A quick whizz to Montpellier to taste for the annual competition of Sudvinbio gave me an opportunity to visit an organic estate to the east of the city. Somehow Montpellier is a bit of barrier, if you are based in the western part of the Hérault, whereas Domaine de la Triballe is only twenty minutes from the airport, outside the village of Guzargues. And Olivier Durand very kindly provided taxi service. .
First a look at his vineyards. It was a murky November afternoon, with rain in the air and low clouds, so you could barely make out the silhouette of the Pic St. Loup and the Montagne de l'Hortus in the gloom. As the locals say, the Pic St Loup has put its hat on; il a mis son chapeau. And there is another local saying: Mer claire, Montagne obscure,Pluie sure.
Potentially Olivier has vineyards in two appellations, Grès de Montpellier and the Pic St. Loup. However, Guzargues is one of the villages involved in the extension of the appellation of the Pic St. Loup. It is still up for discussion, but looking at Olivier’s vineyards, you can detect a very perceptible difference between the two terroirs. The soil is quite different, so that you can see the fault line. Grès de Montpellier is based on grès, on sandstone, with galets roulées, while the Pic St Loup is more limestone.
Olivier explained that the unifying factor of the Grès de Montpelier is in fact its climate. The appellation stretches from Montagnac to the west of Montpellier as far as Lunel in the east, in a crescent, covering a twelve kilometre band that follows the coastline of the Golfe du Lion. The maritime influence means the days are not so hot, nor are the nights as cool as further inland. The lack of extremes of temperature makes for a more gentle ripening. Grenache is the main grape variety of the Grès de Montpellier while the Syrah there is more soyeux, with elegant tannins and finesse. In contrast the Pic St. Loup is sheltered from the maritime influence. Altitude in the Grès de Montpellier varies considerably, with Méjanelle at barely 30 metres, whereas Guzargues is more undulating and Olivier has vineyards at 146 metres. Olivier is president of the Grès de Montpellier; I suspect that he makes a very effective president as he obviously cares passionately about his appellation. He also insisted that the presidential term should be delimited to three years, in the interests of democracy.
Domaine de la Triballe - the name means three valleys - comprises 17 hectares altogether. This is a family estate, with Olivier the 7th generation. The vineyards have always been organic. Olivier laughingly explained that his grandfather was very religious but he was terrified of going to meet his Maker so when he saw the warning skull and crossbones on the packaging of the new wave weed killers and pesticides of the 1960s, he adamantly refused to use them. He lived to the age of 96 and Domaine de la Triballe was one of the very first estates to be registered as organic, back in 1974. There are about thirty estates all over France that have never used chemical weed killer or pesticides. Olivier's vines are in three main ilôts, but he has lots of small plots within those, with hedges of pine trees, creating an individual eco system for each vineyard.
Olivier has been running the estate, with his wife Sabine, since 1995. He built the functional, and relatively spacious cellar, which is partly underground, with natural insulation, and then the tasting caveau. He makes both appellation wines and vins de pays, explaining that he is getting rid of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that his father planted in the 1970s, when they were deemed to be the best option for improving your vineyards. Some of his vineyards are too low-lying for an appellation but he still prefers Languedoc varieties for his vins de pays. And there is a range of different appellation wines, all with a striking label, a rainette, or tiny frog across the T. They have a lot of rainettes, but Olivier couldn't find one just then for me to admire.
2013 Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc Aphyllanthe - 12.00€
70 % Rolle and 30% Roussanne. Light colour. Quite a broad biscuity nose. A fresher palate, with citrus notes and good acidity and a certain body. Quite elegant and fresh. Nice texture. White flowers. Olivier works on the lees with bâtonnage, and a small amount is aged in oak, just three barrels. The oak gives a little more texture. Assemblage in January and bottling in June. It was Olivier who planted the white varieties. He likes the vivacity of Rolle, and generally does not like oak, but thinks he has found the appropriate balance, with just a little oak.
2013 Toutes Aures, Coteaux du Languedoc Rosé. - 7.00€
Aures, meaning gold or or or is a reference to the colour of the soil. Half Grenache, half Syrah with a little Cinsaut. The Grenache is pressed and Syrah, from young vines, saigné. Light pink. Quite a rounded nose. A hint of strawberry on palate. Rounded ripe fruit. Medium weight. Good acidity. Quite mouth filling
2013 Rosé. Vin de Pays de Montferrand – 5.00€
40% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan, with 20% Cinsaut. Slightly lighter colour. More lively on the palate, even a touch of tannin as well as acidity. A different balance; Olivier called it un vin de salade.
And then onto reds:
2013 Toutes Aures, Coteaux du Languedoc 7.00€
70% Carignan 30% Syrah. For the appellation the blend should really be 50% Carignan, 30% Syrah and 20% Grenache, but never mind. Slightly rustic nose, with red fruit. Medium weight. More red fruit on the palate with a lightly tannic streak. Good balance. I really enjoyed this.
An interesting observation that people practicing organic viticulture for more than ten years tend to get better acidity levels in their wine.
2013 was a very good vintage. A very good summer with refreshing storm on 23rd August. Not an especially late vintage in this part of the Languedoc.
2012 La Capitelle, Grès de Montpellier. 12.00€
60% Grenache, 40% Syrah. Élevage in vat. Bottled June 2014 Good young colour. Cerises en liqueur and the spice of the garrigues. A streak of tannin with some fleshy fruit. Ripe cherries with a streak of tannin. Medium weight.
2011 En Attendant Que . Currently Coteaux du Languedoc, but Pic St Loup in waiting. 13.00€
The mistral blew in 2011, resulting in drier tannins. Just 3000 bottles. 60% Syrah aged for eight months in oak. 40% Grenache in vat. Blended after ageing in barrels and then further ageing in vat and bottled at the end of August 2014. Deep young colour. More garrigues on the nose. Quite firm tannins. Quite full and rounded on the palate. A confit touch from the Syrah.
2013 Cinsaut, Vin de Pays de Montferrand. 6.00€
Light red, with a short maceration. Oliver described this as un vin de soif, de grillade et de pétanque. If chilled. Ripe cherries, a trace of tannin and acidity. Very refreshing, especially if served chilled.
Olivier who is very articulate with a good sense of humour produced the idea of an indice de la picolabilité (which might roughly translate as a Richter scale for inducing tipsiness, with picoler meaning to tipple, to get drunk, but in a nice way) It is very high with Cinsaut, he observed.
So a sympa finale to a friendly visit and well worth the journey to the other side of Montpellier.