Sunday, 9 September 2018

A day with Laurent Delaunay of Badet Clement



Badet Clement has long been a familiar name, with its brand, les Jamelles, and the Languedoc arm of Abbotts Delaunay, so I was very pleased to accept an invitation from Laurent Delaunay to come and taste his wines and visit his recently acquired Limoux estate.   I had already tasted his first vintage of Limoux in London, but there is nothing like trying wines sur place especially when you get to see the vineyards on the same day.  Everything suddenly makes sense.

But first a bit of background.   Laurent is a Burgundian, from Nuits St Georges, and the fifth generation of a family négociant business that was bought by the large Burgundy company, Boisset, which he has subsequently bought back, everything but the vineyards.  He worked for Boisset for a time, including a a year in Napa at villa Mount Eden, learning to make wines in a warm climate, and observed the development of the big brands in California.   His wife, Catherine, is also an oenologist.  Then in 1995 it was the moment to leave Boisset; they wanted a change of scene and came to the Languedoc.   It was the time of the rise in popularity of vins de cépages, and they worked as flying winemakers around Béziers and Nîmes, for small cooperatives and wine growers.   It was an exciting time, with new grape varieties, and everyone very open to experiments and interested in the Languedoc.  And their brand Les Jamelles, based on single varieties, was born, named after the very first vineyard used for the brand.    As for the name Badet Clement, it comes from an old négociant house that Laurent’s grandfather had bought in the 1930s, which had long since ceased to trade, but the name remained as a sentimental link.    

So for ten years Laurent and Catherine worked as flying winemakers making wines in different cellars, and then in 2005 they bought their own cuverie in Marseillette, namely the old cellars of the Australian winemakers, Nigel Sneyd and Nerida Abbott.  Laurent talked about a period of transition.  Nigel Sneyd had made wines with a quite an obvious Australian touch, while Laurent’s style is very much more Burgundian.  This meant that they were able to make their own wines, chez eux, but by 2013, the had outgrown Marseillette and heard that the old cooperative buildings of the village of Monze were available. 

As well as sizeable and beautifully well-equipped and modernised cellars in Monze, Laurent now has two wine estates, Domaine du Trésor in Ouveillan, bought in 2015, for IGPs, including a brand le Trésor.  The vineyards are on the plain by the canal du Midi.  In addition he bought some of Jean-Louis Denois’s vineyards in Limoux, Domaine de la Metairie d’Alon, in 2014.   And he is continuing to look for vineyards, maybe something small in the Corbières.   We looked round the cellars in Monze.  The original building is the classic 1930s Languedoc cooperative, but everything has been renovated, from the roof downwards.   Laurent described Monze as his wine hub, where all the blending is done, and everything is stored.  He has the capacity for 5 million litres,     The barrel cellar, dedicated to his father Jean-Marie Delaunay, contains 700 barriques and demi-muids, from four or five coopers such as Seguin Moreau and a name that was new to me, Chassin.  Laurent explained that he favours a short élevage in wood, twelve months at the most,  for his wines as he wants to keep the freshness.

We then adjourned to a rather elegant tasting room.

2017 Les Jamelles, Marsanne   7.00€
The range Les Jamelles covers 23 varieties altogether, and we certainly did not taste them all!  Laurent talked of the excitement of discovering so many grape varieties in the Languedoc both local and international.  Gewürztraminer is the latest addition to the range and he is now working on Lledoner Pelut and also Macabeo.
Light colour.   Good mouthfeel and weight, with rounded fruit and quite a delicate nose.  There is a touch of salinity on the finish with a firm slightly bitter note.  Laurent explained that he is looking for fruit and freshness, fermenting at a low temperature and protecting the juice against oxidation.  There is no wood ageing.  Marsanne has been part of his repertoire for fifteen years.  

2017  Les Jamelles Viognier  - 7.00€
I  was surprised to learn that Laurent is the largest producer of Viognier in the Languedoc, apparently accounting for 20% of the region’s production of that grape variety.  I had always thought that position might belong to Laurent Miquel, with his varied range of different Viognier.  The wine is lightly peachy, fresh and rounded and avoids being heavy and overripe.   Laurent explained that you have to take great care of over the harvest date, as Viognier can very quickly become too ripe.  This is picked at 13º.      

Next in the range come some wines under the evocative brand name A Tire de l’Aile, conjuring up the image of a flock of birds taking off from a vineyard of ripe grapes.  

2016  A Tire de l’Aile Languedoc Blanc - 12.00€
A blend of  50% Grenache blanc, 30% Marsanne and 20% Vermentino, each vinified separately.  30% of the blend spends four or five months in wood. The palate is nicely rounded, with lots of nuances, with some white blossom, herbal notes, some salinity and both length and depth, and nicely balanced acidity.  A very satisfying bottle of wine.   The Grenache and Marsanne come from near Monze and the Vermentino from near Mèze.     

But while Laurent has enjoyed discovering the grape varieties of the Languedoc, he was also looking for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, returning to his first love, and convinced of the potential for this varieties in Limoux.   He had identified three villages that he thought would be particularly suitable for Pinot Noir, namely Magrie, Roquetaillade and Antugnac, in the Haute Vallée of the Aude.   And he found 25 hectares, that were farmed organically, and made his first wines in 2014, following the Burgundian concept of a village wine and a cru, or two, from particularly favourable vineyards.   In contrast to Les Jamelles these are very much vins de terroir.

2016 Chardonnay, Pays d’Oc  - 16.00€
Hand picked and whole bunch pressed, with a strict selection of the juice, keeping the heart of the press and eliminating the first and last juice.   40% of the cuvée spends six months in old barrels of one to three wines,  What about bâtonnage Ça dépend.  Not for  the village wine as he wants freshness.   In Limoux the grapes must not be  too ripe; even one day can make a difference.   The Village Chardonnay is understated and restrained, nicely mouth-filling with an underlying richness.  Laurent is sparing with sulphur, adding a little after the malo, and again at bottling.   He talked about the importance of le travail du sol and is moving towards biodynamic viticulture, feeling that it can bring more freshness and acidity.

2017 Le Palajo, Chardonnay Limoux - 28.00€
A wine that is appellation Limoux must be vinified in Limoux, so this was made in Jean-Louis Denois’s old cellars, rather than at Monze.   The grapes are gently pressed and the juice racked off into barrels, both pièces and demi-muids, of which 10% or less are new.   Limoux must spend a minimum of six months in barrel to meet the appellation requirements.   Maybe there is some bâtonnage.  That depends on each individual barrel

The wine has lovely texture, with elegance and length and considerable  depth.   A lovely satisfying mouthful.   A Chassagne-Montrachet, maybe mused Laurent, but comparisons are odious.   We talked about the differences between his methods and some of the local wine growers.   The date of the harvest is significant;  his neighbour Gérard Bertrand picks very much later.  `As  Laurent observed, he  was brought up in Burgundy and he is very lucky in that he has drunk a a lot of Burgundy, so he knows what he is looking for.  However, you must also adapt to the local conditions.  In Burgundy you push for maximum ripeness.  In Limoux you stop - the enemies are overripeness and over extraction.   There might be a little pigeage for the Pinot Noir, but essentially the colour and body are there naturally.   Clones can have an effect too, slowing down the ripening and making for more acidity, so he favours champenois rather than Burgundian clones.   The average age of the vines is about 25 years old and he has reduced the height of the feuillage, observing that less leaves makes for slower ripening.  

And then back to les Jamelles, for 2017 Gewurztraminer 
This is the newest addition to the range, with a first vintage in 2016, from half a hectare grown at Domaine de Trésor.  I found it very aromatic without being cloying, with hints of lychees, and nicely rounded and spicy with good weight on the palate, and no cloying residual sugar.  

2017 Mourvèdre rosé Les Jamelles - 7,00€
Another new addition to the range with the first vintage in 2017.  They consider themselves specialists of Mourvèdre in the  Languedoc, and are the largest producer of that variety, for the simple reason that they like it.  Seeing Mourvèdre as their signature, it seemed obvious to develop the range with a rosé as well as some wines from selected plots.

The grapes are pressed and vinified like a white wine.  The colour is delicate, but the flavour firm and structured with good fruit.  There is some élevage on the lees making for a satisfying depth of flavour.  

2017 Clair de Gris
In other words a Gris de Gris, with Grenache Gris the key grape variety.  Again 2017 was the first vintage.  The colour is very pale, pelure d’oignon after a two or three days maceration on the skins.   Th wine is ripe and rounded, with more weight than the Mourvèdre, with quite a different structure and weight.

2017 Pinot Noir Rosé
This comes from the same vineyard as the red Le Village but from grapes picked ten days earlier, and most suitable for rosé.  It has firm acidity and fresh acidity, with light raspberry fruit and a slightly smokey quality.  A very refreshing finish.  I wondered whether there were any other Pinot Noir rosé in Limoux. 

2016 Mourvèdre, les Jamelles
The grapes are vinified in Monze, in concrete vats, with regular remontages and quite a long maceration.  The temperature is kept relatively high and then 10-15% of the wine spend some time in old barrels.  It is ripe and rounded; quite smokey; quite tannic, with good concentration, but with a certain sweetness and ripeness on the palate.   Good depth with a balance of tannin, and a spicy vanilla note on the finish.  

In 2017 the range was extended with what Laurent described as les Sélections Parcellaires, with more of an emphasis on terroir.  They are able to find particularly  good plots of Mourvèdre and other varieties, such as Syrah and Carignan, which they keep separate from the mass.  

2017 Mourvèdre, le Beillon

From vineyards at Pouzolles-en-Minervois, with 25 year old south-facing vines. About half the wine is aged in wood, after a long maceration.  The barrel sample was quite solid, rich and young, and very ripe and dense, and needing plenty of time in bottle.

2017 Syrah
This comes from Monze, from a vineyard about 300 metres from the cellars.   They have bought the grapes of this particular vineyard for a number of years.  Very deep colour.   Half vinified traditionally, and half by what Laurent called an Australian vinification.  The juice is run off into a barrel before the fermentation is finished.  It makes for a very ripe, rich wine, rounded solid and dense.   The alcohol level was only 13.5º, but it tasted richer.

And then we moved onto Pinot Noir.

2015 Le Village

This is a blend of several plots.  The grapes are picked a little earlier than for the cru and 20% of the wine is whole bunch pressed, with a cool pre-fermentation maceration, and a fermentation in concrete tanks, with remontages, maintaining the temperature at 27º - 28ºC for three or four days.  The wine is racked, half into vat and half into barrel, but none new.  Elegance is the first word that comes to mind, with lovely subtle raspberry fruit, very good mouthfeel and a balancing streak of tannins.  As it happened, we had drunk 2015 Domaine du Clovallon Pinot Noir, from the Haute Vallée de l’Orb the previous evening and the difference was intriguing, with the Clovallon displaying more fresh fruit and less texture.  Laurent’s was definitely more Burgundian!

A vat sample of  2017 Le Village followed, which had some lovely ripe red fruit, with a streak of tannin.  

And then there were two crus, from the very best plots, Solaire, which is less than one hectare and Metairie a little more than one hectare.  Solaire comes from lowers vineyards, with more concentration of flavour.  For Laurent it is ‘more Burgundian', whereas Metairie is ‘more pure’. 

2017 Metairie
The malo-lactic fermentation takes place later in Burgundy, whereas in the Languedoc it is much quicker, and usually finished by November, so the wine here can be bottled sooner, at the beginning of the summer, but still with the same nine months of élevage.    it is all fermented in cuves tronconiques, with 40% whole bunches, and maybe more in future vintages, as they give more finesse.   A  cool pre-fermentation maceration  and a little pigeage, with the fermentation taking about seventeen days.  All the wine is aged in fut.  It was the first time Laurent had tasted it after bottling and he was very happy with it.  I thought it was absolutely delicious, with wonderfully elegant ripe fruit , with depth and freshness and a long finish.

2016 Solaire
This is more powerful as the vintage was warmer.  it was quite solid, round and rich, ripe with good length and depth.  I loved its texture, with richness and length, with subtle nuances.

2014 Solaire - the first vintage
A much fresher, cooler vintage.  Laurent remembered that they had to heat the vats.  Lighter colour, with the nose beginning to mature a little, evolving elegantly, with texture and subtlety.  Laurent observed that he would like to refaire the 2014 every year.  

And then onto a couple more traditional Languedoc reds, to conclude our tasting:

2014 Alto Stratus, Vin de France, from Carignan planted in 1905, in the Haut Minervois at La Caunette.  A 1.5 hectare plot producing less than 30 hl/ha.  It is very sunny, very windy and very arid and the soil is very stony, so that the grapes ripen late.  Half are whole bunch pressed  and given a ten day maceration and half de-stalked with a week's maceration.   About  two thirds is aged in oak, in Chassin barrels, and the rest in vat and bottled about a year later.

An immediate impression of layers of flavours, with lots of fruit and firm tannins.  The wine is rich and solid, with some sturdy tannins, and quite full-bodied.  Still very youthful and needs time.

2014 Faugères, Boreas  - 24.00€
About a quarter each of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, with more Grenache than the others.  The grapes are bought from three different growers, and all destalked, with a traditional vinification and three and half weeks on skins, with regular remontages.  The élevage is mainly in barrel, with about 20% in vat.  There is an attractive spice on the nose and palate; medium weight with good tannins and a fresh finish.  Quite rich liquorice notes.

And then we adjourned for a relaxed lunch on the canal at Trèbes, before heading to Magrie to explore well-tended vineyards, bathed in warm summer sunshine.