Category: Wine Tourism

Didier Barral: The Gentle Voice of the Earth

Didier Barral, winemaker and steward of the ecosystem in Faugères.
Didier Barral, winemaker, winegrower, and valiant defender of the ecosystem in the town of Lentheric, in Faugères (Languedoc, France).

Listening to Didier Barral — the most careful and loving steward of nature — speak from among his vines in Lentheric is a religious experience.

But even if it feels religious, and even if Didier is a noted advocate of organic, Fukuoka-influenced hands-off farming, nothing about Didier’s discourse feels preachy. There are no exhortations; no imperatives. His persuasiveness flows from the stunning beauty of his 35 hectares of vines, and from the freshness and purity of his wines. He speaks for himself, and tells his story: one of observation, of trial and error in his vineyards.

At some point in your experience of wine, you grow interested in terroir. Rocks; slopes; drainage; expositions.  Later, like it or not, you become interested in farming. Careful farming enables great wines, and is often the most reliable predictor of a wine’s ability to transmit terroir. 1

Didier is quick to contrast his neighbors’ vines with his own as a starting point to understanding his wines. What follows is my translation from French, with interjected bits of Didier’s English interwoven.

Didier: “Look at the difference in the grass between the neighbor’s vines and my vines. The key to soils is vegetative diversity. And what’s most important (Click to Read more)

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  1. This is not to say all organically-farmed vines go on to make great wines; some taste like a horse’s ass. Skillful, responsible farming simply enables terroir-driven wines to rise from a cellar. []

The Wildness That Courses Through Languedoc Reds

There’s a 400 lb monster that rustles through the garrigues of the Languedoc, a snarling, horned beast with an appetite for grapes.

It can destroy an entire vineyard in a single night. And each vigneron is convinced it only wants their grapes. “It LOVES Vermentino!’ “Ah, but it doesn’t just eat Vermentino, I can assure you! It destroyed 75% of one of my vineyards in one night — 15% of my crop!”

Surrounding your vineyard with electrified wire helps a bit, but ultimately, you can’t be present day and night to protect it. Only solution? Call in the hunters.

A great deal of the Languedoc is still an untamed, wild place, especially near the Cévennes National Park, where these wild boars roam.  Unsurprisingly, the wild boars wander down from the forest into vineyards; and perhaps equally unsurprisingly, this wild side of Languedoc terroir wanders into the wines — particularly the red blends.

Consider Jean-Marie Rimbert’s Saint-Chinian ‘Le Mas Au Schiste’. I’ve consumed cases of this wine over the years, and always wondered exactly what accounted for the unique, savage aromas that course through it.

2010 Domaine Rimbert Mas Au Schiste and Provençal rabbit with garlicky beans.
2010 Domaine Rimbert Saint-Chinian Mas Au Schiste, with Provençal rabbit and garlicky beans.

The 2010 Rimbert Saint-Chinian Mas Au Schiste brings to mind fading roses, bitter chocolate, sweet candied fennel, (Click to Read more)

The Many Faces of Granite: A Visit to the Clape Cellar in Cornas

Interview with Winemaker Olivier Clape: Climate Change and the Changing Faces of Cornas; How Alsatian Barrels Ended up in the Clape Cellar; Why Clape St Péray Will Be Even Better; 2013 and 2014 Barrel Sample and 2012 Cornas Tasting Notes

Olivier Clape
Olivier Clape.

Cornas, like all Northern Rhône Syrah, is a study in granite. Its different faces; different exposures, different densities and grades. Each vineyard yields a different iteration, which becomes readily apparent while tasting barrels divided by vineyard sites.

Doing so at Domaine Auguste Clape is the chance of a lifetime to witness this. The domaine has been universally celebrated as benchmark Cornas by everyone from Robert Parker to Kermit Lynch (an odd couple indeed).

Even though the Clape cellar is as rustic as can be — covered in a dense layer of white and grey mold that brings to mind ashed rind goat cheese — there is no barnyard, no bretty aroma which dominates Clape wines. They are bright and clean, yet savage and meaty. They are the very definition of Cornas.

The Clape bottle archive.
The Clape bottle archive.

I had the pleasure of visiting Olivier Clape last month to taste 2013 and 2014 barrel samples. For individual tasting notes of the barrel samples, divided by vineyard, click here for a comparative chart. (Click to Read more)