Homeopathy for vines
A vineyard is just like the human body: you build its immunity through a healthy diet, and not medication, says biodynamic winemaker Thibault Liger-Belair.
Taking a dinner knife from the table, Thibault Liger-Belair slices a wine cork into half and proceeds to do the same for another. He shows me the two pieces of wood, running his index finger across their cross sections: one, from Portuguese cork, is a micro-landscape of jagged cliffs and crevices; the other, from Sardinia, is smoother, with finer lines and textures. The Sardinian cork, made from 200-year-old cork trees, is of a higher quality: it is denser and allows just the right amount of micro-oxygenation for the wine.
In 2009, the 38-year-old winemaker, who runs his eponymous domaine in Burgundy’s Nuits-Saint-Georges, made the switch from Portuguese to Sardinian cork for his wines. Paying attention to such minute details has been Thibault’s modus operandi; a work ethic that has led to him to become one of Burgundy’s rising stars. He is also a vocal proponent of biodynamic winemaking, a trend that is spreading in the region.
The Liger-Belair family traces its roots to more than 200 years ago, when its aristocratic members founded C.Marey and Comte Liger-Belair, a wine merchant business to distribute wines from Burgundy. In those days, being a winemaker or wine grower—ploughing the land and harvesting grapes—was frowned upon on anyone with a noble background.
Thus, when Thibault took over the family’s vineyards in 2001 as a winemaker and creating a domaine under his name, it was a rare case of breaking from tradition. Unwittingly, his father, Vincent, who was working in the finance industry, played a role in shaping Thibault’s passion for the wine: he had moved the then 13-year-old from Paris to a school in the town of Dôle, near the wine haven of Nuits-Saint-Georges. The boy spent his weekends with a family friend and winemaker who owned a 6-hectare estate. The young man soon convinced his father that a life among the vines was what he wanted, and he eventually spent six years studying oenology.