Saturn is the god of agriculture and I think I have found at least 2 domains that are clearly in the hands of the Gods…
The Languedoc is a huge place but I normally spend all my time at the Carcassonne end but this year I found time to venture further afield and in June I managed to meet a winemaker I have been longing to meet. Virgil Joly makes wine in the appellation of St Saturnin close to Montpellier. As I left the motorway and headed towards Pezanas I was beginning to think this area held little interest for me as the landscape did not thrill me as much as the Minervois where I live does. But I was soon to be surprised as I arrived in the area known as the Terrace du Larzac framed by spectacular mountains and filled with beautiful gorges.
There has been a lot written about Virgil Joly including a sadly out of print book called Virgil’s Vineyard by author Patrick Moon. I managed to get a copy from Amazon and it’s a thoroughly good read. He originally hailed from the Rhône but came to the Languedoc lured by the good climate, the terroir and excellent grape varieties. He invited me to visit his winery which is very logically laid out, quite modern and contains those fabulous egg shaped cuves which Virgil says help give a roundness to the wine. It’s set on a hill with lovely views across the appellation and his bio dynamically farmed vines. Back at the tasting room Virgil invited me to sample his wines which were all very good but the star for me was his Saturne Blanc made from 100% Grenache Blanc. As he handed it to me he invited me to guess the vintage – how lovely to be put on the spot!! Well, it clearly had some development on the nose but it was still fresh and on the palate had beautifully ripe fruit but the colour was deep indicating more age than the nose suggested so I made a guess at 2007. I was amazed when he told me it was in fact the very hot 2003 vintage. It’s aged for 18 months in 500 litre barrels giving it a fabulous texture and complexity. If you’re in the UK his wines are available in London from Dudley & Fleury.com
For my next exploration I decided to head in the totally opposite direction and made my way to the Roussillon and the spectacular scenery in the foothills of the Pyrenees. I headed to the little village of Calce which seems to be the epicentre for quality wine in this region for in this one tiny village there are at least 3 wonderful wine makers – Gérard Gauby, Tom Lubbet of Domaine Matassa and Olivier Pithon and it was at this domaine that I was greeted by Marianna who sports the grand title of Sales & Marketing Manager. She told me the story of Loire born Olivier Pithon who had always known he wanted to work in agriculture and how he came to be a wine maker in St Emilion and then found the desire to ‘fly with his own wings and to look after his own vines’. In 2001 he took possession of a field of Carignan that had been planted in 1940 by someone called Saturne. He farms bio dynamically and finds it unthinkable to work the vines and the land without love and respect.
The wines are superb. Mon P’tit Pithon Blanc 2010 is a Grenache/Maccabeo/Vermentino blend grown on Limestone and Calcaire at 300m. It has a briney, mineral character with greengage and gooseberries on the palate. Easy drinking and fabulous value at €7.80 from the cave. I also loved his Cuvée Laïs Blanc (named after his Jersey cow!) which is a wonderfully complex blend of 50/50 Maccabeo and Grenache Gris & Blanc from vines 75 to 80 years old. It spends 8 to 10 months in foundre and has a mineral but also savoury and creamy richness. The Cuvée Laïs Rouge 2009 is a blend of the usual suspects in this part of the world – Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre grown on various soil types including Limestone, schist and marl. It’s earthy and gamey with hints of cocoa and coffee and fabulous black fruits. I could not resist either of these and they are now resting in my cellar awaiting the right moment to draw the corks. I also treated myself to a couple of bottles of his top Cuvée Le Pilou made from 100% Carignan from vines that exceed 100 years. I tasted the 2008 and the 2009 and have bought both but my money is on the 2009 which needs at least 3 years and probably more. It smells much riper than the 2008 and is spicy and herbal with dusty cocoa powder tannins and dark brooding back fruit. Will I be able to keep my hands off it long enough for it to reach its peak in 10 years – I doubt it.