Catherine Cruchon, a biodynamic winemaker in Echichens, is carrying the torch for her family at Domaine Henri Cruchon. Cruchon’s sons, Raoul and Michel, pioneered this alternative approach over twenty years ago and the Cruchon family is considered one of the most significant influences on the natural wine movement in Switzerland today.
We bump along the dirt roads of her Morges vineyards in a dusty manual VW Polo, vines lining the sloped sides of the road, alternative agriculture on the flats to encourage biodiversity. “Vines like slopes so that they don’t retain too much water,” she tells me as I attempt to jot jostled notes on the page. Catherine Cruchon comes from a long line of winemaking. She is the granddaughter of her label’s namesake and local icon, Henri Cruchon. When asked who has influenced her the most as a winemaker, without a beat she tells me her father, Raoul. One of the pioneers of biodynamic conversion in Switzerland, Raoul and his brother, Michel, first went “rogue” in 1999 when he first started growing his grapes according to the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner.
Catherine recounts how her father did not make the switch to biodynamics for environmental impact alone. He converted because he tasted a biodynamic Pinot Noir by Lalou Bize Leroy and knew that the taste far surpassed anything he himself had ever produced. He wanted to understand why and gathered his skeptical growers. Together they decided to give Leroy’s technique a go on a small plot. The difference was so impactful that the Cruchon’s are on track to be fully Demeter-certified- the most highly regulated level of biodynamics attainable- in three years’ time.
When Catherine speaks of her vines there is a shift in her entire demeanor. Her face softens as she describes her predominantly limestone (which imparts structure) and clay (which adds body) terroir. In her flawless English, due in part to 7 months spent in Portland, Oregon, she reminisces on learning the art of Oregonian Pinot Noir. She crumbles Earth to show me how loose and decompressed it is as she shares of her travels abroad to South Africa and Argentina. Focus honed on Pinot Noir, she also spent time in Burgundy as well as the South of France where she witnessed the cultural impact wine can have so deeply connecting people to place and experience.
She points to a forest behind her favorite plot, Mont de Vaux, where she grows Grand Cru Chasselas with views of Lac Leman that make your breath take pause. “The beauty is the biodiversity,” she tells me, pointing to trees. For Catherine, it isn’t just about the vines or even the wine, it is about creating an experience that evokes an “emotional registry.” One that makes you feel something on a level you may not even be sure was there before. She creates this in how she works with nature (not against it) and with the terroir itself. For Catherine, this is the biodynamic balance that she seeks at the helm of the new generation. Under the label, “Les Filles Vinifient,” Catherine, her fiancée, Margaret, and cousins Yaëlle and Laura are all integral pieces of the future of Domaine Henri Cruchon.
Author’s note: On the day that I visited Catherine, I learned that they had a major fire in the winery only three weeks earlier. 50% of its contents were destroyed including wine, barrels, barriques, equipment, and the building itself. You can imagine how flammable a winery can be with all that wood, and an electrical spark was all it took to set it all aflame. With defiance in her voice, she tells me of plans to rebuild before harvest and how the regeneration of life often comes from destruction. Her plans to marry her longtime partner, Margaret were put on hold as a result of the fire. And yet, she finds the auspicious synchronicity in it all. They will celebrate their wedding once they rebuild the winery, the beginnings of their lives together marked by resilience and rebirth.