling and tasting quite early on. I often recognise aromas. »
AOC RASTEAU : What sparked off your interest in winegrowing ?
Victor Coulon : « I always wanted to work in wine, even as a teenager. I wanted to be a winegrower. I chose my studies with that in mind. I attended an agronomy engineering school in Toulouse and my course specialisation was ‘vines and wines’
AOC RASTEAU : How do you feel about the biodynamic method and in what way do you think it is important?
Victor Coulon : « After I passed by baccalaureat, my father converted the estate to organic practices and gained the certification. After that I wanted to support the development towards biodynamic agriculture, which he was already working on. At that point I was still quite hesitant about the approach. I tried to read Steiner’s “Agriculture Course”. I was warned that it wasn’t easy reading and with hindsight I don’t think I was quite ready! Then I met some consultants in the biodynamic method, and began to read up on the subject and gradually became more interested. »
« My scientific background is not incompatible with the biodynamic approach »
Victor Coulon : « During my study course in Toulouse, there was a lot of talk about organic methods and sustainable development but never about biodynamics. As a student I was a bit of an ecological banner-waver, and I introduced the idea in the wine tasting club that I had started up. It may have been something to do with the rebellious side of my personality. I wanted to dare to raise a subject even if it made waves. Then, at the end of my studies, I did my internship at the Domaine Cazes in Rivesaltes, where the vines are grown according to biodynamic principles. The approach is within everyone’s reach. You just have to understand it and obviously believe in it. I saw the change in the style of the wines. It brings something extra to be closer to nature. »
AOC RASTEAU : What are your plans for the future?
Victor Coulon : « For the moment we buy certified biodynamic grapes from other winegrowers, with which we make Vins de France wines under the name ‘Famille COULON’. »
AOC RASTEAU : How do you view generational transmission?
Victor Coulon : « Transmission is having the humility to say ‘I’ve just arrived, I’m not going to revolutionise everything, I will bring new things little by little’. To bring innovative ideas to rework a tradition rather than to replace it! We meet often to discuss everything. We communicate very well, we complement each other and above all we respect each other. That way of working functions very well, and above all it is really motivating. Even more so because I am lucky enough to be on the same wavelength as my father. Obviously I would like to make my contribution. I am very into the idea of testing lots of things without necessarily looking to sell the results; parcellary selections, blends, experiments with different containers, trials of sulphur-free wines, etc. I am really fortunate to have the freedom to do that, to satisfy a sort of intellectual curiosity. We’ll see what it all leads to in the long term.».
Victor also loves literature and later in our discussion he quotes Paul Valéry: “True tradition is not to follow what others have done but to find the spirit which made these great things and will make completely different ones in other times ».
AOC RASTEAU : What can we wish you for the years ahead?
Victor Coulon : « To assert the identity and style of the domain, to continue to explore the paths that we are exploring and everything that will tie in with these explorations »
« It is important that the appellations keep on their toes! They are essential in France and abroad. And it is vital to keep listening to the winegrowers. The force of an appellation lies in its connections with the terroir, and it is the people who live there who have the closest ties with the terroir. »
« There is also the issue of climate change… Will today’s Rasteau wines be the same in 20 or 30 years’ time ? »
During these stimulating conversations we tasted some of the domain’s wines, and the very latest (the 2017 vintage) proved to be as pure, profound and sincere as the words of those who made it.
Many thanks to the Coulon family for giving their time to the Rasteau appellation!
Domaine de Beaurenard
10 avenue Pierre de Luxembourg
good to know
It houses a collection of over 2500 tools organised into 7 spaces, including a ‘vinothèque’ containing over 2000 bottles, some over a century old.
Une collection de plus de 2500 outils répartie en 7 salles, dont une vinothèque.
Musée du Vigneron
Route de Vaison-la-Romaine 84110 Rasteau
And for those who are planning a visit to Marseille’s Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MUCEM), some of these 2500 tools will be on show there in the permanent exhibition (for a period of 3 years).