Two entrepreneurial sommeliers in Monaco have created a new business for a very niche wine market. Their company, Subtil, is committed not only to the distribution of Biodynamic wine, but also the education and awareness of Biodynamic principles.
Rémy Grenet, from Burgundy and Alexandre Cordier, from Dijon, both grew up close to the land and immersed in the culture and production of wine. The two attended Sommelier school in Dijon, are members of the UDSF (Union of Sommeliers of France) and work together at a top hotel in Monaco.
Several years ago, Rémy had a series of health problems that led him to switch to an entirely organic diet - something he credits for the complete resolution of his symptoms. It was during this time that he learned about Biodynamic principles and the nourishing effects they have on the earth. He also discovered that biodynamic principles have the most noticeable effect on wine production. “It’s pure taste - you’re never disappointed with biodynamic wine,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
Combining his expertise in wine with his newfound passion for biodynamics, he sought high-quality Biodynamic (BD) wine producers across France. Before he knew it, his house was overflowing with cases to share with friends and colleagues. That’s when he realised he was on to something.
Together with his friend and colleague Alexandre, they started Subtil, an exclusively Biodynamic wine distributorship. It is a niche sector in the wine industry, currently representing only 5-10% of production in France, but it is rapidly growing.
What is biodynamic farming?
Biodynamic principles take a holistic approach to farming, considering the entire environment as a connected loop. It also takes into account the nutrition of the plants, providing ways to nourish the soil with biodiverse companion planting, special compost treatments and animal waste fertilisers. Every part of the biome is important, from insects to predators; moonlight to rainfall and farmers to consumers. Sowing, planting, harvesting and pruning are all done according to times of the day, phases of the moon, or cycle of the plant.
While both organic and biodynamic are similar in chemical-free growing techniques, they are very different in practice. Biodynamic principles go way beyond the foundations of organic (limited chemical production), respecting the entire biosphere and actively nourishing the plants. Therefore, anything biodynamic is organic, but not everything organic is biodynamic.
Said to be the truest expression of terroir, BD wine has become increasingly popular in recent years and some of Europe’s top wineries are making the switch. Describing conventional wine as “dead”, Rémy explains that BD wine is literally alive, filled with micro-organisms and enzymes from the fermentation process. “One drop of chemical pesticide can kill the entire vat of wine,” he said. This ‘living’ wine is also not afraid of breathing oxygen - in fact, according to Rémy, biodynamic wine doesn’t oxidase like standard (or organic) wine does. Alex backs this up by saying that Nicola Joly, “the pope of biodynamic wine,” opens his bottles 24 hours ahead.
Another aspect of this ‘living’ wine is “it comes out like the culture and the personality of the winemaker,” says Alex. He goes on to describe the interconnected biosphere that we are all a part of and the fallacy of previous generations taking and destroying our planet. The topic gets him riled up and he shows the goosebumps on his arms: “That’s my emotion showing just by talking about it!”
Sitting with the pair at a cafe in Fontvieille, it is hard to tell who is more passionate about the subtle energies of the earth and how biodynamics respects it.
For this biodynamic duo, Subtil is more than just a distributor of BD wines. They see it as a chance to support biodynamic wine producers, teach people about the principles and how to appreciate the difference in the wine. “You’re 100% with the terroir,” says Alex. “There are no added sugars, no sulphites and no chemicals.”
They describe their website as a “point of discovery” to learn and taste the wines. They currently have a sizeable selection of French wines, limited to Demeter or Biodyvin certification, the only guarantee that no chemicals were used.
Subtil delivers free of charge across the Côte d’Azur (minimum 6 bottles) and leads private wine tastings at a client’s home or for private events.
“Biodynamics is more important now than 100 years ago,” says Rémy. Adding, with a twinkle in his eye that it goes completely against the system to be biodynamic. He makes a good point - in a time of intensive, corporate-owned industrial agriculture, the most anti-establishment move is to respect the earth. Perhaps he is right - the most rebellious act of our digital age is to pick up the Farmer’s Almanac.
These two charming young men who work in one of the most glamorous hotels in Monte-Carlo speak of the energies of the earth, the phases of the moon and how it affects the terroir. That our soil has been killed by glyphosate and how we must nourish and replenish. If this is who you find when you scratch the gilded surface of the principality, there is hope for the future.