LANGUEDOC - ROUSSILLON
LANGUEDOC - ROUSSILLON
DOMAINE DE RAPATEL - G.EYRAUD
DOMAINE DE L’HORTUS - JEAN ORLIAC
DOMAINE J. LAURENS
WINE BY JEFF CARREL
THE LOST PLOT
LES CLOS PERDUS
Situated in the area of the Costières de Nîmes between the ancient cities of Nîmes and Arles, and at the Camargue National Park gates, is Domaine de Rapatel, run by the eccentric and winsome Gérard Eyraud.
Le Domaine de Rapatel originated in 1905 by Gérard's grandfather, Louis Guiot, who made wine and raised lamb on the farmland of an ancient monastery. Louis decided to keep the monastery’s name, Rapatel, for his domain, which means ‘warm sun’ in the Catalan language.
In the late 1960s, Gérard's father Pierre Eyraud took the reins of domain, selling the grapes to cooperatives and installing a market garden. Gérard inherited the property in 1979. His passion for natural farming led him to let the soil and grapes rest without the use of chemicals for ten years before making his first vintage. He’s been crafting complex, expressive natural wines ever since.
Rapatel’s 30 hectares of grapes are bathed in permanent sunlight and receive the cold, northwesterly Mistral wind all year round. Sandstone, limestone-rich clay, and large pebbles comprise the soil structure, and no pesticides or chemical fertilisers are used on the vines. Only organic solutions are used to prevent and cure the vines, like nettle manure, ewe whey, and horsetail decoction.
Gérard farms 27 hectares of red varietals, including Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Cabernet, Merlot, and Marselan; and three hectares of white Roussane, Bourboulenc, and Chasan. Grapes are harvested manually when at their absolute ripest, and each plot is processed separately using natural yeasts. Gérard’s wines are not filtered or fined, and contain no added sulphur and see no oak. This passionate vigneron allows his wines to ferment and evolve in fibreglass or concrete tanks for three to five years before being bottled.
Labels and classifications are not Gérard’s style, rather his wines are a union of pure grapes and passion. His colourful, distinct wines are demonstrative of his perpetual quest for excellence.
His raison d'etre can be summed up in this quote from him: "Rapatel is what I really am, what I like to do and what I want to share with people and wine lovers. Being fashionable? No way! I’m not running a coca-cola factory. I produce exactly what I want to."
DOMAINE DE L’HORTUS - JEAN ORLIAC
2018 IGP Val de Montferrand "La Bergerie" Blanc
2017 Vin de Pays Montferrand "La Bergerie" Blanc
2018 AOC Pic Saint Loup "La Bergerie" Rosé
2017 AOC Pic Saint Loup "La Bergerie" Rouge
2016 AOC Pic Saint Loup "Grande Cuvée" Rouge
2014 AOC Pic Saint Loup "Grande Cuvée" Rouge
Located in a valley between the two dazzling limestone cliffs of Pic Saint Loup and Montagne de l’Hortus, this almost-40-year-old vineyard produces highly drinkable wines indicative of the finesse and personality that forms them.
The domain is a 24-kilometre drive north of Montpellier, located among the cooler plots of the Pic Saint Loup AOC—which was granted appellation classification in February 2017, and is a sub-zone of the Languedoc AOC.
Vigneron Jean Orliac and wife Marie-Thérèse bought 50 hectares of wooded, garrigue-dense slopes in 1978, tending the old scrub vines back from disrepair. Jean had been a professor of agriculture at the University of Montpelier, but slowly left teaching to establish his own domain among the staggering limestone cliffs that he once scaled as an avid mountain climber.
Initially the grapes were all sold to the local co-op. But in 1990, a decade later, the Orliacs bottled their first vintage, and soon after built their own winery. Today, their children, Yves, Martin, Francois, and Marie are all involved in running the domain.
Time and experience has lead Jean to understand the soil structure down to the minutiae, despite the estate comprising a patchwork of small parcels of various sun exposures and differing soils. Cooler climate varietals such as Syrah, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc have been planted on north-facing slopes, while Grenache and Mourvèdre (Jean’s favourite) have been granted full southern exposure. The vineyards are farmed with respect for nature.
During harvest, grapes are picked in the cool of night before being fermented in temperature-controlled tanks (except for roughly 50% of the Chardonnay, which is fermented in barrels to become the Grande Cuvée Blanc).
Domaine de L’Hortus was once the only estate in the valley. But this untouched terroir has gained a handful of new producers in recent years, who have recognised the potential of the region.
Positioned in the south of France among the small commune of La Digne-d’Aval, this domain champions the oldest sparkling wine in the world.
Domaine J. Laurens was founded in the 1980s by Michel Dervin, an expert from the Champagne region, who bought existing vineyards and began to make the renowned Blanquette de Limoux. Limoux native, Jacques Calvel, who had been working in Switzerland, returned to his homeland to succeed Michel in 2002. Aided by Michel’s savoir-faire and winemaker Henri Albrus, the team restructured the domain to ensure the quality of their Blanquette de Limoux and Crémant de Limoux AOC wines improved year after year.
Historical records show that the Benedictine monks at the Saint Hilaire Abbey in Limoux have been producing Blanquette de Limoux sparkling since 1531, when a monk discovered that the wine he had bottled and corked formed bubbles after a second fermentation. This is said to be the first sparkling wine in the world, appearing about 150 years before Champagne. Local folklore indicates that famous monk, Dom Perignon, visited Limoux and took the technique back to Champagne where he popularised it.
The Blanquette de Limoux and Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale appellations have been in operation since 1938, both made on the traditional Limoux white grape varietal, Mauzac. The Crémant de Limoux appellation was added in 1990, which can now be produced with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, with the option to add Mauzac and/or Pinot Noir.
Domaine J. Laurens wines are made in the méthode traditionnelle style, using a pneumatic pressing to ensure the juices run clear and pure. First fermentation occurs in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats, with the second fermentation completed in bottle, stimulated by the addition of sweet juice and yeasts. The deposit is then gradually worked towards the neck, before being frozen and disgorged.
Grapes are harvested by hand, and the uncrushed grapes rest on lees for a minimum of nine months for the Blanquette and 12 months for the Crémant. The wines are aged for between one and two years before release.
Jeff Carrel is a roving winemaker. Along with consulting and acting as a contract winemaker for other vineyards, he produces his own wines by buying parcels of grapes and renting space in a winery each vintage.
In the 1990s, Carrel studied a Diploma of Oenology in Montpellier before touring France, vinifying in the Loire Valley, followed by Alsace and Languedoc. Today he advises mainly in Languedoc-Roussillon as well as Priorat, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, and Burgundy, while also growing his own collection of wines.
The freelance winemaker makes around 40 different wines from grapes selected from his favourite estates, and his aim is to present a sincere reflection of the unique terroir of each individual parcel. He says that his winemaking methods are driven by human history, encounters and culture, as well as varietal and climate, rather than subscribing to a particular oenological practice or philosophy.
LES CLOS PERDUS +
THE LOST PLOT
Paul Old and Stuart Nix met at the London Wine Show in 2005. They were two Australians, living on the other side of the world, who bonded over their shared love of character-tinted wines. After spending more than 20 years as a professional dancer with the Australian Ballet and becoming one of Europe's leading male dancers, Paul returned to Australia to study wine science at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Meanwhile, Stuart Nix had been working in the financial industry in Sydney, London, and Singapore, before studying wine on the side and eventually pushing his long-term wine appreciation to the next level.
It was during a visit to Languedoc in 2002 that Paul found himself enchanted by the old vines and the diverse varietals, soil structures, climate, and terrain of the region. The next year, he founded his estate Les Clos Perdus, spanning 1.5 hectares of vines in the Corbières maritimes. One year later, Les Clos Perdus acquired additional small parcels in the High Corbières hills and on the schist-rich slopes of the Agly Valley.
Stuart eventually joined Paul at Les Clos Perdus, which has now been producing wine for the past 12 years. It is considered one of the benchmark wineries within the Languedoc, renowned for well-balanced and elegant terroir-driven wines.
Their 20 hectares of grapes are grown using organic and biodynamic practices, and spread across three unique terroirs, of which each is represented by an individual wine—Mire La Mer from the Corbières Maritimes; Prioundo from the High Corbières; and L’Extrême from the Agly Valley in the Roussillon. Grapes are hand-harvested into small crates, with selection and sorting occurring in the vineyard. They aim to handle fruit, juice, and wine as gently as possible with minimal interventions.
Whites varietals are de-stemmed then macerated on skins prior to pressing, with fermentation in stainless steel and barrels. Most red varietals are de-stemmed too, but they also use some whole bunches to add dimension. Skin contact varies between 15 to 40 days. All wines are spontaneously fermented with indigenous yeasts.
With the brand’s ethos to always to seek out that lost plot and not stay bound to one place, the pair has launched The Lost Plot—a playful exploration in creating and sharing more adventurous wines that span the terroirs of their adopted France and also native Australia.
Grapes are sourced from wine regions as diverse as the Corbières and Nïmes in France to Heathcote and the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia, while their thoughtful winemaking always strives to capture each individual wine’s place of origin.
2017 Vin de France Blanc “Supernova”
2016 IGP Côtes Catalanes Blanc “Le Coste”
2015 IGP Côtes Catalanes Blanc “Le Coste”
2015 IGP Côtes Catalanes Blanc “La Truffiere”
2016 AOP Côtes du Roussillon Villages “Roboul”
2015 AOP Côtes du Roussillon Villages “Roboul”
2016 AOP Côtes du Roussillon Villages “La Truffiere” Rouge
2016 IGP Côtes Catalanes “Les Myrs”
2015 IGP Côtes Catalanes “Les Myrs”
Neo-vignerons come from all over the world to Roussillon to produce great wines. Brothers Benoit and Sebastien Danjou are Catalans, but their estate, Domaine Danjou-Banessy was founded by their ancestors in Roussillon many centuries ago. They come from a long family lineage of winemakers, and grandfather Denis Banessy is still involved.
Located at Espira in the Agly Valley, this domain was only producing fortified and dry rancio wines when Benoit took over from his father ten years ago. His brother, Sebastien joined the domaine full-time five years ago.
The vineyard has always been free from synthetic chemical usage and the brothers are as non-interventionist as possible in the cellar. They harvest by hand, plow rather than fertilise, manually trim buds, use minimal sulphur, and opt for wild yeasts. There is no chaptalisation, acidification, fining, or filtration in the winery. Their methods are informed by the age-old practices of those that have come before them, yet they employ an open-mindedness that considers both traditional and modern knowledge, and results in breaking new ground.
Their endemic grape varieties, including some rare old vines of carignan, are rooted in a soil of clay, black schists, and limestone rocks, and are now vinified into dry whites and reds that aim to capture the true expression of the landscape.
One of the highlights from our 2016 wine trip to France was sharing a succulent duck breast cooked on vine shoots with Benoit and Sebastien. It was such a pleasure to witness their passion for wine and to understand how their devoted approach to work in the vineyard produces such a refined and elegantly fresh wine.
The entrepreneurial winemaker behind Mas Amiel is Olivier Decelle, who is also the owner of Château Jean Faure, where he produces Grand Cru Classé St Emilion.
Mas Amiel is internationally known for its naturally sweet wines and oxidative wines. Decelle also produces some stunning dry wines that stem from a terroir of calcium shale, gneiss, and mica-schists soils, which allows these southern-accented wines to maintain a great freshness. He even pioneered the adaption of the appellation Maury to include dry wines, which has been important for young winemakers in the region who have gravitated towards this style.
This unique estate sprawls across 220 hectares with 170 hectares under vine. It is located close to the village of Maury in Roussillon, with the Corbières range to the north and the steep foothills of the Pyrénées to the south.
Extreme temperatures, tramontana winds, 260 days of sunshine per year, and rocky schistose soil make the terrain ideal for Grenache and Carignan. Both grape varietals are resistant to wind and drought, and their roots manage to break through the schist, and express strong mineral characteristics in the bottle.
Back in 1816, the bishop of Perpignan used one of his plots of land as a bet in a game of cards. He lost it to civil engineer Raymond Amiel, and this is how Mas Amiel originated. At the time, there were only 10 hectares of vines, and now it has grown to one of the largest estates in the region. After phylloxera ravished the vineyard (and wider France) in 1865, Mas Amiel was replanted. In 1907, the estate was acquired by Charles Dupuy, whose son and grandson continued to develop the vineyard until 1997.
Then came Olivier Decelle in 1999. At the time, he was CEO of Picard Surgelés, a successful frozen food retailer. A chance encounter with legendary wine consultant Jacques Boissenot saw Decelle inspired to venture into winemaking. Jacques assisted Decelle in finding his perfect estate, Mas Amiel, and taught him that the terroir is what makes the wine - people are just there to help the journey.
He now grows and makes the Mas Amiel wines based on observation and experimentation. For his oxidative wines, the wine is fortified, racked and put into demijohns, which are stored outside, exposed to sunlight and the forecast variations for 12 months—a process unique to Maury. After one year, the wine is poured back into 100-year-old casks to mature for 10 or 20 years before bottling.