Bérénice Lurton on making Asphodèle
Author: Issariya Morgan
Bérénice Lurton inherited Ch. Climens, a Sauternes powerhouse, from her father in 1992. We speak to her about her dry white Bordeaux, Asphodèle.
The fields of Homer’s underworld are strewn with asphodels, whose delicate white petals have long been associated with death.
Unlikely associations, then, for Ch. Climens’ latest wine, a dry white Bordeaux with only two vintages behind it. Asphodèle is born of Bérénice Lurton’s collaboration with Sancerre winemaker Pascal Jolivet. Its association with death, she explains, is no accident.
What’s in a name?
“When I first started looking into it, I saw that it was linked to death and cemeteries,” Bérénice says over Zoom. “But asphodèle is, in fact, a symbol of rebirth. It’s the first plant that grows after land has been burnt. In fact, Asphodèle was the first wine we made after the 2017 frost, which destroyed the vineyard.
“There’s also harmony in the name. Asphodèle – it starts with this beautiful open sound, moving into something softer and more rounded, then finishing with this long, delicate note. It’s a wild lily, so it has that balance between being very noble and wild. It’s wonderful.”
Asphodels also grow on limestone soil, which is one of the principal soil types of Barsac – the Sauternes commune in which Climens is located. Bérénice explains that Barsac sits atop an ancient limestone bedrock, with a mix of clay from the degradation of limestone, and sand from erosion. Often referred to as the red sands of Barsac, there’s no other terroir quite like it in Bordeaux. Within Barsac, Climens is different yet again, located between two passages of the Ciron River. “We’re almost directly above the limestone here,” says Bérénice.
“It’s interesting that Climens in the ancient local dialect means ‘barren land’ – it was considered poor and unfertile, not good for growing anything. But this despised land, through the grace of the vine, has become a real jewel.”
Just like an asphodel, Climens has bloomed on Barsac’s challenging terroir.
A dinosaur in Bordeaux
Ch. Climens traces its history back to the 16th century, but it was only acquired by Lucien Lurton in 1971. Bérénice is the youngest of Lucien’s ten children. Today, her siblings run a handful of Bordeaux châteaux, from Ch. Brane-Cantenac to Ch. de Villegeorge. Bérénice herself inherited Climens from her father in 1992 at the age of 22.
“I have to forget about that time,” she says, shaking her head. “’92, ’93, ’94 – they were just horrible vintages with a lot of rain. We didn’t make any Climens in those first two years, and very little in ’94.”
Despite a rocky start, Bérénice has been at the helm of one of Bordeaux’s most renowned châteaux for nearly 30 years. How have things changed in that time?
“I really have the feeling of being a dinosaur,” she smiles. “There has been tremendous change across the whole Bordeaux area. I was very young when I took over Climens, and there were not many young people or many women in the Bordeaux wine industry.
“I remember coming into a place that felt like a small island – we were living on our own. Of course, we were selling wine to the rest of the world, but we had very few visits. We’re a family estate, we don’t have many people and we’re all involved – there’s a sense of family spirit.
“But we’re much more linked to the outside world and more connected to our neighbours, which is very important. It’s a much more open place than it used to be. There wasn’t even a computer when I arrived. I myself had never used one – can you imagine that? That’s why I feel like I’m a dinosaur,” she laughs.
A biodynamic philosophy
Climens switched to biodynamic viticulture in 2010 – an important turning point in the château’s history. “It was necessary to do something regarding sustainability and the environment, but it was also about recovering the connection between the terroir and the vines.
“Jean-Michel Comme from Pontet-Canet was the first person to inspire us and make us believe in biodynamics in Bordeaux – because it is a challenge. It’s true that, here, you need more tools than anywhere else, because of the [humid] weather and the danger of mildew especially.”
Bérénice explains that Climens uses common biodynamic preparations like 500 and 501. Preparation 500 involves filling cow horns with dung and burying them during the winter months with a view to enriching the soil; while 501 refers to filling a horn with silica from crushed quartz, burying it during the summer months, then retrieving it and spraying it over the vines.
“We also use many different plants which we pick on the estate or in surrounding areas. We have a big attic called the tisanerie, where we dry the plants. We then make teas which we dynamise [a stirring process intended to energise the preparations] and use them to spray the vines according to periods of the year, the seasons, the weather, the position of the moon. What’s amazing about biodynamics is that it’s so adaptable.”
From sweet to dry
Climens has an iconic reputation as a sweet wine producer, classified as a Sauternes Premier Cru Classé. I ask Bérénice what led her to make a dry white wine.
“Well, first of all, I’m a dry white wine lover – which is very important,” she adds with a smile. “Knowing the qualities of Climens, I always wondered how we could express them with a dry white. We have lots of very young vines, which take noble rot very well, but weren’t quite profound enough for our Climens [the grand vin].
“Then I met Pascal Jolivet in New York in 2017, whose wines I really liked. We started speaking and he was sure that we could do something wonderful with our young vines on the terroir of Climens. So, we worked together on the first vintage in ’18.
“We also tried to make a dry white from the old vines at the same time, but the results were much better when we worked with the younger vines. It means that the older vines are better for sweet wine and the younger vines are better for dry – so everything is perfect!”
How fitting that Asphodèle is born from Climens’ young vines, representing a new cycle of life at the château.
Take a look at Ch. Climens’ Asphodèle here