The owners of the large, 250 hectares estate of Domaine Lafage at Canet-en -Roussillon are Jean-Marc Lafage and his wife Elyane. I met Ramuntxo Andonegui, their export director.
Fifteen hectares of the 250 hectares are farmed organically, but more as an experiment. They do not actually make any organic wine, as they feel that there are some issues with organic viticulture, such as the amount of copper that can be used and the number of times a tractor goes into a vineyard, compacting the soil They follow lutte raisonnée and wanted to decide for themselves if organic viticulture was better or not.
They have vines in Canet-en-Roussillon close to their cellar and also some nearer the sea. The grapes for their white and rosé wines are grown in a territoire maritime, benefiting from la Marinade, a wind that brings humidity and freshness in the summer. The difference in temperature between the coast and Maury can be as much as 5⁰C in the summer.
For white wines they have Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Muscat, and Syrah and Mourvèdre for rosé on the limoneux terraces of the Tet, with galets rouléees, totalling about 110 hectares In Les Aspres they have 50 hectares of Grenache Noir, Carignan and Syrah, grown on terraces of brown schist, marnes schisteux and marble, between Fourques and Montauriol.
And in Maury they bought the 38 hectare estate of St. Roch in 2007. It is next door to Mas Amiel with marnes schisteux and schistes noires. And in addition they have acquired other plots in Cassagnes and Lesquerde, enjoying the granite of Lesquerde that you also find in Caramany and Cassagnes. This is no small operation.
And not content with all that, they also have a project in Collioure, not with vines of their own, but a négociant activity whereby they follow specific plots of vines and buy grapes. The previous director of the Mount Tauch coop makes the wine.
We wandered around some high tech cellars. There is a forest of stainless steel vats of different sizes, which always looks impressive. Egrappage can be done in the vineyard so the grapes go straight into the press by gravity. There is no fouloir at reception, rather a conquai vibrant which sent the juice one way and gradually separates the grapes, with the aim to keep them as perfect as possible. They use inert gas for the pink and white juice to prevent any oxidation, and also chill against oxidation. The harvest in 2015 began on 11th August. Ramuntxo (his name is Basque) kept emphasising that they want to preserve the quality of grapes and their new press is equipped with inert gas.
They work with small barrels, with a pre-fermentation à froid in small tank or barrels for 5 – 10 days at 5 - 10⁰C, to give colour, flavour and supple tannins. 2015 was their second vintage in these streamlined cellars. There is mechanical autopigeage, with compressed air. As Ramuntxo put it, ‘the strength of man, le force de l’homme is not sufficient’. They do not do remontages. And there are also some metal tronconique vats.
And then we adjourned to taste:
2014 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc, Centenaire. 17.00€
Ramuntzo said that this wine is emblematique of the estate, representing its philosophy. There are some old vines, Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc, planted in 1909 – 1913, accounting for 50% of the blend. And then there is 20% Roussanne planted about 10 years ago. The vineyards by the cellar are a terroir de blanc, with alluvial soil and galets roulees, on the terraces of the river Têt. There were fresh herbal notes on the palate and the wine was youthful dry and fresh, with a streak of tannin which gives backbone, and some notes of salinity. A lovely glass of wine.
They pick, by hand, in several tris, beginning in the third week of August, with a potential alcohol of 11.5- 12⁰. With the second tri, about ten days later, the grapes will have more concentration and that juice is fermented in wood. A third tri depends on the vintage and may be overripe; it goes into vat. The various tris are blended after fermentation and then the wine is aged in vat and bottled in February or March. The oak is nicely integrated.
Light colour. A little richer on the nose than 2014 Centenaire, and filling out on the palate. Some peachy notes on the nose. Quite stony and mineral, with firm fruit and structure on the palate. Develops nicely in the glass with depth and breadth, and promising potential.
2014 Coté Rosé, Côtes Catalanes – 6.50€
A blend of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, pressed. Jean-Marc’s father planted Cabernet Sauvignon about 25 years ago. Pale colour. Delicate nose, with a fuller palate,. Quite ripe and rounded, easy and mouth filling.
2014 Miraflores, Côtes du Roussillon Rosé– 9.50€
70% Mourvèdre with 30% Grenache Gris. Pressed grapes. Pretty pale pink colour. Delicate nose. More structured and quite firm dry fruit. Quite elegant and stylish.
2014 La Grande Cuvée Rosé, Côtes du Roussillon – 16.00€
The opposite, with 70% Grenache Gris to 30% Mourvèdre. Lighter, more gris colour. The Grenache Gris is grown in the Aspres at 360 – 400 metres altitude. All handpicked, with a selection of grapes, which are pressed. The Mourvèdre comes from close by the cellars. A small amount of barrique élevage. Quite a delicate, but more rounded nose. Quite rounded ripe palate. Soft tannins and some acidity. Nice depth on the palate and the oak is integrated. Some citrus notes, balanced by spice and red fruit. Not a summer rosé
2013 Authentique, Côtes du Roussillon – 9.00€
Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, in vat, both inox and cement, and about 20% in wood, in one or two year old barrels. The base is Carignan from les Aspres with Syrah from Canet, and Grenache from Maury. Medium colour. Quite firm structured nose and palate. Youthful structured red fruit, with a good balance. Youthful energy, peppery and cheerful.
Not yet the final blend. Medium colour. Quite fresh rounded fruit on nose and palate. Nice youthful spice and furrier tannins that 2013.
2013 Bastide Miraflores, Côtes Catalanes – 12.00€
70% Syrah with 60 – 30 year old Grenache. In vat. Quite a firm nose, with red fruit. Quite rounded and ripe, and quite alcoholic, but balanced. Ripe black fruit with a tannic streak. Quite youthful but ready. Syrah from Lesquerde on granite, where the acid soil gives freshness and minerality.
2013 Tessellae Old Vines - 12.00€
A reference to mosaics and tessera. 40% Grenache from Maury with 40% Syrah from Lesquerde, as well as 15% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache Gris. In vat. Medium colour. Quite a firm, quite dense nose. Quite solid rounded and ripe black fruit. Winter warming and ripe with a streak of tannin. Quite alcoholic on the finish.
2013 Chimères, Château St Roch, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, - 12.00€ 15⁰
From Maury, and mainly Grenache, with 30% Syrah and just 5% Carignan. Aged in wood; they have moved towards 500 litre barrels. Quite solid and dense nose, with ripe rounded fruit and solid tannins. Concentrated and young. Intense and youthful with some minerality giving elegance and fruit. Rich with elegant minerality and alcohol on the finish. Lots of nuances.
2013 Collioure, Arqueta – 16.00€ 15⁰
60% Grenache, with 20% each of Syrah and Carignan, with a drop of Grenache Gris. 8 months élevage in wood. Quite a light colour. Quite fresh fruit on the nose and palate. Quite firm tannins. Some leathery notes. Quite firm fruit. Youthful red fruit. Stony and mineral and very schist.
An observation from Ramuntxo that terroir of Collioure is is magnificent, but the wine is losing its place internationally, as the terroir needs so much work, making the vines well nigh unaffordable. Everything has to be handpicked, the cost of which makes Collioure seem too expensive.
2013 Château St. Roch, Kerbuccio, Maury Sec – 23€ - 15⁰
In other words, named after Quéribus, the Cathar castle that towers over the vineyards of Maury. A blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre, in new barrels. Very schist noir of Maury. Very ripe with black fruit and firm mineral note. Costaud but balanced and rich. Lovely fruit, but a tad alcoholic on the finish.
2009 Les Onze Terrasses, Côtes du Roussillon, les Aspres - 15⁰ - 70€ - Just 1200 bottles. Nice label but a very heavy bottle.
From vineyards on the edge of the Aspres between Fourques and Montauriol. 50% Grenache with 40% Syrah and 10% Carignan. Égrappé a la main. Élevage of 24 months in new oak, and also fermented in open top barriques. Deep colour. Rich dense and oaky. Intense nose. Black fruit and oak. Very dense. How will it age? A côté mineral en fin de bouche, but also very alcoholic. Somehow the oak seems to emphasise the alcohol? Un peu too much for my taste.
And then we adjourned for lunch on the sea front at Canet-en-Roussillon for the fish of the day and a stunning view of the blue Mediterranean in sunshine. And then it was time to head for the airport.