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- DOMAINE JEAN-BAPTISTE SENAT, Minervois – Organic
- ST JEAN DE MINERVOIS
- SLOW FOOD FRANCE – Terroir and Environment
- Soil Improvement and Use of Fertilisers
- Weedkilling – working the soil
Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
DOMAINE JEAN-BAPTISTE SENAT, Minervois – Organic
Jean-Baptiste and Charlotte Sénat have been working this fifteen-hectare domaine in the heart of Minervois since 1996. They
are located in Trausse Minervois in the foothills of the Montagne Noir. The soils here are limestone-clay and their mainly
south-facing vineyards are set in the heart of the garrigue.
They are certified organic and carry out all work by hand. Vinification takes place with minimal intervention in a mixture of
large and small casks (stored underground): natural yeasts, no fining, no filtration and only a tiny bit of sulphur are the
recipe for living and drinkable wines. Everything is done by gravity to avoid pumping. La Nine has a cuvaison of 16 days with
pigeage and spends ten months in cuve and barrels before being bottled (by gravity) without filtration.
The exact composition of the blends changes from year to year but La Nine generally features a mixture of around 50%
Carignan (100 plus year old vines), 20% Grenache (including 60 year old + gnarled gobelet vines), 10% Syrah, 10%
Mourvèdre and 10% Cinsault (40 year old vines), a delicious wine with notes of spice over black fruits. Lovely equilibrium,
elegant tannins and mellow mouthfeel.
Mais Ou Est Donc Ornicar is a blend of the energetic 50 year old Grenache (70%) 30 year old Syrah (20%) and 40 year old
Cinsault (10%) vinified in whole bunches. Cuvaison last twelve days and then the wine goes into used barriques. A more
powerful effort reminiscent of macerated fruits and dark spices and one that requires a haunch of meat or several. This wine
spends six months in barrique.
Mais Ou Est Donc Ornicar is a mnemonic phrase containing the French conjunctions (mais, ou, et, donc, or, ni, car).
On many of their wines you can taste a familiar quality: blueberries, blackberries, grilled mushrooms, earth and always the
garrigue aromas of wild thyme.
“The terroir of Minervois is visually and functionally hardscrabble, and that probably doesn’t help in the elevation of spirits.
Staring at a field of rocks from which gnarled vines struggle to emerge and plump up a few angry grapes isn’t like gazing over
the verdant plains and hillsides of certain other regions, nor are many vines neatly trained into efficiently-pickable rows. One
can see the work that will be necessary, and the heartbreak that sprouts from the earth, and the indifference that droops from
the leaves, in every beaten-down vine. And yet the region is absolutely carpeted with vineyards. That’s a lot of despair to
crush, press, and ferment. But it’s a way of life, and that’s not easily abandoned.” (Thor Iverson)
MINERVOIS ROUGE “LA NINE”
MINERVOIS ROUGE “MAIS OU EST DONC ORNICAR”
MINERVOIS ROUGE « ARBALETE & COQUELICQUOTS »
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ST JEAN DE MINERVOIS
From the cradle to the Gravillas...
The key to Gravillas is the fantastic terroir in Saint-Jean de Minervois and every year that passes one sees a sympathetic
progression in the winemaking. One of the essential elements of terroir is soil, and Nicole and John Bojanowski specifically
wanted “blinding white rock like that found at Aupilhac and Vosne- Romanée.” (Two places where Nicole worked
The couple finally settled on the cute hamlet St. Jean de Minervois (population 44 and rising - or falling, as the case may be),
in an area renowned for its delicious, grapey fortified Muscats. Gravillas means “gravel” in the local patois, and the white
limestone gravel plateau that the Clos du Gravillas is located on has been used to grow grapes for hundreds if not thousands
of years. The micro-climate assists the process of making great wines. Situated about 300 metres above sea level on slopes
beneath the Montagne Noire the vineyards catch the cool evening breezes, allowing the grapes to retain more of their acidity.
The high summer temperatures of this region during the day add the necessary alcohol to balance the acidity, creating the
structural depth and maximum grape ripeness required to make excellent wine.
Nicole and John started in 1996 by planting Syrah, Cabernet and Mourvèdre, but in 1999, the same year that they started
making wine, when they discovered 2.5 ha (a little over 6 acres) of Carignan planted between 1911 and 1970 and a small
parcel of old Grenache Gris vines. These were to form the basis of Lo Vielh and L’Inattendu respectively. Since then they have
acquired a veritable mixed portfolio of grapes, so to speak, no fewer than thirteen, so we’re looking forward to the
Languedoc’s premium Chateaneuf-style field blend.
Comprising old-vine Grenache Gris and some Grenache Blanc (and perhaps some other varieties that have snuck in under my
radar) and aptly named L’Inattendu, or the “Unexpected,” this dry white AOC Minervois has been called “a sort of rosé
manqué” in that the vinification is similar to that of a rosé, but the result is a white wine. After a light pressing, the grape
must is chilled and allowed to settle naturally. From there the juice goes into Allier oak barrels, where it stays for 12 months
resting on the fine lees. Dry and rich, with a good balance of green apple and mineral flavours, and an elegant mouth feel,
L’Inattendu is perfect for accompanying a fish dish or even a strong cheese (Comte is suggested). Early vintages revealed
oxidation and distinct old woody quality that either charmed or puzzled, but now the wine unites richness with incisiveness.
There is lovely custard apple fruit allied to dried apricot, vanilla, garrigue notes of herbs and all sorts of ginger and white
pepper on the finish. The warmth of the alcohol does not detract but rounds the mouth; it is a textural wine with the
reverberating minerality of terroir from those hot stones.
Sous Les Cailloux des Grillons, a wine that proves that it can be definitely cricket and crickety-boo (and refers to the
ubiquitous crickets/grillons that lurk under the gravels and the night sky), is a delicious, savoury dark-and-red-fruit-filled
blend of Syrah, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Grenache Noir and Terret Gris. This wine always puts
a smile on my face and is friendly as a welcome from Nicole and John in the beautiful hamlet of St-Jean de Minervois. Can be
drunk by the glassful with a plate of charcuterie. Rendez-Vous du Soleil was originally created to be a Carignan in a different
style to Lo Vielh (qv) but has metamorphosed over the years into a Syrah, Cabernet and Carignan blend aged in barrel. The
nose is pure cassis with the element of menthol and eucalyptus, the palate has notes of bitter fruits and pepper. This wine is
perfect with lamb tagine or a roast vegetable couscous or stuffed peppers. Lo Vielh, aka the old one, comes from a couple of
hectares of Carignan; the oldest vines should be receiving a telegram from the Queen next year. Aged in 400 litre Allier oak
barrels, the wine combines power and purity, the fruit is dark and velvety and is truly delicious. Virtually no sulphur is used
(the fermentation lasts around six months) and the wine seems to have soaked up a huge amount of minerals. The fruit is
blueberry-ripe with liquorice swirls and hint of tobacco. There are also discernible meaty undertones. What wouldn’t you eat
with this? A steak cooked in the embers of a fire in a Languedocian restaurant, a shoulder of pork slow roasted in the oven, or
breast of duck with griottine cherries – the choice is endless.
Muscat is what Saint-Jean de Minervois is renowned for. Douce Providence is as delightful as its name suggests being floral
and fruity with whiffs of orange flower and honeysuckle combining with flavours of sweet pink grapefruit and mandarine. The
finish has such a refreshing tang that you should drink à la mode as an aperitif, but it would take equally kindly to
strawberries and fruit pastries.
John is a Carignan evangelist and Clos du Gravillas are at the forefront of www.carigans.com a web-site devoted to reviving
the reputation of this grape variety. If you’re jaded by the Merlot world (and we are, we are) and looking for a “vin d’ici”
then Carignan is your man. We’ve chugged it in Chile, argle-gargled it in Argentina, sipped it in Spain and lapped it in the
Languedoc-Roussillon, and we can say that the wines from these gnarled vines, in whatever country, deliver great terroir
flavour and usually at fantastic value.
EMMENEZ-MOI AU BOUT DE TERRET
MINERVOIS BLANC “L’INATTENDU”
“SOUS LES CAILLOUX DES GRILLONS”
“RENDEZ VOUS SUR LA LUNE”
MUSCAT DE SAINT JEAN DE MINERVOIS “DOUCE PROVIDENCE” – 50cl
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I know your lady does not love her husband. / I am sure of that, and at her late being here / She gave strange oeillades and most speaking
looks / To noble Edmond.
SAINT-CHINIAN “LA LAOUZIL”
SLOW FOOD FRANCE – Terroir and Environment
Without wishing to delve too deeply into current breast-beating debates about appellation controllée it is worth looking at the manifesto of
a group of French growers who are questioning the concepts and practices of the AOC and wish to contribute to a debate inaugurated by a
steering committee set up by the French government a few years ago. Part of a proposed “new dynamic of French wine for 2010” was “to
become leader in practices that are respectful of the environment”.
The growers have a specific agenda beyond the vague accord of “respect”. The primary tenet is that each wine shall be the full expression
of its terroir; that each wine “be good, healthy, great and structured when the conditions permit this… above all, that these wines give
people a desire to drink them, wines simply and solely made from the grapes of our (sic) vineyards, wines which have the peculiar
characteristics of our grape varieties, of our particular terroirs, of our special characters… our common will is to work our soil while
respecting nature, as craftsmen seeking harmony between nature and man…”
The expression “labouring the soil” recurs in the manifesto. Everyone has their different approaches and their own history as a
winemaker, but all are linked by certain aims. Although the practices in the vines and the cellars could never be codified in a strict charter,
there is a rational attempt to tie together essential common practice. The priorities are: the life of the soil; a search for terroir; selection
massale; the attachment to historic grape varieties and the refusal of the increasing trend to plant standard varieties; the use of organic
treatments; the search for good vine health through natural balance; the refusal of GMOs; the prudent use of chemical plant treatments;
the search for full maturity; manual harvests; the respect for the variability of vintages; the refusal to chaptalize systematically; natural
fermentations; a sparing or zero use of SO2; minimum or no filtration; the refusal of standard definition of taste of wines by certain
enological or market trends; the possibility of experimenting and questioning different aspects of work; respect of history, of roots…
Most of the growers in this list make wines in a specific context of geography, geology, climate, history and cultural specificity that
leaves open the possibility for maximum expression of personality and individuality. Tasting, analytical and organoleptic examination,
consumer acceptance panels, however, can stifle creativity and become a “guillotine to submit nature and the winemaker’s personality to
a rule”. Instead of becoming an instrument for standardization, tastings must become an instrument to check the respect of diversity. This
requires a massive philosophical shift on behalf of those arbiters of appellation controllée, as well as tasters, journalists and the public
itself. By understanding and promoting typicity and by espousing natural or organic practices in the vineyard, the Slow Food growers are
creating a sensible foundation for a renewed appellation controllée system, one that rewards richness of diversity and complexity.
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Faugères is similar to other Languedoc appellations in many respects, but feels different in others. Firstly, the soil is almost entirely
schist, hard and brittle, which flakes like pastry. The advantage for the wine grower is that it forces the vine-roots deep into the ground to
search for moisture. The schist also retains and reflects back the heat of the sun. Secondly, Faugères has virtually no connection with the
Church and, since the abbeys were the original location of the vineyards, it is a region without a long viticultural history. In fact, Faugères
was originally known for Fines de Faugères, a marc distilled from cheap white grape varieties such as Terret and Carignan Blanc.
Finally, Faugères has decided to become involved in environmental issues within its appellation. An ambitious charter has been drawn up
under the slogan “Careful cultivation protects the environment”; those winemakers who sign the charter will qualify for a seal of
with slow degradability and weak solubility, so as to avoid polluting streams and underground water sources. He agrees also to carry out
or to have carried out soil analyses in order to ensure that the fertility of the soil is maximized.
controlled grassing and the working of the soil between the rows of vines are encouraged.
such as moderate nitrate fertilisation, correction of soil deficiencies, aeration of the vine-trunks, pruning in accordance with the local
rules. He also agrees to respect the treatment advice published by the Appellation offices, using those products least harmful to the
environment. In certain instances of risk, or in circumstances beyond the individual’s control, he may on his own initiative proceed to
such treatments which he judges indispensable. Whatever the circumstances, the winemaker agrees to abandon the principle and use of
systematic chemical disease prevention.
DOMAINE DU METEORE, GENEVIEVE LIBES-COSTE, Faugères
The vineyards of Faugères are planted on steep-sloped schist outcrops of the Cévennes. This particular estate owes its name
to a 10,000-year-old meteor, which can be seen at the base of the crater. The Léonides, described by Paul Strang as “one of
the bargains of the appellation”, is made from roughly equal quantities of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Grenache. The
wine itself is a traditional meaty Faugères with its gorgeous deep colour, heady aromas of flowering shrub, bay, balsam and
serious quantities of dark smoked fruits on the palate.
FAUGERES “LES LEONIDES”
CLOS FANTINE, FAMILLE ANDRIEU, Faugères – Biodynamic
Bargain bloodhounds lift up thy snouts and truffle this terroir.
The estate is in the commune of Cabrerolles in Faugères. Two sisters and one brother run this vineyard, following the
death of their parents. Whilst not holding a certificate for either organic or biodynamic farming, the vineyard is run with
the utmost respect for nature. As Corinne Andrieu states: “We have always worked to respect what nature has to offer…
Our pleasure is to listen to nature, to watch nature, and to allow her to have the energy and strength to express herself.
For this reason their vines “grow like any other local plant, in a state that verges on the wild.”
The red is 40% Mourvèdre with approximately 25% Carignan, 10% Syrah, and 25% Grenache. The Carignan is from 50-
80 years old, whilst the Mourvèdre and Syrah are from 30-year-old vines. Terroir is crumbly schist, harvests are manual.
Fermentation (with wild yeasts) and maceration last for thirty days with no temperature control and take place in cement.
There is no oak, no filtration, no fining and no sulphur.
Drinking this Faugères will make you feel close, or even closer, to nature. This is a crawl on the wild side; the fruit is
meaty with game-and-gravy flavours and lots of garrigue notes of bay and roasted thyme and there is pronounced bonfire
smokiness on the finish.
The Valcabrières is another Terret Gris from 80-year-old gobelet vines. In Occitan it means “the mountain of the goat”,
which explains the striking image used for the label of a goat being milked of its wine into a wine glass. Unfiltered, unfined
and unsulphured, ambient long temp wild yeast ferments, a wonderful burnished white wine with aromas of wild fennel and
ripe citrus which also fill out a palate underscored by a certain mineral saltiness. This wine whilst enchanting those who
speak in russet yeas and honest kersey noes, would probably be damned by the zoilist tendency - aka the crustifarians.
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