Bertrand Gautherot, founder and winemaker of Vouette & Sorbee, is extremely passionate about the environment and the vibrancy of the vineyards. He has become one of the foremost producers of small-scale, biodynamic champagne. Instead of making a homogeneous product, he is an avid believer that the region of Champagne should produce wines that communicate the terroir – and to do so means starting with the soil.
8 Rue de Vaux, Buxieres-sur-Arce, Cote des Bar +33 3 25 38 79 73
The wines of Vouette & Sorbee defy simple definition. They are hand-crafted portraits of the land, the terroir and the vintage, and Bertrand Gautherot is an exceptional artist. Give these wines the time and attention they deserve and they will captivate you with character, complexity and charisma.
Vouette & Sorbee Cuvee Fidele
100% Pinot Noir. These low-yielding vines are grown on Kimmeridgian chalk and limestone soils. The base wine belongs to a single vintage with the addition of a small proportion of reserve wine. Barriques are used for fermentation. The final wine is not fined or filtered, and has zero dosage.
Vouette & Sorbee Cuvee Blanc d’Argile
100% Chardonnay from vines planted in 2000, with cuttings from Domaine Dauvissat in Chablis and Selosse’s vineyards in Avize. The wine retains a Chablis style with pronounced minerality and intense acidity. Indigenous yeasts initiate fermentation, which takes place in barrels. Malolactic fermentation occurs and often finishes up to 10 months later. The wines are hand riddled and disgorged, and dosage is not added.
Vouette & Sorbee Saignee de Sorbee
100% Pinot Noir. In an unusual and original move reminiscent of Burgundy, Bertrand macerates whole grapes in an open wooden vat for six days before pressing. After ageing for 11 months, malolactic fermentation takes place, and as with the other wines, this saignee is bottled without dosage.
Bertrand Gautherot was very fortunate when he started out. His good friend Anselme Selosse, a master at biodynamic farming (as his own wines demonstrate), was there to give him help and advice. He jokes that in the early days of making wine, he had Anselme on the phone helping him night and day!
During the first seven years, he experimented with a few wines, but sold the majority of his grapes to Herve Justin at Duval-Leroy (of whom he speaks very highly). From the 2008 vintage, Bertrand kept all his grapes for his own production.
With each vintage, he learned more about biodynamics and the techniques that worked best for his land. He stopped using horses in the vineyards, as the slopes were too steep. He also discontinued the music because he found the growth of the vines closest to the speakers experienced a greater occurrence of mildew.
He has one small section of land in the middle of a forest where the grapes for the Blanc d’Argile cuvee are planted. The temperatures here are much cooler, and the soils are mainly the same Kimmeridgian chalk as is famous in Chablis. For this reason, he used a ‘massale’ selection of cuttings from Anselme Selosse’s vineyards in Avize and a notable Grand Cru parcel in Chablis.
In the winery, Bertrand uses a vertical Coquard press and the juice is transferred by gravity to the fermentation barrels. Fermentation is started with the ambient yeasts in the cellar, and only old oak barrels are used. The emphasis is less on the oak influence and much more directed to the expression of the land. The wines are not stabilized, fined or filtered, and none of them have the addition of dosage.
The wines do not age on the lees for long – only 15 months. This is because Bertrand believes that the wine gets the maximum benefit from lees contact within this time; any longer and the effects diminish. He does not chaptalise or acidify the wines.
We had quite an experience when we visited the Vouette & Sorbee domaine! Bertrand Gautherot is such a champion for biodynamic practices, it was not a surprise that most of our three-hour visit was spent amongst the vines digging in the earth, smelling it – and even tasting it. (We are glad to report the wines taste better than the soil!)
To demonstrate the difference between a vineyard farmed biodynamically and one that isn’t, we did a side-by-side comparison of dirt dug from a central part of Bertrand’s vineyard and dirt dug from two rows bordering a non-biodynamic neighbour – the disparity was extreme. The soil taken two rows from the edge was rock-hard with barely any aroma, and practically impenetrable to water or vine roots. In contrast, the soil from the heart of Bertrand’s vineyard crumbled “like cous cous”, as he says. It had a wonderful, deep earthy smell and it was full of healthy insect life.
But you don’t need to dig up dirt to know that these wines are special – one taste and you’ll experience the difference on your palate, an experiment we highly recommend.
Bertrand Gautherot’s Vouette & Sorbee is one of the youngest grower champagnes in the region. Bertrand founded the house in 1986, but didn’t release a commercial cuvee until 2001. His grandfather had amassed almost 300 hectares of land when he returned to Champagne after the First World War. Of this, however, only 10 hectares were planted with vines.
Even though more vines were subsequently planted, the land was divided between family members as it was passed down. Bertrand, the youngest of four, decided at first not to farm this tiny area of vines, opting instead to work in the cosmetics industry. In 1993, however, he changed his mind and returned home, and started tending to just 1 hectare of vines. When his father retired, Bertrand took over his land, increasing his total to 5 hectares.
His initial reaction was shock at the distressed state of the vineyards. So many chemicals had been absorbed over the years that he was concerned about the toxicity of the grapes on the vine. He was determined to remedy the situation and help bring the land back to a natural, healthy state.
During this time, he and his wife tasted many champagnes to discover their preferred style and the elements they most wanted to express once they started making their own wines. As it happened, most of their favourites were produced following biodynamic practices, and so they decided to do the same. Bertrand’s 5 hectares of vines were certified biodynamic in 1998.
At first his neighbours thought he had lost his mind, and found his biodynamic antics in the vineyards amusing, especially the music he played to his vines. But once they tasted the wines and saw the quality he was producing, they quickly grew silent.
Most other great winemaking regions around the world put the highest focus on the expression of terroir, and Bertrand found it strange that the opposite was true in Champagne. There the concentration seemed to be on the blend, the dosage and the brand name. Bertrand wanted his wines to be different, and has always strived to showcase the viticultural character of his village.