Organic and biodynamic wine production
As we have noted, Roussillon and Languedoc have a near-perfect climate for viticulture. Rainfall is low and mainly in the winter, giving a long dry summer and early autumn. It is a long way south and therefore warm, on the same latitude as Corsica and halfway down Italy. Given my interest in the Tuscan Maremma, it was fascinating to me that Banyuls near the Spanish border is on the same latitude as Orbetello, close to Tuscany’s southern border with Lazio. (Janet gets the credit for this observation.) Finally, it is windy, drying the vines and keeping them healthy.
The climate must be one factor which has led many leading growers in the area to go organic or even biodynamic. On this page, I will deal with Cazes and Ch. Borde-Rouge but they are typical of a broad trend. The reasons for this change are complex. Organic and bio have become quite fashionable in France. This part of France (or Catalonia if you prefer) has become a magnet for alternative lifestyles and so a deep ecological awareness fits in well with that. And of course, in some markets, especially northern Europe, ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ on the label will undoubtedly give these bottles a competitive edge.
Large scale organic at Cazes
Most of the organic concerns I have visited are small scale concerns where the intimate connection between the grower and his/her vineyard and winery has been tangible. That’s fine if you have 10 hectares. By contrast, Maison Cazes has managed to put together a single vineyard of 190 hectares. It has been replanted since the 1980s and they went biodynamic in 1997. Today they can proudly claim to have the largest biodynamic vineyard in France. We were treated to tour of the vineyard with Emmanuel Cazes who emphasized the long term aim of strengthening the vines so that they can resist disease and drought, rather than trying to treat problems once they have arisen. This is biodynamic farming for results, not as an article of faith. When they replant they leave fallow for seven years and cultivate to get oxygen deep into the ground. The main way of feeding the vines is natural compost. As there few cows in the area, compost is a valuable commodity and sometimes is stolen while it is breaking down. They now buy organic compost and add biodynamic preparations. This neatly illustrates the difference between those for whom ‘local and natural’ are essential and those who are being organic and biodynamic but in a commercial way and on a large scale. As these approaches get more established they are beginning to be the subject of scientific studies. If you are interested in this, a good source of information, including summaries of scientific studies, is to be found at www.organicwinejournal.com
As we travel around in the 4×4, Emmanuel points out the additional work they are doing to increase biodiversity – replanting with local varieties of tree, installing bird and bat boxes. Apparently each bat will eat a kilo of insects in a year.
The biggest threat is to viticulture in this otherwise favoured area is a lack of water. If summers continue to hot up and rainfall becomes more erratic (rainfall from massive thunderstorms is difficult to utilise), then new solutions will have to be found. Groundwater will become increasingly rare and there is competition from tourism and urban needs. Emmanual thinks that the new solution may be to harness the snowmelt of the Pyrenees. Roussillon could become the new Chile.
The proof of the pudding for most wine consumers is of course in the eating, or in this case, the drinking. I have commented very positively on Cazes’ still wines on the Ancient and modern page and on their sweet wines among the vins doux naturels. But the story behind those bottles is fascinating and I am grateful to Emmanuel for this ‘hands-on’ introduction.
Ch. Prieuré Borde-Rouge
This property is just outside the very attractive town of Lagrasse in the Corbières, Southern Languedoc. The property has been renovated and renewed by its current owners since 2006 and will get its organic certification in 2012. It seems like, these days, if you want to be with it, you have to be organic. The new vines are irrigated as necessary from the estate’s own reservoir. We tasted five wines with David who was doing an internship here and then did a brief tour of the vineyards.
Rubellis Rosé 2010 – a blend of 45% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 20% Carignan, the grapes being macerated for four to five hours. Full of red berry flavour, fresh, quite savoury, good.
Carminal Blanc 2010 – a fairly classic blend of 45% Grenache Blanc, 35% Roussanne and then Macabeo and Clairette. Good intensity of colour, quite a complex nose of white plums, honey and garrigue, some structure and a clean finish.
Rubellis Rouge AC Corbières 2010 – the same three red grapes as in the rosé, but this time 45% is Grenache, 30% Carignan and 25% Syrah. Fermented in concrete vats and not oak-aged. Very deep ruby red colour with a purple edge, substantial fruit on nose and palate, quite meaty (from the Carignan probably). Very good in a traditional style.
Carminal AC Corbières 2008 – a typical modern wine – predominantly Syrah with 30% Grenache and 10% Carignan, aged for a year in barriques, one-third of which is new each year in a three-year cycle. A beautiful forward bouquet of red and black fruit over modest oak effect, sumptuous fruit palate, good finish. It’s very difficult not to like this, even if it is very international in style.
Ange AC Corbières 2005 – a very limited production of 5,000 bottles a year. The same blend of grapes as the Carminal but this is a selection of the best grapes and has a four-year barrel rotation. Very complex, spicy – cinnamon and clove – good fruit on the nose, excellent depth of red and black berried fruit, counter-balancing acidity, fine and powerful.
Many thanks to David for hosting our visit. For a Burgundian, you are very open-minded about the quality potential of Languedoc! While I have featured only two wineries in this section, it would be easy to add others. They all show that this warm and windy part of southern France has a natural vocation for organic and biodynamic viticulture and winemaking. And, just as important, that responsible agriculture can go hand in hand with quality winemaking.
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