Talking with Ludivine in the cuverie of the Hospices de Beaune a few short weeks after the 2019 wine auction.
When did you actually start your job here at the hospices?
I started in 2015, in January, so I had all the work for the vintage that year. That was also the time when Anthony Hanson officially finished leading the Christies auction which he’d done since 2005.
Was it a role that you’d ever thought about before you knew there was an opening?
It’s funny because I was at the Château Corton André for 11 years and in those days bought the wines of the Hospices for Corton André, but no, it wasn’t something I’d considered. My eventual consideration of the role was quite spontaneous; I looked at the list of requirements and though that’s good, that’s good, that’s less interesting – but really it was quite spontaneous.
What for you were the main attractions of the role, as opposed to being chief winemaker at another emblematic domaine?
The role here is perpetually changing, and of course, there are institutional values that in some instances are hundreds of years old – so there’s not another job like it – but really my time is largely spent with the team and their work in the vines, the choice of techniques that we will use, and it is a 60-hectare domaine! The complexity of this post is also communicating this wide palate of parcels. Yet I don’t think that there are big differences between here and any other important domaine in the region – we all want to make the right decisions, to always do better and to advance as any emblematic domaine should. My biggest satisfaction is that the wines are valued for and by the organisation here and make good prices for the needs of the foundation of this charity.
What did you think about the general reporting style of the press when you took the job? I ask this question, because I felt that it seemed to focus exclusively on the fact that you were a woman, rather than what you would bring to the role.
It was certainly something to think about – I had thought that being young and I suppose being a woman was unlikely to be in my favour – but I also didn’t think that it was something that should hold me back. I saw what was written and I chose to accept it – it was true of course, but I also knew that I was accepted for my competencies, not for something clichéd or symbolic. The real story was that the role of winemaker of the Hospices de Beaune was traditionally the final role of winemakers prior to retirement – almost something honorary – but my appointment was an important departure, they were now looking for somebody young to take on the role with a different perspective – this was overlooked. Occasionally now I might think to ask a reporter if they would ask the same questions of a man, but normally it’s not a problem!
It’s a job with significant exposure to the press, but perhaps more compressed and seasonal than for normal domaines, how do you approach this?
Well, the wine stays here until February so it’s not like there’s a big hole in our daily routine straight after the auction – which is anyway when the work in the vines really starts. It’s also different here to most places; when we open for people to taste, absolutely everything is shown – every sample of every barrel – we are the only domaine that shows everything and of course, we are also the first and it’s very public – so it’s quite a spotlight every November.
What targets did you set yourself when you first took on the job and how are they developing?
To start with I chose only to observe and of course the ideas developed from there! Harmonising the work in the vines seemed an obvious goal, as the different workers all had their own techniques. This is also about respecting the DNA of our institution and our climates and terroirs. Simplification was another idea too – particularly in the cuverie where we have so many cuvées – and each usually made up of multiple parcels. More precision in making sure that we were picking at the best times for all the cuvées – and we have well over 100 parcels of vines. I think I’ve still lots to do, for instance, more focus on selecting the wood for the barrels – it’s a long road.
I heard that many of your vignerons were surprised by how hands-on you were with their work for the Hospices I expect that you will take that as a compliment?
You know it’s hard to make wine without knowing how the grapes are developing, how many grapes there are, how big are the grapes, is there some rot – I have to be intimate with the grapes to know, later, what I’ll be doing with them. There was a little surprise at this as it hadn’t traditionally be done like that. But I don’t think that the growers consider this as surveillance – or not after I explained how I wanted to work, anyway! This is completely normal for all other domaines, but it simply wasn’t the case here. I believe it’s considered normal now! I should add that it’s not just about telling people how to do things, it’s also being there for them too, helping to burn the straw at 4 a.m. on a frosty morning with them, not just calling on the phone from the office. It’s time-consuming, but it’s absolutely necessary.
In the vines I realise that you must protect the income for an important social service for the region of Beaune – is that incompatible with organic or biodynamic management of the vines?
No these things are not incompatible, it’s also about the health of our workers in the vines. We are actually working organically in the vines since 2016 – that particular vintage was a hard start! It’s obviously not about certification for us, but it is about the health of the vines and the people. Of course, it’s true that like a hospital if the patient needs a dose of antibiotics then we are going to do that for our vines – for a charity, it’s not possible for us to lose 80% of our crop for the sake of a treatment – but we also won’t do treatments from a purely prophylactic perspective. With the weather of the last vintages, however, we have been able to stay with just copper and sulfur.
Are there any particular terroirs that you would love to be producing for the Hospices, ones not currently in your range? Even something unexpected, like Moulin à Vent?
Ooh, Beaujolais – they are making such great wines there these days! Actually the biggest absence for us is probably wines from the Côte Chalonnaise, of course, I’d quickly jump in my car if there was some nice grand cru Chablis on offer! But spontaneously I’d say something from the Côte Chalonnaise.