Did you know that about thirty wineries are fighting to make their 230 hectares of vines a recognized production in the paradise of good beer and fries? The vineyard surface area in Belgium is tiny!
And as the proverb says : ‘everything small is nice’. It’s true, we made friends all the way throughout our trip. All the wineries and all the people that we met during our stay had huge hearts. That’s typical of Belgium, genuine people! Atmosphere and results guaranteed.
Freshly landed in England, we crossed the north of France in order to reach Belgium via Heuvelland.
Entre-Deux-Monts, a family story
The Franco-Belgian border just crossed, a sign indicated the presence of a winery. Yes, Entre-Deux-Monts estate is just 500 meters close to the French border! It owes its name to the two mountains that surround it : the Mont Noir, on the French side and the Mont Rouge, on the Belgian side.
With their young 13-hectare vineyard planted in 2004, Entre-Deux-Monts is already a great family story. Three generations are involved in it, Martin Bacquaert explained. « My grandfather owns the land. My father helps me to realize my dream and oversees the business. And I am the young winemaker ». Beneath the watchful eye of his mother, of course.
With poor soils mainly composed of limonite (sandy-loamy compacted rocks with iron), the area offers a beautiful production of white wines.
You can also admire the vineyard from the air via the cable connecting the two mountains. A good opportunity to enjoy some altitude and film an interview with Martin. Normally closed that morning, Regine Becket and Johan Gheysens, Cordoba chairlift owners, put the machine on just for us ; so that we could do the interview. A beautiful gift to Ludo and I, because on this Thursday, July 16, it was our joint birthdays (1)!
Ruffus, the great Belgian bubble
If someone had told me that Belgium have great bubbles other than its Trappist beers, I wouldn’t have believed it. Big mistake… Run to enjoy those of Ruffus estate (2)! Specializing in traditional method sparkling wines, this 20 hectares south facing vineyard, has a superb terroir for the production of fine bubbles.
And it works well, John Leroy explained. « Almost all of our wines are pre-sold a year in advance ». The cuvée Franco Dragone 2011 (a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) is of exceptional finesse.
Why such a success ? Very pure chalk soils, only Champagne grape varieties (3) used and long aging are the secrets of their success. « Belgians like minerality in sparkling wines, and ours are full of it », John said.
The man is a phenomenon! As soon as the tasting was completed, John took us to the city of Binche for lunch, with our friend Stéphane, who traveled from Paris just to meet with us.
Friendship is beautiful! The opportunity to taste some Belgian beers (an anniversary requires this), with a special mention of Orval.
Then, a game of pétanque followed in front of the frenzied brand new winery as did the victory of team Stéphane-JB against John-Ludo duo. Don’t mess with pétanque… or with aniseed beverages for that matter. John had warned us that a birthday must be celebrated like that, or not at all!
Château de Bioul, made with love
When a couple of squires – Andy and Vanessa Wyckmans – decided to turn the family castle into a 10 hectare vineyard, they embarked on a crazy adventure together. Their only weapons being energy and determination which force respect.
« We had to learn everything from scratch : from planting to farming, through the choice of varietals, winemaking, bottling, marketing and sales », Andy explained. Besides that, they also had to convert some existing buildings, like the winery (an old hay barn). « At first everyone thought we were crazy ; my parents first most! », Vanessa laughed.
The Château de Bioul, which released its first vintage in 2012, can now build its reputation. And the estate’s philosophy does not stop there : creation of lost gardens, cabanas for insects, hedgerows, hives for bees and houses for bats, all around the vineyard. The preservation of biodiversity is one of the primary motivations of this couple of young winemakers.
Some examples of delicious Belgian wines (a climate succeeding primarily in the production of white wines) :
–Pinot Gris 2014, from Entre-Deux-Monts
–Mossiat 2014, from Château de Bioul (100% Brönner (4))
–Blanc de Blancs NM, from Ruffus
–Bacquaert Brut NM, from Entre-Deux-Monts (90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir)
–Butte aux lièvres 2007, from Domaine viticole du Chenoy (70% Régent (4), 30% Rondo (4))
At the age of 60, Philippe Grafé decided to realize his lifelong dream : to become a winemaker. The best way, according to him to “sink a happy retirement”. Except that making wine takes (a lot of) time. Now 78 years old and full of energy, Philippe admits that « it is impossible to turn back when you start creating a winery project, and that’s good; although it’s still quite a challenge! ». He added with humor: « all is well this morning, I’m not in the obituary column! ».
As a fervent defender of PIWI grapes (5) (otherwise known as interspecific varieties), Philippe strongly believes in these new varieties, resistant to cold, moisture and a number of fungal diseases (6).
“This is the future”, he explained : my vineyard requires four to five times less treatment compaired to a vineyard planted with traditional varieties.
These new varieties with some complex names : Solaris, Johanniter, Cabernet Blanc, Brönner or Merzling for whites ; Rondo, Regent, Pinotin, Cabertin or Blue Muscat for reds (4) were a real discovery for us.
More and more wineries – like here at the Domaine viticole du Chenoy, or the Château de Bioul and in most of the Nordic countries (where the climate is colder) – are now fully planted with PIWI grapes.
The taste of these wines, however, seems irregular. Many wonder: can “great” wines be produced from these grapes? Maybe. Not sure. Anyway, the use of these varieties is very recent. And although continuous research is being done (7) , we still lack much feedback on the subject. The debate is open.
As for us, we were off to Mons – the European Capital of Culture 2015 – for a memorable birthday weekend of a camping, where Ludo’s friends joined us for the occasion. The party could begin.
Thank you to Entre-deux-Monts, Domaine viticole du Chenoy, Château de Bioul and Ruffus estates for their warm welcome. Thank you to the Cordoba company for switching the machine on just for us. Thank you to Boschman and Christophe Heynen for having advised and guided us in our research of Belgian domains. Thank you to Chai & Bar in Brussels for their support of the project since the beginning of the adventure. Finally, a huge thank you to our friends Stephane Diné, Alain 2015 and Jérome Dieval for making the trip to Belgium to come and enjoy a few drinks with us for a memorable birthday weekend.
(1) Ludo and I are both born on July 16. Remember last year, we celebrated the event on top of the Great Wall of China.
(2) Ruffus is also known under the name Domaine des Agaisses
(3) Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
(4) For more information on these varieties and the PIWI in general: http://www.piwi-international.de/en/information-en.html
(5) PIWI comes from the German « PILZWIDERSTANDSFÄHIGE REBSORTEN », which literally means “vine varieties resistant to fungi”. They were created by crossing European varieties and American fungal resistant varieties. They belong to the type Vitis vinifera, as they are not to be distinguish from a taxonomically point of view (classification of species).
(6) The fungal diseases are usually caused by fungi that attack different species is the green organs of the vine (leaves, twigs, grapes) or trunk; the best known being downy mildew, powdery mildew, Esca, gray mold or the black rot.
(7) For more information, cf. Geisenheim Institute : www.hs-geisenheim.de/
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For a tour at Entre-Deux-Monts winery and the region from the air: http://www.heuvelland.be/tourisme/847-www/227-www/606-www.html