“That’s All ! “tomorrow, the death of fine wines? by Terre de Vins Magazin

6 March 2024

Nurseryman Lilian Bérillon, who has been committed to a different production model (grafted-plants) for almost 30 years, uses this documentary to draw attention to the decline of the vineyard and the importance of rapidly raising awareness on the subject if we are to continue producing great wines with identity.

It’s very much like the battle of David against Goliath. In a winemaking world where, for decades, the quality of the plant has sometimes been no more than a detail in the overall equation, showing that a different path is possible is an uphill battle. Since the 1970s, the nursery industry has developed a highly productivist system, enabling it to offer cheap, industrially grafted plants. ” Paying €1 or €1.3 for a grafetd-plant has become the norm ,” says Lilian Bérillon. Yet behind these very affordable prices lies a reality that is, to say the least, worrying. In addition to their lack of genetic diversity (and therefore their identical behavior in the face of climatic conditions), cloned vine plants are generally more susceptible to various wood diseases. Part of France’s vineyards (the situation is exactly the same for our Italian and Spanish neighbors) are thus rapidly withering away. ” Mortality rates are very high in the first few years, especially for Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet, sometimes around 2% or 3% a year,” explains Lilian. “ After twenty years or so, winegrowers often prefer to uproot and replant. But it’s also the old vines that allow the wines to express greater complexity and true identity. So what will happen tomorrow when old vines, planted before the 1970s and the widespread use of cloning, die out? And what kind of viticulture do we want to promote today? This is where Lilian Bérillon’s project really comes into its own.

Testimonials from committed winemakers
The documentary “That’s All !” was born in the spring of 2023. For the first time, Lilian Bérillon wanted to give a voice to winegrowers with whom he has worked for some 30 years, so that they could testify and raise awareness in the winegrowing world of a little-addressed issue. Famous or not, they all inspire with their committed convictions. Lalou Bize-Leroy (Domaine Leroy), Jean-Louis Chave (Domaine JL Chave), Christine Vernay (Domaine Georges Vernay), Peter Sisseck (Pingus), Hélène Thibon (Mas de Libian), Thierry Germain (Domaine des roches neuves) and many others share their thoughts on the fundamental importance of preserving a high-quality plant heritage in the vineyard. Vines of impeccable health (Bérillon’s rules are extremely strict in this respect), resulting from quality massal selections to maintain true genetic diversity, using quality rootstocks (here again, the subject is never broached) and grafted in the traditional English way, to obtain a plant capable of living 100 years, as at the beginning of the last century. All this obviously comes at a cost (plants at Bérillon start at €6), but this becomes secondary when compared to the price per bottle, given that these vines will live 3 or 4 times longer and produce wines with more identity that can be better valued. ” Provided, of course, that the winegrowers respect the plants and adopt appropriate, high-quality viticulture,” Lilian stresses.

A philosophy for everyone
Lilian Bérillon is often criticized for being the nurseryman for star winemakers. This is a false trial. It’s a group of winegrowers who share the same philosophy: to perpetuate a quality vineyard, to recreate the right conditions for passing on a robust plant heritage to future generations, and to perpetuate the production of great terroir wines. Naturally, many estates with a heritage of old vines call on him to create a private nursery, i.e. their own massal selection, which the estate can then reuse. But any winegrower can benefit from this project. Lilian Bérillon and his teams have built up a conservatory of 70 different grape varieties through massal selections on numerous individuals, including secondary varieties that climate change is bringing back into the spotlight for their ability to produce fresher wines (terret blanc, pineau d’Aunis, petit meslier). One obstacle is the absence of European subsidies for winegrowers wishing to plant massal selections, whereas these do exist for clonal selections. The world upside down. This subject, and more generally this project, must be taken up by the winegrowers themselves, as the future of their profession depends on it.

Jean-Michel Brouard – 20/02/2024

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