The first time I ever visited Bertrand Gautherot, the first thing that he showed me were his cows. “Having animals like cows and chickens around is important for cultivating biodiversity, in order to increase the diversity of natural yeasts,” he said. “But that’s not the only reason I have them. My cows are important to me because they regulate my mood. I take care of them first thing in the morning, and if I’m in a bad mood, they know it, and they’ll let me know that they know it. It makes me realize that I have to calm down and readjust my attitude before I go out into the vineyard.”
This may sound eccentric, but it’s actually reveals a lot about both the man and the estate. Gautherot has a deep respect for nature, and loves nothing more than being out among his vines. “The culture of the vine is my passion,” he says. In keeping with these sentiments, he is deeply committed to natural viticulture, naming as his influences Jean-Pierre Frick in Alsace and Guy Bossard in the Loire Valley.
Gautherot first began tending his vines in Buxières-sur-Arce in 1986. By 1996 he had stopped using chemical weedkillers altogether and had begun steps towards biodynamic viticulture; since 1998 he has been certified biodynamic by Demeter. He notes that biodynamics causes the root structure of the vine to grow completely differently, plunging deeper into the ground rather than settling for nutrients near the surface. He’s also noticed that biodynamic farming causes the character of the soil to change dramatically in only a short amount of time. When you go up with him into the Sorbée vineyard, Gautherot likes to bring along a shovel and compare the soils of his parcels with those of the adjacent plots belonging to his cousin. The earth in his cousin’s vineyard is hard and parched, making it difficult to break. Gautherot’s, in contrast, is warm, crumbly and well-aerated, full of little roots from vegetation and home to a host of creepy, crawly lifeforms. The two don’t even smell the same—in fact, his cousin’s soil really doesn’t smell like anything at all. Gautherot definitely believes that biodynamics has improved the overall health of his vineyards, and is committed to its practice. At the same time, he doesn’t treat biodynamics as a religion. “Biodynamic viticulture is a tool—it’s not the most important thing,” says Gautherot. “You don’t drink a wine because it’s biodynamic, you drink it because it’s good.”
In the past, Gautherot was content to tend his vines, selling his grapes to the local cooperative, and in the end it was his friend Anselme Selosse who convinced him to vinify his own wine. His first vintage was the difficult 2001, which yielded grapes of only ten percent natural alcohol; in 2002, he says, “I harvested too early,” while 2003 was “a very small harvest,” as was the case everywhere in Champagne. Gautherot persevered, however, and began to sell his 2001 champagne in 2004. He quickly gained a devoted following, and today he enjoys near cult-like status in the Aube among champagne aficionados, rivaled perhaps only by Cédric Bouchard in nearby Landreville. He has steadily increased his production as he’s stopped selling his grapes to the négoce, with a final contract with Duval-Leroy terminating as of 2008.
Gautherot farms five hectares of vines today. All of his vineyards are in Buxières except for a 40-are parcel in the neighboring commune of Ville-sur-Arce, and the name of Gautherot’s estate is derived from two primary vineyard sites: Vouette, a 46-are parcel that lies just behind the house, on Kimmeridgian marl; and Sorbée, a one-hectare plot located farther up the slope, primarily on Portlandian soils. A third vineyard, Biaunes, is a two-hectare parcel not too far away from the others, sharing the same type of Kimmeridgian soil as Vouette.
— Peter Liem