There was a time when the fields mattered more than the vines in Champagne and the Hardy house could have never existed.
Today, Stéphane Hardy, who defines himself as "a minimalist peasant", still wears both hats: winemaker in the morning, and farmer in the afternoon. A true connoisseur of his terroir, this committed advocate of organic farming converted all his fields and vines to organic methods in 2012.
The style of the house?
Champagnes dominated by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, blended with reserve wines aged in oak barrels for more complexity and substance.
Traditionally, Stéphane's family grew cereals in the village of Tours-sur-Marne, south-east of the Reims Mountain. Stéphane's great-grandfather, an itinerant farm worker, decided one day to settle in Champagne. His son, Louis, a convinced farmer who was not very fond of vineyard work, even exchanged some plots of land for fields.
This choice may seem surprising today given the differences in price between agricultural and wine-growing land, but we should remember that until the 1970s and 1980s, land was much more valuable than vines in Champagne.
Unlike the vast majority of winegrowers in Champagne and the rest of France, the Hardy family did not choose to specialise solely in growing vines. In fact, the bottling and marketing of a champagne by the family came late.
It was not until the 1960s that Michel, the father of the current winemaker, marketed the first bottles of champagne. At the time, they were made at the cooperative in Bouzy, a neighbouring village. This long-term cooperation only ended in 2013, when Stéphane himself produced the first wine.
Even today, the 2 hectares of vines are only part of Stéphane and Carine's activities, who also grow barley, lentils, alfalfa and clover on 126 hectares.
After his father was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, Stéphane began to question the use of chemicals. In 1998, he implemented ENM (enherbement naturel maîtrisé) in the vineyards and non-tillage in the fields.
A few years later, he noticed that he was having reactions to phytosanitary products. He then decided to rework the vineyard soils and to stop using herbicides.
In 2012, sure of its benefits, Stéphane decided to convert to organic farming. The changes are now taking place in the vineyards. Insects, butterflies and other living creatures reappear; the atmosphere changes and the work becomes more pleasant.
All the vineyards of Hardy champagne are managed without pesticides or chemical fertilisers and receive biodynamic preparations. A Champagne of choice whose singularity you can savour by notably discovering the two cuvées elaborated with organically grown grapes of this eco-responsible House.
This is how Stéphane defines himself, as he wears both a farmer's and a winegrower's hat.
"Intervening is reassuring. I observe and I let nature do its work. I accompany, I experiment, I make my compost according to the rules of biodynamics with 6 preparations. I stick to the essentials".
2012 was the year of conversion for the estate, but also the year of challenges, Stéphane recalls:
"A tough year, I had little experience. I only had half the harvest I was expecting. I was far from the appellation's quotas. When you go organic, you have to work on yourself. In the end, I thought that half was better than none!
The hardest part of the conversion process, according to him, is the way others look at you, relatives who don't agree and who tell you so, who pass on their fears. But in the end, what a revolution in the land:
"The joy of digging when you find out that there are plenty of life in the soil. At the very beginning, there were a lot of thistles in the vines. When you work the rows, they scratch your legs. I hated them until one day when I tried to remove them and discovered their huge taproots. I realised that they were working for me, they were decompacting my soil!
Today, these former enemies have their place in a varied flora of which he is proud and which helps to give back all its taste to the champagne made from these vines.