This is an estate that changed hands in 2016. I first went there in 1988 when Philippe Salesc was making what seemed at the time quite pioneering blends of Cabernet and Merlot. But the family had financial problems and the estate was sold to Swiss, who spent much of their time in South Africa. Their focus was varietal vins de pays, and then in 2016, it changed hands again, and is now the property of a genial Russian, Oleg Chirkunov. .
When we met in late September, he admitted that he had had no intention of buying a wine estate, but when he was told, this was an opportunity not to be missed, he succumbed. Back in Russia, he has a successful distribution business and also spends time in London. And although he does not have a wine background, I sense somebody who recognises capable people to employ. Claude Gros is his consultant oenologist; Claude Bourguignon, the talented soil scientist, advises on the vineyards; Rodolphe Travel runs the estate as the fulltime director, Nikola Zebic is the chef de cave. Tasting with Rodlphe and Nikola, you sense they make a good team.
First we went for a walk in the vineyards, in summer sunshine, even though it was late September. The harvest was in full swing, later than some, and all handpicked. Altogether they have 45 hectares of land, with 33 hectares in production of vines; one of the first things they did was to pull up 12 hectares, the old Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as their strategy is to focus on the Terrasses du Larzac for red wine, so Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsaut. They do not have any Carignan at the moment, but may plant some - but it is a 30-year project - and they are interested in planting Lledoner Pelut and Morastel, and also, some Carignan Blanc. The soil is based on clay and limestone, with denser limestone on higher slopes and more sand and clay on lower slopes. The geology depends on glacial formations. They will often have more than one vinification of the same grape variety, according to soil type. Their average age of their vines is about 30 years. And they are converting the vineyards to organic viticulture.
We tasted a Mourvèdre grape or two. The juice seemed quite ripe and sweet, but the skins were still a little green. And in the distance were the hills of la Seranne and the Pic de Vissou.
Back at the cellar, we admired the dexterity of the team of sorters at the table de trie. The grapes spend time in a refrigerated lorry, so they go into the fermentation vat at around 10-12°C, and the whites at around 5-6°C. The reds are given a short maceration pelliculaire à froid. They use selected yeast but do not add it immediately. There are several small stainless-steel vats, for micro-cuvées. Everything is temperature controlled. And there is one white egg. However, Rodolphe insisted that the heart of the estate is its vineyards, ‘pas les casseroles’ or saucepans, as he termed the vats. There is a neat barrel cellar, with some barriques and also a couple of small foudres, and a small amphora that they use for blending.
We tasted some 2018s from vat and barrel, and some Roussanne out of the egg, which had been fermented on skins and stalks. There was a Syrah rosé and some Syrah for a red blend with some peppery fruit. And in the barrel cellar a blend of 2017 Grenache and Mourvèdre had fruit and perfume. It was quite delicious and Nikola got very excited: oh la vache, which really does not translate into French.
Then we adjourned to the rather elegant salon in the château, for more tasting, from bottle.
2016 les Chemins des Garennes
A blend of 80% Roussanne, and 10% each of Viognier and Bourboulenc. Élevage mostly in vat, with a quarter of the blend barrel aged. Two different plots of Roussanne, from the top and the bottom of the slope.
A little colour. Quite buttery on the nose, with some oak and quite a rich palate, with white blossom and buttery notes. Some peachy hints from the Viognier. Quite firm acidity on the finish. Nicely textured mouthfeel and a rounded finish.
2016 Château Capion, Languedoc
Again a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Bourboulenc, from a selection of plots. Twelve months élevage in wood, including some new wood, which was well integrated. The palate was rounded and textured with some peachy notes and firm acidity on the finish, as well as a streak of tannin from the oak. 2016 was Nikola’s first vintage at the estate; you sense that he is planning future experiments and is very enthusiastic about the terroir of Capion.
2016 Le Songe Eocene
Another Roussanne, Viognier, Bourboulenc blend. A detailed selection of plots, an artist’s palette. 12 months ageing. Quite a rounded palate with an attractive refreshing quality. Fresh dry fruit, with good texture and mouthfeel. One of the things they insist on is that wine used for ouillage, the topping up of barrels, comes from the identical plot
For red wines, having pulled up most of the bordelais grape varieties, they have a lot of Syrah. However they would like to try a pure Mourvèdre. There are very few in the Languedoc, Domaine Vaisse, le Peira and Domaine Lagamas, but they are convinced that Capion is un terroir à Mourvèdre. Rodolphe admits that while he is very enthusiastic about Mourvèdre; Claude Gros prefers Syrah, and that leaves Nikola as umpire!
2017 Château Capion blanc,
with Roussanne and Viognier, but no Bourboulenc as it has been pulled up. For an appellation, you need two grape varieties, but Viognier is only considered accessoire. And if you are using the term château, you cannot be a IGP, such are the intricacies of French wine law. A little colour. Youthful fruit, with an attractive life, and a dry finish. The élevage is similar to the 2016, with 500 litre barrels. It promises well, with a sense of fine-tuning compared to the 2016.
2016 Le Chemin des Garennes – 15.00€
A blend of about 30% Syrah with 20% or more of Grenache, Cinsaut and Mourvèdre, working by selection parcellaire. Blended shortly before bottling. Medium colour. Some ripe spice. Medium weight, with appealing black fruit on the palate. Quite elegant. About 30% aged in wood.
2016 Château Capion – 35.00€
A blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre, aged for 14 months, in barrel, but as yet no foudres. They want to vary the containers. The oak is more apparent, but nicely integrated. A lot of nuances, with firm tannins, and some good fruit. Some firm spice and cassis, and an elegant structure. Promises well.
2016 le Songe – 80€ - but not yet on the market, with a very small production of about 2000 bottles.
60% Syrah with Grenache and Mourvèdre. A sélection parcellaire. Elevage in barrel. Deeper colour, more concentrated. Quite solid, dense firm fruit. Black fruit. Youthful and ripe and the oak is well integrated. And promising well for the future.
It will be a fascinating to observe the progress of this estate; the potential is enormous.