When André Lurton died on 16 May 2019, Bordeaux lost one of its most towering figures, who was responsible—among many other things—for the creation of Pessac-Léognan. But he also left behind a remarkable group of descendants: four of his seven children have also made their mark on the French industry.
Meininger’s caught up with fifth-generation François Lurton, who was at Vinexpo on 13 May. After working initially in sales and marketing, François Lurton has moved beyond Bordeaux in the past two decades, to acquire properties in Languedoc, Spain, Chile and Argentina.
François Lurton spoke to Meininger about his projects, and why he uses biodynamic techniques without going for the certification, and where he is currently investing and why.
What made you interested in biodynamics?
I started biodynamic in Chile, because Chile is a paradise for vines; not only for vines for many plants because there are no diseases. They do not have mildew in Chile. It’s easier to develop an organic product than in other countries. I started there with organic and I moved it to biodynamic because non organic is like wearing clothes. Organic is with no clothes—you just hope that nature will be good for you—and when you are biodynamic you wear a fur, like in prehistoric times.
Biodynamic is, additionally, a system which makes the vine happy. You can feel it when they are stressed for water, lack of sun, whatever. You make a bad wine. If you stress the vine, the roots communicate this stress. The big advantage of biodynamic as compared to organic is you reduce the stress.
Do you think that organic viticulture improves the quality of the wine?
Every time I move from the non-organic to the organic, I have lost quality. The organic system is not improving the quality, it is improving the sustainability. It is better for your health probably. Organic products in food are better in terms of taste.
In Chile, especially, when I move from organic to biodynamic, I have seen an improvement in my wine. Enormous. There is no more stress. You protect the vine and additionally you let it have its life following the movements of the atmosphere, the air, the light, everything. This is very natural. For me in biodynamics there are many things which are not explainable. There are many things not explained scientifically, but what is evident is that it works. Even if you work without following the moon calendar, it works.
Do you work with or without the moon calendar?
We work without it. In Chile I am certified, so there I use the moon calendar, but in the rest of the world I use only the biodynamic rules but not the moon. If there is something that I have a lot of doubt about, it is the moon and the moon calendar.
When did you start this process in Chile?
We started organic in 2000 and biodynamic in 2007.
Did what you learned in Chile affect the way you farmed in France?
Yes. I decided to use some of the techniques in all of my other vineyards. Something that I have learned from biodynamics is the use of compost. To make the vine happy you feed it. You feed it with the compost, the tea of compost, with many different things. It was like we used to say in the army, a good soldier is a soldier with a full stomach.
I am not registered biodynamic. I started to use the techniques in Spain first, and then in France. That was something like ten years ago. All my properties are certified organic.
Does doing all this work get you a better price?
That’s the most difficult question. The consumer doesn’t necessarily realise why organic is more expensive; organic doesn’t bring an improvement of quality. But biodynamic they understand. There is a better consensus to pay more for biodynamic.
Is your business still expanding?
I have a new domain, named Domaine de Nizas (in Languedoc). I am not planning any new companies, but if I have an opportunity with neighbours… I am going to buy in Gascony, also in Spain and in Argentina if there are neighbours. (Editor: meaning, if properties adjoining Lurton vineyards become available.)
What makes you want to invest in Argentina? They are undergoing yet another deep economic crisis.
Because Argentina is a unique country. It has a true expression and such originality. It’s like if you were in Bordeaux and you said the economy of Bordeaux is not good, so I will stop. If you stopped, you would stop making the type of wine that you like. My family has passed through two World Wars and we are still producing our wines in our vineyards. A few problems of devaluation will not change my opinion. The terroir in Argentina is incredible. The wines are incredible. The economy is difficult, but we will pass through it.
Are you also expanding into wine tourism?
That is a big investment that I am doing everywhere. At the moment I am developing the offer. In Argentina we are building a guest house and we have created a restaurant on the vineyard. In Chile we have a guest house and a lot of organisation for visits in the vineyards. It’s the same in Spain. In the Languedoc I bought two houses to become guest houses and also a small hotel and restaurant.
Natural is another big trend. Are you going to make natural wines?
I was one of the producers ahead of the ‘without sulphur’ trend. I produce a lot of Sauvignon, I have a big volume Fumé Blanc, and already 20 years ago I worked to reduce the quantity of sulphur, which is a challenge. The grapes have to be protected from oxidation. You use sulphur for the harvest; you use it during transport; then with the destemming machine; and then the press. So you bring sulphur four times. I decided for my white wines to take off all this sulphur by using a machine that empties into a container. I carry this container to the press and pump without the destemming machine. I have no oxygen contact. With the Fumé Blanc we worked a lot on the dissolved oxygen. We control for the freshness of the wines and the ability to age. I’ve done a lot of experiments. This process put me ahead when I moved to red without sulphur. I have properties are no sulphur cellars.
What are you most excited about for the future?
Nothing excites me for the future. What worry me is global warming and the increase of the pH. Now it’s so high. If you have high pH you have a high risk of bacterial development, and the more you have to use sulphur. It worries me, the global warming.