Benoît Lahaye

Attending producer: Benoît Lahaye

A passionate advocate of natural winegrowing, Benoît Lahaye took over his family’s estate in 1993 and has been bottling wine under his own label since 1996. He became interested in natural viticulture early on, and inspired by Patrick Meyer in Alsace, Lahaye completely stopped using systemic herbicides in 1994. By 1996 he had begun to work organically, in addition to using cover crops in the vineyards and experimenting with biodynamic treatments; the estate was fully converted to organic viticulture in 2003, and certified organic in 2007. Lahaye has noticed a pronounced difference in his wines since the transition to organic farming. “It’s not really a question of being better,” he says, “but my wines attain higher levels of ripeness now, while retaining the same level of acidity.” Since 2010, the estate has been certified as biodynamic by Biodyvin.

Lahaye owns 4.8 hectares, largely planted with pinot noir. Three hectares lie in Bouzy, one hectare just over the border in Ambonnay, to the east, and another 60 ares in Tauxières, to the west. In addition, a 20-are parcel of 50-year old chardonnay vines is planted in Voipreux, in the southern Côte des Blancs, and since this is so far away from Bouzy, these vines are worked by Pierre Larmandier. Cover crops are planted in all of the parcels to encourage competition and prevent erosion, and Lahaye has observed that since he’s started using cover crops, a larger number and variety of plants have begun to grow in the vineyards, creating a healthier biodiversity.

In 2010, Lahaye began working two hectares of the domaine by horse, as this compacts the soil less than plowing by tractor. His goal is to eventually work the entire estate by horse, but if this isn't possible, he'll rotate parcels each year so that the effects are distributed across his vineyard area.

In the cellar the work is as minimal as possible. Lahaye has slowly been increasing the percentage of his wines vinified in 205-liter barriques, and as of the 2012 harvest, all base wines are fermented in barrel. All of the wines in barrel are fermented with natural yeasts, although wines that were made in stainless steel or enamel tanks were sometimes fermented with cultured yeasts, as Lahaye notes that indigenous yeast fermentation is more risky in tank, particularly in the inert, reductive environment of stainless steel. Since 1996, he has been working with non-malo wines, and today, the malolactic may be done or not, depending on the individual wine and the conditions of the vintage. In general, he prefers to blend both malo and non-malo lots: “Malolactic wines have more immediate complexity,” he says, “but with non-malo wines the complexity comes out with time." Since 2008 he has also been experimenting with making wines entirely without the addition of sulfur, bottling a sans soufre cuvée called Violaine.

As a final touch, Lahaye puts his vintage wines under either cork or capsule for their second fermentations, depending on the character of the year. In more structured vintages such as 2004, 2007 or 2008, he will use cork, as it gives the wines a little more richness and breadth. However, in ripe, expansive years, like 2005, 2009 or 2010, he prefers to use capsule, as he says "the wines are already corpulent enough."

Information courtesy of Peter Liem's ChampagneGuide.net ©