Claude & Lydie Bourguignon

Claude Bourguignon was born in 1951 in France and is a qualified bio-chemist and micro-biologist. He completed a PhD in rhizospheric bacteria present on soil roots at UCLA in California before working for eleven years for the French government’s Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) or national agronomic research institute.

With his partner Lydia Gabucci, Bourguignon established a consultancy called Laboratoires Analyse Microbiologique des Sols (LAMS) in Marey-sur-Tille, just north of Dijon in the centre of the Burgundy wine region. In the late 1980s soil analyses made by the couple were revealing that although one gramme of healthy soil should contain one million organisms, some Burgundian vineyards were so lacking in soil life that they had lower levels of soil microbiology than the Sahara desert.

Soil analyses also revealed how micro-organisms such as worms, fungi, yeast and bacteria are an essential part of the vineyard ‘terroir’, the uniqueness of place, that should make each wine taste unique and different from its neighbour. This reinforced the view expounded by the creator of Biodynamics, Rudolf Steiner, that understanding and enhancing “the realm of the living” was an essential step in healing the earth from the abuses it had suffered from industrialization.

Bourguignon and Gabucci analyse soils worldwide for clients who include wine growers, rice and cereal farmers, and even golf-course greenkeepers. Although Bourguignon is careful not to describe himself as a Biodynamicist, his scientifically-based views on the link between a living terroir and wine quality are used to enhance Biodynamic arguments.

LAMS analysed vineyard soils at Domaine Leflaive in Burgundy and Domaine Rolly-Gassmann in Alsace and found far greater microbial life in the soils of plots farmed Biodynamically compared to those under organic or conventional management.

Terroir defined: ‘Terroir involves three things,’ Claude Bourguignon told me.’ The first is the climate, or the carbon dioxide, oxygen and hydrogen in the atmosphere which produces eighty per cent of the vine’s dry matter. Then there is the geology underlying the site. Above that there is the soil, which has chemical, physical and biological elements. For me the soil is the area which is least understood by wine growers, governments and scientists.’

Rooting around: Bourguignon’s research has shown that typicity of taste characteristics for a perennial crop like vines is manifested only through deep roots. ‘Only through deep roots will perennial crops like vines make a distinctively tasting wine,’ he told me. ‘Wines from shallow rooting vines are likely to taste the same, no matter what soil they are grown in. Vines which are able to root deeply can oxidise or process soil nutrients even at great depths, and they can do this only if the soil has a balanced, living population of soil microfauna. Although the vine roots and the soil do not interract with each other directly, they do interract through the intermediary of soil fungi like mycorrhiza, and hence without a living soil and fungi thriving on the vine roots there can be no “terroir effect” on the wine, making it taste unique. We find similar levels of micro-biology in the topsoils of organic and biodynamic vineyards, but there is much more life at the deeper soil level with biodynamics. This activates carbon, boron and so on. Conventional herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides mitigate against this soil life, closing the topsoil, making it hard and unfriable, suffocating deep roots which are no longer capable of feeding themselves and forcing them to the surface. In the last thirty years around ninety per cent of the soil life has disappeared.’ See also comments by Nigel Sowman regarding the importance of bacteria, Biodynamics and fungi.

Nicolas Joly says that Bourguignon’s work ‘paved the way’ for the move by leading French winegrowers towards Biodynamics who felt it could make their wines regain their uniqueness and individuality.

Bourguignon says the tests he carried out at Domaine Leflaive demonstrated how increased microbial life engenders the release of more macro nutrients at the deep soil level, compared to the top soil level. This is due, says Bourguignon, to populations of rhizopheric micro-organisms increasing thanks to extra protein and sugar being sent by vines under Biodynamic management to the roots via the sap. The microbes oxidise soil nutrients, making them soluble and thus available to the vine. If these nutrients stay in chelate form they cannot be assimilated by the vine roots. The LAMS results also noted that there were three times as many aerobic organisms in the Biodynamic plots compared to the organic ones: in other words, more oxygen was reaching the deep soil level, so there was more life. 

CopperOne other area of research by LAMS concerns copper, which see.

Soil sampling: Sébastien Laprévote advised me to take around 500 grammes of soil from each soil type in each vineyard which required analysis. Take samples from the  topsoil (0-10cm depth) and subsoil (80-100cm depth) and to put the soil into individual freezer bags. These should be sealed. Send samples at the start of the week so they do not get stuck in the post over the weekend and dry out.

Bibliography

Interview with Claude Bourguignon whilst filming ‘Claret Organic’ by Three BM TV, 14th October 1997.

Contact

Laboratoire Analyse Microbiologique des Sols (LAMS)

Marey-sur-Tille, F-21120 Is-sur-Tille (Côte d’Or), France

Tel +33 03.80.75.61.50 | www.lams-21.com