Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Wine classes at Domaine la Grange

Domaine de la Grange, outside Gabian, is running a series of wine evenings during the first half of next year.  Initially they are planned to be in French, conducted either by the winemaker, Thomas Raynaud, or the domaine manager, Sandrina Hugueux. so a good opportunity to learn some French wine vocabulary, as well as something about the subject.  Here briefly is the programme and there will be six to eight wines to taste each session.  Price 28€ per session, or 150€ for the six.    All on a Friday evening, from 19.30 - 21.00.  I am certainly tempted by the art of blending, as that is something that I would like to know more about.

13th January:  An initiation into tasting, covering the qualities and characteristics of various grape varieties.

27th January:  The main terroirs of  Languedoc-Roussillon, covering soil types, grape varieties, climate and so on, from Banyuls to the Terrasses du Larzac

3rd March: The art of blending.

21st April:  The wine regions of the New World

9th June:   Rosés

For more information : contact Domaine la Grange

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The cave coopérative of Ventenac-en-Minervois

Thanks to my American friend, Jodi Kennedy Gaffey,  who runs a rather smart chambres d'hôte in the château of the village of Ventenac-en-Minervois, www.latourduchateau.com I had a rather unusual cellar visit the other day, with enjoyable elements of the unexpected. 

The cooperative in Ventenac-en-Minervois, not to be confused with nearby Ventenac-en-Cabardès is quite unlike any other cooperative building that you might have seen in the Languedoc.  It looks like a large church, standing by the side of the Canal du Midi, with a barge moored in front of it.  It was in fact built in 1880, as a viticultural folly.  This was the time when fortunes were being made from wine in the Languedoc.  Initially it was in private ownership, belonging to a family whose fortunes declined dramatically at the beginning of the 20th century, who then sold it to a négociant, a Mr. Meyer who traded in wine from Bordeaux, Béziers and Lyon.  However, he returned to Germany in 1938, whereupon the wine growers who had supplied Mr. Meyer, turned the cellar and its facilities into a cooperative. Initially they were 60; today they are 14, with 100 hectares of vines, producing Minervois, IGPs and Vin de France.

The architecture makes perfect sense.  The grapes arrive at the top level, in the courtyard of the château, so that everything works by gravity.  The facilities are much more substantial than the current needs of the cave; the enormous vats are empty these days and they have the space for a small museum of various vinous artefacts, equipment and tools that were once used in cellars or vineyards.  You can climb to the top of the tower and enjoy far-reaching views over the canal and the surrounding countryside. And moored outside on the canal is the Marie-Thérèse, the one remaining barge of the many that once plied the Canal du Midi taking wine in barrels from Sète to Bordeaux.  That trade came to an end in the 1960s and the Marie-Thérèse then enjoyed a chequered career first as a restaurant, and then a nightclub on a canal in Sète, and then one night she sank.  A few years later the decision was taken to raise her and restore her.  She is not a particularly magnificent vessel, but she makes a very fitting reminder of the prosperity of the wine trade at a certain moment towards the end of the 19th century.

As for the wines, there is an eclectic rang.  I tasted an IGP Viognier, and a white Minervois that was a blend of  Marsanne, Bourboulenc and Muscat.  Although the Muscat was only 5% of the blend it rather dominated the flavour.  Cuvée Léa, in all three colours, tended to a slightly sweet style for the white and some stalky fruit and vanilla oak for the red.  A Minervois rosé was fresh and cheerful.  As for red Minervois, the Tradition was sold out and the smarter wines, Cuvée 38 and V de Ventenac tended to oakiness.  

However, I really enjoyed Minervois Nos Nouvelles Racines - our new roots. And why the name?  Ventenac and the nearby villages are particularly affected by the disease that is killing the majestic plane trees that line the Canal du Midi and they wanted to do something to help, so 1of the 7.80price goes towards the replanting of replacement trees. The wine is a blend of Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah with some fresh peppery fruit.  Medium weight without any oak, and some sour cherry flavours.     It is a imaginative  initiative that deserve support - so do go and buy a bottle for a good cause and discover a facet of the Languedocs viticultural history. 

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Biodynamic wine by Monty Waldin

There is no one better qualified than Monty to write a book on biodynamic wine.  As he says in his introduction, he has worked first in conventional, then in organic and finally in biodynamic vineyards and wineries on and off since 1984 and he is convinced that biodynamics remain the best tool with which to make terroir driven wines of the highest quality while enhancing rather than depleting the vineyard it came from. The very first biodynamic vineyard he visited was in Bordeaux in the appellation of Canon Fronsac, in 1993.

Month first of all gives an in-depth exposé of the origins of biodynamics, which date from 1924.  He covers the work of the pioneering Austrian Rudolf Steiner, with the philosophical reasoning behind the practice.  Biodynamics depend upon key preparations and these Monty covers in exhaustive detail, providing details for the professional wine grower who may be considering converting their vineyard to biodynamics.  The scope is far beyond the requirements of a mere layman and I found myself at times overwhelmed by some of the minutiae, but then there were some charming details. It is for instance best to use cow horns from their own locality.  From cow horns Monty moves onto the various compost preparations, discussing stinging nettles and oak bark, dandelion and so.  Dynamizing (or stirring) is a key part of biodynamic practice and that Monty discusses in great detail. And then he considers other sprays and techniques before concluding with a chapter on the celestial rhythms.  This is a significant part of biodynamics as 'it is modern farming's first attempt to take account of the movements of and forces exerted by the moon and other planets, and by the sun and other stars, when timing agricultural work'.  The lunar cycles and their effects are covered in detail with many pertinent observations.

In short this is invaluable for anyone who wishes to understand the intricacies of biodynamics in any detail and it is undoubtedly relevant to the continuing growth of biodynamic viticulture in the Languedoc.