Yvonne Hegoburu was 60 years old when she decided to get into winemaking in 1987. She can now boast of 7 hectares of internationally acclaimed biodynamic vines, and even a brief moment of stardom in Jonathan Nossiter’s documentary film, Mondovino (complete with the red carpet treatment at Cannes, no less!).
The project began when Yvonne and her husband, René, bought 16 hectares of land at the top of a hill in the village of Laroin, which was 6 km towards the Pyrenees from their house in Pau, southwest France. They rebuilt the pile of rubble at the top of the hill into a manse, and lived happily there for several years with their family until René sadly passed away. They had always talked about starting their own vineyard there, but had never quite got round to it. So, in memory of her late husband, Yvonne Hegoburu started planting vines.
The first wine Hegoburu produced was so good that it won an award in Paris in 1990. Surely buoyed by this experience, she soon discovered the concept of biodynamic winemaking after reading about it in a wine publication at a train station. She soon became part of a small community of biodynamic winemakers, and started going to weekly meetings in a nearby village, where they would share advice, drink each other’s wines and group read a bit of Rudolph Steiner, the father of biodynamic theory and social reformer. As of 1994, her land has been certified as biodynamic.
In keeping with these biodynamic principles, the estate today continues to operate without herbicides or pesticides, and traditional ploughing is used on the earth. Her vines are effectively separated from neighbouring vineyards with woodland and other spaces, avoiding contamination. The trellising is unusual for the region, using double guyot rather than stake training, as is typical. Pruning is short, allowing for 25-30hl/ha yields. The soil of the estate is a heavy, flinty clay, full of what are known as “poudingues”, calcareous components that are so called due to their similarity in shape to English puddings. And all the harvesting is done by hand, with pressing done in a pneumatic press.
The vineyard is on the foothills of the Pyrenees at an altitude of 332m. Vines are planted on the south-facing hillside, and are made up of 50 per cent Petit Manseng and 50 per cent Gros Manseng. These vines are known for their sweet flavours and late harvests. Aside from their unique sweetness, these wines are perhaps best known historically as those used to rub the lips of King Henry IV of Navarre at his baptism, granting him courage and charisma (so the story goes).
“I planted vines when my husband died,” said Hegoburu in the film Mondovino. “Ever since then, all this love inside me, I give to the vines. I talk to them. I have an exchange with them. I ask them to drive their roots deep down into the soil to get the best from the land.” Now in her 90s, there are still few signs that Hegoburu is going to slow down any time soon.
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