An Afternoon with Nicolas Joly

We hear stories of biodynamic producers planting cow horns and running naked through the vineyards. But, biodynamics are based on the spiritual/practical philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. It is a controversial topic among winemakers. Many are skeptical about the practice while others embrace it.

One of the most well-known biodynamic winemakers from the Loire Valley in France is Nicolas Joly of Vignoble de la Coulée de Serrant. He is known as the father of biodynamic wine making and as a passionate environmentalist, at 69 years of age, Joly travels, writes and speaks about his beliefs.

Nicolas Joly

While on a press trip to the Loire Valley, we were scheduled to visit Coulée de Serrant and to our great surprise, Nicolas Joly was there to greet us when we arrived. We spent the next three hours walking through the vineyards, tasting his wines and listening to him wax poetic about his grapes.

Clos de la Coulee de Serrant (2)

Joly’s parents bought the property in 1969 but he came to the U.S. to get his MBA at Columbia University. He spent six years working as an investment banker in New York and London but realized banking wasn’t for him. He returned to the family estate in 1977 and took over. He told us that when he first started, he used pesticides in the vineyards but “there is an invisible hand that guides you and changes you and it’s important not to become set in your ways.”

“If you start with pesticides, you disconnect with photosynthesis and soil. To express the substance of the place, this is the meaning of appellation.” As he made a move to biodynamics, he found that “it’s linked to a system that makes the earth work.”

Joly is a man in constant motion. He makes gandiose gestures as he talks. He is fascinating to listen to and loves to educate. “One’s own experience should not be lost as it can help speed up the process for others,” he told us.

Nicolas Joly of Clos de la Coulee de Serrant, Savennieres (5) Nicolas Joly of Clos de la Coulee de Serrant, Savennieres (10) Nicolas Joly of Clos de la Coulee de Serrant, Savennieres (19)

As we walked through the vineyards, he explained that “farming has to be an art.” You bring the right forces onto the right plant. “A strong vine does not make good wine. You must have a consciousness about what is life.”

Joly continued to explain that he wants a return to terroir. The term “AOC” or appellation has been taken over by marketing. “The consumer has the right to know the true taste of something. It should be compulsory to put on the label what is in a wine to make it taste that way.”

Check out this video Nicolas Joly talking about “true taste”. 

We wandered down into his cellars where Joly told us about playing music to his wine.

We finally ended the afternoon in his library where we tasted through some of his wines. From the Les Vieux Clos 2012 with subtle floral notes and minerality to the pineapple aromas in the Coulee de Serrant 2012, the wines were elegant and beautiful. But, are they good wines? Here’s what Joly said, “I won’t tell you the wine is good but I will say that the taste is true.” I will finish with a note that the wines were very good.

Les Vieux Clos 2012 Clos de la Bergerie 2012 Clos de la Coulee de Serrant 2011 and 2012 Clos de la Coulee de Serrant

In the end, Joly explains, “you can’t quantify quality.”