Owner: Erick de Sousa (third generation) and family. Married to Michelle; children are Charlotte, Julie and Valentin)
Vineyards & wine production: 2007: 6.17-ha. 2017: 4.85 hectares (12 acres) producing 8,350 cases (IBWC 2018).
Biodynamic conversion: Erick de Sousa first became interested in biodynamics in 1995, having read about Biodynamic consultant François Bouchet online before obtaining a rendez-vous with him. When Bouchet asked him why he wanted to try Biodynamics de Sousa replied ‘because I want to improve the quality of my grapes.’ Only later did de Sousa discover that Bouchet was working with Domaine Leflaive and Jean-Michel Deiss. In 1999 de Sousa began his first biodynamic trials on 2-ha of his oldest Chardonnay vines on two plots, one in Avize and the other in Oger. The vines were 50 years old, on 41B rootstock and at a density of 8,500 vines/ha (1.05m row x 1.2m vines). De Sousa considers them his best plots. They were fermented apart, with primary alcoholic fermentation in barrel, and the wine was bottled as the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut Millésimé Cuvée des Caudalies. ‘Une caudalie’ is a French tasting term which denotes persistence of flavour on one’s palate. Five more plots were under biodynamic conversion from 2002. In 2003 two more parcels of Chardonnay in Le Mesnil, totalling 0.48-ha began biodynamic conversion. This meant that in 2003 there were eight parcels totalling 2.5-ha of the 8.5-ha estate under biodynamic farming, but with no certification. Preparations were bought either from Bouchet or via the Mouvement pour la Culture Biodynamique in Colmar. De Sousa signed a three year contract with Bouchet during the conversion period, as ‘a form of training. I’m not here to convince my neighbours about biodynamics but I am very happy with the results of it so far. I use less copper, get earlier ripening and thus riper grapes possessing much healthier [naturally higher] levels of acidity and with more flavour. Working with biodynamics means having to take more time to work more dispersed, smaller plots though. However with no sister or father to answer to I was able to make the decision to pay an extra salary by taking on the extra employee I needed with no repurcussions,’ he told me.
Viticulture: Erick is invested in lighter tractors with wider tyres and plough blades less likely to cut vines, and he has rented fallow land near one of the bigger vineyard parcels on which to make his Biodynamic compost (vine-free space in Champagne being something of a premium). The compost is made from horse and cow manure mixed with straw. It is mixed using a grip mounted on a tractor.
Sprays: Biodynamic sprays like Horn manure 500 (applied in autumn after compost is spread and worked into the soil, and before seeds for cover crops are sown) and Horn Silica 501 (pre-flowering) can be sprayed in a single morning/afternoon using a Berthoud pulverisateur with 200 litre bidons. Copper-based sprays are being reduced, to doses of 500g/ha, in conjunction with dynamised nettle preparations.
Soil management: De Sousa told me that “François Bouchet’s experience in working with other vineyards in Champagne meant he could give us the best advice on which winter cover crops to sow. Whether we should alternate cereal rye (‘le seigle’) with wheat (‘le blé’), for example – and when to plough for example. The hardest thing in Champagne is working the soil as it is very humid here. Rainfall during 2003 was low, so we had more opportunity to get into the vines, but usually this is not case. I like the idea of using a horse rather than tractor for ploughing because there is less compaction, but we would need several for our vineyard, and extra land to keep the horses on.’ In 2002 a new Boisselet plough and a new tractor, a U62 Tecnorama with wide, low pressure tyres (FF350,000) was bought.
Winemaking: Stainless steel, wood and 228 litre Burgundy barrels (for vines over 50 years old). MLF. Cold stabilisation at minus 4ºC. Dosage: 10-12g/l under Eric’s father, 5-7g/l under Erick, who is also less inclined to filter.
Champagne AOC,Cuvée des Caudalies:
Champagne AOC NV, Brut Tradition: 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier.
Champagne AOC NV, Brut Réserve Blanc de Blancs: 100% Chardonnay.
SARL Champagne de Sousa
12 Place Léon Bourgeois, F-51190 Avize (Marne), France
Tel+33 (0)18.104.22.168.29 | www.champagnedesousa.com
Visit 12th November 2001, 11am. | Telephone conversation with Erick de Sousa on Monday morning 29th September 2003.