by Yves Belaubre
”Winemaker” is the accepted translation of “vigneron”. However, Henry Frédéric Roch and Yannick Champ certainly don’t consider themselves wine “makers” as such. The vigneron is not someone who simply makes a product, he manage a natural process. This French notion of “managing the vineyard” means that they are not so much directive and controlling, but rather listening to and nurturing the vineyard and its terroir through each season, in order to achieve the best they can under given conditions, not to manufacture wine, but to husband the vines and fruit to maturity, to manage the fermentations out of which the wine is born. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who during the second part of his life constantly referred to the Tao and Zen Asian philosophies, described the essence of freedom as “letting beings be”. A way of “letting things be” which is not a form of passivity but rather of respect, concern for nature, and for their fellow man.
The vigneron’s fellow man is a lover of fine wine. To create fine wine, it takes what the British novelist John Cowper Powys considered to be the most important thing in the world before pride: humility.
In humility, the vigneron does not “make” the taste of his wine. He allows it to develop and favors its expression by taking care of the vines and by protecting the developing beverage from the risks that may lead to unbalance: allowing this living material the maximum possible freedom to express the “terroir”, the soil and the vines, to dynamically and perfectly express itself.
Proudly, he defends the taste born of his soils as well as the possibilities of creating a vintage unconstrained by mode or dogma. Never mind if people think of a wine as being unusual, since originality in a wine is to be enjoyed just as its vintage dictates.
The notion of equilibrium is fundamental. Equilibrium of the soils, equilibrium of the plant, equilibrium of the wine, and therefore equilibrium of the actions of the vigneron’s who maintains and nurtures the living material towards what it is and not what it must be. The specifics of a wines’ terroir and its designation are not something definable by the experts in the science of wine or its marketing, but rather describes the global range of expressive uniqueness (taste) of a given variety in a given region, expressed as result of traditional practices taking into account the minimum intervention possible. This minimum artificial modification of soil and wines reminds us of the traditional expression “faithful and constant practices”.
The concept of tradition is very important. The cultural and wine making practices patiently established through experience reveal the intimate link between a variety and a soil in the taste of the wine. The wine-making tradition, born 7000 years ago, carries precious knowledge from generation to generation. Thus, centuries ago in Burgundy, the monks of Cluny and Cîteaux working the vine for the glory of God and not for profit, patiently discovered that the wine on this side of the road didn’t taste the same as the wine from the vines on the other side of the road. We owe it to them for identifying the famous “terroirs” which are the hallmarks of burgundy wines. Their God was an astute wine expert! Today, technical progress and the tools of biochemical analysis allow us to “scientifically” confirm their intuitions.
These natural and traditional elements which define the objective and role of the winemaker must be absolutely respected because they are irreplaceable, but they are not unalterable, they are alive. Each generation of vignerons inherits them and must use them, then pass them on, be they unchanged or evolved, to the following generations. To modify or “correct” them in the name of productivity or marketing focus is possible today using techniques and bio-chemical products, but aside from the consequences which could impact the health of consumers, this would betray the expression of nature (a region, a grape variety, a vintage) which unites and delights the lovers of wine.
It’s not simply a question of dogmatically ignoring or rejecting technical and scientific progress. It’s not just a question of not using them against the natural expression of a region and a vine, in the wine. It is to not forsake tradition for marketing. Thus, for example, the arrival in the wine cellars of electricity, concrete, running water, stainless steel, and rubber is of incredible benefit to the winemaker who wants to make wine naturally. Modern means have considerably improved our ability to protect and serve the natural expression of wine in its vinification process, that is to say, its tradition. The picturesque wine cellar, with its beaten earth floor, is traditional only in postcards.
The symbol or “crest” of the domain of Prieuré Roch, presented on its wine labels, borrows from the wine-making hieroglyph of ancient Egypt. Before the creation of the domain in 1988, Henry Frédéric Roch had previously lived and worked in the Nile Valley, had found in the composition of this hieroglyph a true expression of the values which he intended to carry high whilst developing culture and vinification according to entirely ‘natural” methods, which were at that time “avant-garde” in Burgundy. The glyph of the two yellow “mouths” at the top, the upper representing the divine eye corresponding to the powers which are beyond us: the powers of nature, the region, the weather, all shaping the vintage, below, the human eye, the power which knows itself as being limited, which receives, acknowledges, respects and protects that which comes from the other. Below that, the three egg shapes symbolizing grapes, all different, unique, this primary material of vinification where the Burgundy vigneron selects the distinguished “millerandés”, the smallest, most concentrated berries from which the finest wines are produced. To the side, the papyrus leaf symbolizes both vegetation and the work of the scribe which records and rules human actions, which decant the movement of time. The ROCH name adorns the base, more than just a signature, it designates those, who up to now, are responsible for these values: the team of the domain, and further, the friends who share and cherish them.