Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality. (Goethe)
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Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality. (Goethe)
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DOMAINE DIDIER BARRAL, Faugères – Biodynamic
Didier Barral has 25-hectares of biodynamically-farmed vineyards on slightly acid schist soils in which a little of
everything grows. Everything starts from the soil which must be made as healthy as possible.
“Nowadays, farmers feed the planet but destroy it at the same time. Sometimes they think they are doing the right
thing by ploughing too often for example, which eventually damages the soil structure. We have to observe nature and
to understand how micro-organisms operate. Then we see that tools and machinery can never replace the natural,
gentle work of earthworms, insects and other creatures that travel through a maze of tunnels, creating porosity and
aerating the soil, making it permeable and alive. There’s grass in our vineyards and amongst the grass, there are
cows and horses: a whole living world that lives together, each dependent on the other and each being vital to the
balance of the biotope.” This is an extraordinary micro-climate where the mountains on one side and the proximity of
the garrigue which shelters fauna and flora create the preconditions for an excellent terroir. Didier is adamant that
cow manure is the best, and not having delved too deeply into these matters, as it were, who are we to say otherwise?
A photographic album of the vineyards could be entitled: My Favourite Bugs or A Diet of Worms or even A Riot of
Worms, for it reveals astonishing diversity of benevolent creepycrawlydom, indication of a thriving, living soil.
Natural solutions prevail: small birds make their nests in the clefts of the vines (these nests lined with the horse hair
that has been shedded) and they prey on the mites and bugs that are the enemies of the vine.
Didier is a perfectionist in the vineyard and believes in totally natural vinification. Triage is vital for the quality of the
grapes which makes or breaks the wine. He dislikes carbonic maceration as he believes that it explodes the fruit and
leaves nothing behind it. The fermentation is done with wild yeasts, pigeage is by hand, long macerations are followed
by ageing in wood, and the assemblage (all grape varieties are vinified separately) follows eighteen to twenty-four
months later. No filtering or fining, these are natural products, lest we forget. As Paul Strang writes: “He scorns the
modern bottling plant, deploring the use of filters and pumps which interfere with the natural qualities of the wine. All
you need is a north wind and an old moon.”
And the wines? Well, they have a magnificent fruity intensity, but his aim is “to make something irresistible: a bottle
of wine that no one would willingly leave unfinished” (Virgile’s Vineyard – Patrick Moon). We begin with the baby of
the bunch, a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault. The Cinsault is amazing, yielding luscious aromas of confit
cherry, damson and violet; the Carignan provides colour and concentration and the Grenache gives fragrant garrigue
notes of laurel, bay and thyme as well as a supple mouthfeel.
Cuvée Jadis is Carignan (50%), Syrah (40%) and a soupçon of Grenache. The colour delights being blackish-purple,
almost opaque. Ripe plum and black-cherry scents dominate a fruit-forward aroma, but there’s plenty of earth to
please the truffle-hounds. Leather and pleasant “barnyard” notes add complexity. Full-bodied, juicy and tart flavours,
fresh black fruit and a hint of dark chocolate, nicely structured by crisp acidity; smooth tannins emerge as a cleansing
astringency in a long finish, with a distinct whiff of fresh herbs and earthy grace notes that mirror the nose. Jadis is a
way is a testament to Didier’s organic credentials and his passion. On the one hand he is returning to the physical
roots of winemaking before the days of quick fix chemical solutions and the other hand he is challenging the received
wisdom and conservatism of the previous generation.
Mourvèdre is the grape that gives Didier real pleasure. It is perceived as difficult to bring to even maturity, but
according to Didier it’s all about the health of the vine which in turn is about the health of the soil. His Valinière,
named after a small stream, and made from 80% Mourvèdre and 20% Syrah, has deep purple colour and a glorious
nose that benefits from aeration. Strong dark fruits, warm leather, dark chocolate, fine floral notes, black olives and
all the spices of the orient (quite a few, anyway). The wood, evident initially, melts into the fruit leaving behind a
fabulous fierce minerality. The mouth follows the nose, conveying a suppleness, where density and power are
controlled and shows an acidity that completes the wine, gives it equilibrium, finesse, length in the mouth as well as a
capacity to age. A vin de garde, a vin d’amour.
And there’s a white too, a blend of Terret Gris and Blanc (80% of the mix) with Viognier and Roussanne making up
the rest. The Terret vines are 90 years old, yields are 15hl/ha with a strict triage. Fermentation takes place in cement
vats with natural yeasts and a further malolactic in barrels 1/3 new and 2/3s first and second use. No filtration or
fining to leave a mark on this intense dry white with its mix of sherry and honey aromatics and incredibly pure citrus-
flecked palate. Worth broaching a celebratory lobster or regal turbot for, otherwise carafe it, turn down the lights and
let it have its wicked way with you.
VIN DE PAYS DE L’HERAULT BLANC
FAUGERES “JADIS” – magnum
FAUGERES “LA VALINIERE”
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COTEAUX DU LANGUEDOC
CHATEAU DE LA MIRANDE, M. JOSEPH ALBAJAN, Coteaux du Languedoc
‘A good Picpoul’, he expounds authoritatively, ‘should be crisp and full at the same time. That’s how the grape got its name: pic
as in piquer – to prick – and poul as in poul. (A blank look from me.) ‘An old Occitan word meaning soft and rounded,’ he
elaborates, as if he thought everyone fluent in the medieval language of the troubadour poets. But the closet etymologist soon
gives way to the more familiar bibulous incarnation, when a second and a third bottle measures up to expectations.
Picpoul de Pinet is situated in the Languedoc roughly half way between Béziers and Montpellier. Château de la Mirande is
located in the commune of Castelnau-de-Guers not far from the Bassin de Thau, a salt-water lagoon dedicated to the cultivation
of oysters and mussels. The vineyard spreads through the Mediterranean garrigue with its thousand scents and is in part situated
on slopes of red earth covered with pebbles which release the sun’s heat to perfect the maturity of the Picpoul. This is a
deliciously understated wine, a touch of savoury brininess, a hint of white flowers, and before you know it, the contents of the
bottle have disappeared into history. It is a watery wine in the best sense, thirst quenching and utterly appropriate with linguine
of crab with chilli, garlic and parsley (which is what I had to eat last night). The terroir for the Mirande vineyard is a clay-
limestone mix on south-facing terraces with the vines between 30-100 years old. Green harvesting and organic viticulture are
part of the estate’s philosophy.
Picpoul (Piquepoul Blanc) itself is an ancient grape variety, which has the sort of green-tinged iodine fruit and crisp acidity one
would associate with Muscadet or Gros Plant, but with more vinosity. This version has a spicy aniseed bouquet, green fruits and
herbs, is quite resinous with an ample mouthfeel and savoury flavours of iodine, yellow plum and pepper, also a sharp prickle. It
is traditionally consumed with the local oysters (huitres de Bouzygues) from the Bassin de Thau. A wake up call to the jaded
PICPOUL DE PINET
An example of early food and wine matching advice from a wine merchant in (the caves of) Lascaux: Bison with white wine, Mastodon
with red wine.
Picpoul de Pinet!!!
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COTEAUX DU LANGUEDOC
The juice of the grape is the liquid quintessence of concentrated sunbeams. (Thomas Love Peacock)
MAS FOULAQUIER, PIERRE JECQUIER & BLANDINE CHAUCHAT, Pic Saint Loup – Biodynamic
With its old stone farmhouse built over centuries Mas Foulaquier is situated at the northern edge of the designated Pic Saint
Loup ‘cru’. The farm overlooks a large plot of 8 hectares of sloping vines, similar to an enclosed Burgundy parcel. In addition
to this lovely setting, the property is part of the exceptional Pic-St-Loup terroir: a pebbly landscape warmed by the southern
sun and cooled by the climate of the lower reaches of the Cévennes
The limestone clay soil is pebbly and has both good filtering capacity due to the presence of stones and limestone fragments,
and good water retention thanks to the red clay. The main plot slope faces south-southwest, which means the grapes ripen
early. The wide divergence between daytime and night-time temperatures is accentuated by the altitude of the vines (200m)
and ensures that the wines are extremely refreshing on the palate. In 2003, Blandine Chauchat joined the Foulaquier team
bringing with her three hectares of old vines in the plot known as Les Tonillières in Claret.
The method of viticulture is driven by love for this rugged environment, and respect for this magical and unspoilt landscape.
The vines are therefore cultivated and treated with biodynamic preparations applied in accordance with the biodynamic
sowing calendar. The grapes are harvested by hand, transferred into vats by gravity and fermented using only indigenous
yeasts, without the addition of oenological products. No synthetic substances are used on the vines, nor any oenological
products in the wine production. Weed control is mechanical or indeed manual. Harvesting is manual in small 20KG boxes.
Application for organic certification was made in 2005, whilst conversion to biodynamic production started in 2006. Their
work respects the rhythms of the biodynamic planting calendar, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Mas Foulaquier use
preparations such as horn manure, composted cow manure, horn silica and several plant or flower decoctions
These preparations are dynamised and then sprayed on the vines, which strengthens soil life and boosts the vines’ resistance
Treatment of the harvest is manual without pumping. Neither sulphites nor yeast are added in order to allow the maximum
expression of the ‘terroir’. Vinification takes place in small concrete vats (50-80hl.) coated with epoxy, which encourages
proper maceration of the grapes. Fermentation temperatures are unique to each vintage and vat according to the profile of
the grapes. The aim is not to obtain maximum extraction, but rather elegance and fruit.
Individual grape varieties may be vinified separately or together in variable proportions, in order to promote a certain
complexity for future blends.
Vat fermentation can vary from two to six weeks, sometimes with several days’ maceration prior to fermentation, which allows
the indigenous yeasts to begin working slowly and progressively.
Orphée, a 50% Grenache Noir and Blanc and 50% Syrah blend, is expressive of the attention to terroir and biodynamic
practices. It opens dramatically with a bit of oxygen, the earthy and floral aromatics are balanced by rich dark
blueberries, plum, pepper and violets on the palate. The finish is soft and has a stony minerality but this wine has plenty of
Violetta is a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Carignan, 10% Merlot from Saint Guilhem-le-Désert. This organic and biodynamic
red is named for the aromas of violets that add complexity to the blackberry and herbal notes on the nose. The palate shows
impressive minerality and lovely elegance for a full-bodied wine.
Les Calades is Grenache/Syrah from relatively young vines grown on stony south-facing limestone slopes. The wine spends 24
months in foudre. A wine that shows that opposites attract, this is an intense infusion of dark and red fruits, herbs and spices
and lovely balsamic notes.
VIOLETTA ST GUILHEM-LE-DESERT
PIC SAINT-LOUP “LES CALADES”
PIC SAINT-LOUP « ORPHEE »
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Terroir – Earth Rocks
“Terroir has never been fixed, in taste or in perception. It has always been an evolving expression of culture. What distinguishes our era
is the instantaneousness and universality of change. Before, the sense of a terroir would evolve over generations, hundreds of years,
allowing for the slow accretion of knowledge and experience to build into sedimentary layers, like the geological underpinning of a given
terroir itself. Today layers are stripped away overnight, and a new layer is added nearly each vintage.”
Jonathan Nossiter – Liquid Memory
What actually is terroir? Scientific definitions abound about the various liaisons between microclimate and soil composition, but they can
only scratch the surface of the philosophy. One basic formulation is articulated by Bruno Parts in his article “The Terroir is Important”
(Decanter 1983): “When a French wine grower speaks of a terroir, he means something quite different from the chemical composition of
the soil… The terroir is the coming together of the climate, the soil and the landscape.” Even this definition seems conservative. In a wider
sense terroir embodies the general notion of “respect”: respect for the land and the environment, respect for history, respect for culture. It
concerns the wine’s interpretation of place as opposed to the concept of the varietal which tends to be about a nominated or fixed
interpretation of a grape in order to obtain an instantly recognisable “international” style. Terroir is a progressive notion feeding on the
positive elements of tradition, the age-old intuitive alliance forged between Nature and Man. As Nicolas Joly observes in his book Le Vin
du Ciel à la Terre the creation of the first appellations controllées resulted in “une connaisance intime de terroirs fondeé sur l’observation
et l’experience de plusieurs generations de viticulteurs. Une experience qui avait conduit à l’union de tel cépage et de telle parcelle. De
ces justes mariages devaient naitre des vins donc l’expression etait originale car intimement lieé à leur environnement et donc inimitable.”
If, scientifically speaking, terroir is the interrelation of soil structure, microclimate, local fauna and flora, we should be able to dissect
flavour components in a wine to the nth biochemical degree to see if we can discern whether the wine has physically interpreted its terroir.
I believe that this approach goes against the grain (not to mention the grape). I am reminded of something Pierre Boulez once said about
great art, but could equally apply to wine. “A landscape painted so well that the artist disappears in it.” When we taste wine we get an
overall impression, an aggregate of sensations. Terroir is the synergy of living elements; you cannot separate its components any more
than you can analyse individually all the discrete notes in a symphony and compare it to the whole. In other words terroir is greater than
the sum of its parts. Experienced vignerons can often distinguish the flavour between one plot of vines and another, for the very reason
that they have been brought up in the local countryside and know the fauna, the flora, the soil, when the wind is going to change and so
forth. The alliance of instinct with knowledge is a kind of romantic inspiration, an intuition borne of living in the countryside which informs
the activity of being a vigneron. So when you taste a wine of terroir your senses will accumulate impressions, as if you were gradually
becoming acquainted with a complex, organic thing. Wines lacking this dimension, no matter how technically accomplished, are cold
shadows: they are calculations of correctness. Nicolas Joly uses an expression sang de la terre, where sang has two possible meanings:
blood and kinship, implying a natural “blood-relationship” between man and terroir and that the earth itself is living breathing dynamic
force. I suspect that many French growers would shudder if you called them wine-makers; they prefer to see themselves as vignerons
instinctively cultivating the potential of the grapes and faithfully perpetuating their cultural heritage. To return to our musical analogy the
vigneron is the conductor who can highlight the grace notes of the wine by creating the right conditions for the vine to flourish; therein
lies the art of great wine-making, not how much you interfere in the process but how sympathetically.
There will always be a vibrant debate between the technicians and holisticians, the boffins and the poets, but the wheel has begun to turn.
I am optimistic that the new generation of wine-makers is beginning to appreciate the value of interpreting terroir and comprehend that
our palates may be tiring of synthetic homogeneity. Also, as more quality wine floods onto the market, there is a sense that terroir can be
used to differentiate one wine from another, a sophisticated form of branding, if you like. Throughout the world growers perceive that the
future is in the quality of their terroir and that technology should only be allowed to assist, not gloss over inadequacies nor reduce to a
lowest common denominator. Wine truly is made in the vineyard.
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COTEAUX DU LANGUEDOC
You people. You think you can just buy your way into this. Take a few lessons. Grow some grapes. Make some good wine. You cannot
do it that way. … You have to have it in your blood. You have to grow up with the soil underneath your nails, and the smell of the grape
in the air that you breathe. The cultivation of the vine is an art form. The refinement of its juice is a religion that requires pain and desire
Gustavo ~ Bottle Shock
DOMAINE D’AUPILHAC, SYLVAIN FADAT, Montpeyroux – Organic
The Domaine d’Aupilhac is in Montpeyroux, some 36 kms north-west of Montpellier. The cellar, created in 1989 in the
family home, is right in the heart of the village. The Fadats have been growing grapes for over five generations.
A large part of the vines grow on south-west facing “terraces” on a site named “Aupilhac”. They’re mainly Mourvèdre
and Carignan, but some Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault grow here too. Another part of the vineyard is the north-west
facing “Les Cocalières” at an altitude of some 350m (1150ft) where Syrah predominates, though Mourvèdre and
Grenache grow here too. The most northerly facing part is planted with the four white grapes recognized by the Coteaux
du Languedoc: Roussanne, Marsanne, white Grenache and Rolle (Vermentino). Finally, the “Plôs de Baumes” at Aniane,
consists of terraces made up of gravel washed down by the Hérault river; it was owned by Sylvain’s maternal grand-
father, Marcel Baumes, and so is named in his memory.
The land is treated with great respect, the absolute priority being to maintain its natural balance. A regime of travail du
sol is practised: the land ploughed regularly; this means the roots have to force their way deep into the cool sub-soil, thus
protecting the vines from seasonal drought. No herbicides or pesticides are used.
Grapes are harvested by hand so that the skins are properly mature in order to extract the best aromas and colour, as
well as ensuring silky tannins. A summer or green harvest is carried out on the younger vines to remove some bunches
before they reach maturity; this stops the vines suffering from the heat and helps root development. It’s not necessary with
the Carignan as the vines are so old that they limit their yield automatically. The local wild yeasts ensure the grapes
ferment naturally. The wines mature in casks and barrels in the underground cellar. Sylvain has a gleaming chai with an
array of stainless steel tanks but is sceptical about any interventions when the wine has entered the vat. The wines are
unfiltered and unfined. The philosophy articulated by Sylvain echoes one we’ve heard from so many French vignerons:
”We believe that work in the vineyards has far more influence on a wine’s quality than what we do in the cave”.
Lou Maset is Grenache 40%, Cinsault 40%, Carignan 10%, Syrah 5%, Alicante Bouchet 5% on arid stony limestone soils
where Grenache and Cinsault flourish, in particular. Traditional vinification in tanks with native yeasts before ageing in
used oak casks for six months. The aromas remind one of Pinot Noir – floral notes with a hint of confiture and silky
tannins. The nose is dominated by sharp red fruits (redcurrants, cherries, bitter orange) and in the mouth the wine is fresh
and aromatic with an attractive finish. This savoury wine has several gastronomic buddies: try it with grilled quails with
cherries, or pot au feu, or chicken with tarragon or even lightly chilled.
The AOC Montpeyroux wine is a reckonable beast: a brooding blend of Mourvèdre (32%), Syrah (20%), Carignan (28%),
Grenache (15%) and Cinsault (5%) also on mixture of limestone scree and hard blue marls. The wine undergoes a long
maceration of up to 30 days with frequent pigeage and is then aged in small tuns and barrels for about twenty months
before being bottled without filtering or fining. The wine is a deep violet colour, the aromas are intense – a melange of
cocoa, vanilla, leather, undergrowth or herbs and one cannot fail to be impressed by the richness of the palate which
mingles pleasant substance with satisfying fullness. In the Montpeyroux region this wine is regularly seen dating the
following: Fillet of beef with chanterelles, game with fruit and spit-roasted woodcock.
Aupilhac Blanc is Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Bland and Vermentino from clay limestone terroir. The wine is fermented
in demi-muids and one 40 hectolitre foudre for twelve months. Lightly fined after the malo. It expresses minerals, is
concentrated, fruity, round and very appealing
LOU MASET ROUGE
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