At the beginning of what proved to be an absolutely scorching week in the UK, Gavin and I headed down to the South West corner of France on a mission; drink as much wine talk to our network of growers and confirm grapes for the 2015 vintage.
After touching down in Toulouse (an hour later than scheduled owing to a very busy Gatwick airport) we picked up the hire car and headed straight to the small town of Puimisson, Languedoc to visit Jeff Coutelou. Jeff is an exceptionally talented viticulturist and vigneron, choosing to follow the practices of biodynamic and organic vineyard management alongside natural vinification.
Besides a few processes such as tilling the soil, every vineyard process is carried out by hand. This fastidious approach ensures that the soil does not become compacted, as you might find in a commercial, chemically treated vineyard, but also any issues that may arise are quickly identified and mitigated.
The purpose of our visit to this small village, just outside of Béziers, was to assess the Cabernet Sauvignon plots that Jeff has once again agreed to let us work with. The grapes have overcome challenging conditions during flowering, with high winds causing some isolated patches of coulure (when the grape bunches develop unevenly during fruit set). The fruit looks wonderfully healthy and we’re expecting low yields with deep concentration of flavour. Skilled management of vine vigour ensures the grapes enjoy a balance of shade and airflow through the canopy.
This was also a chance for us to see other plots of Jeff’s vineyards as well as the winery itself. On the fringes of his bush vine Grenache vineyards, a group of fig trees illustrates the contrasting effects of organic management versus the use of chemical sprays. The side of the tree facing Jeff’s Grenache bore plump, ripe and luscious figs (albeit a little warm after sitting in the 40oC afternoon sun) whereas the tree facing his neighbour’s chemically treated vineyard had been stripped off all fruit and flowers.
After a chilled glass (a revelation by all accounts) of our 2013 Cabernet, an evening swim in the River L’Orb and dinner we made tracks for our overnight stop in Carcassonne, feeling satisfied with the day’s outcome.
Our focus for day two was Chardonnay. Research and intuition indicates that Limoux is a growing haven for the grape responsible for our most popular wine. High altitudes, moderating air currents and free-draining soil all work together to aid the development of Chardonnay with classic varietal character and fresh acidity. We were fortunate enough to have a contact in the area; James Kinglake owner of the highly successful Domaine Begude, who not only showed us round his estate and cellars but also set up a meeting with a local grower; Maurice.
We met Maurice on his farm-come-workshop and briefly outlined our project before being taken to the potential sites. In similar fashion to Jeff’s vineyards, the first thing that struck us was the healthy appearance of the fruit bunches and immaculate condition of the vines owing to Biodynamic and Organic (certified) management. After a couple of hours walking through the vineyards and assessing each potential parcel, we shook hands on a deal and retreated to the shade.
We're very fortunate to be able to work with such dedicated and passionate people and believe our line-up this year, from the Southwest corner of France, is our strongest to date.
Next stop Slovenia and Galicia, watch this space.....