Exploring the SW of France (Part 1)
Whilst Bordeaux may dominate in ‘brand appeal’ when it comes to wines from the SW of France the area as a whole has many different regions well worth exploring beyond the Lot & Garonne such as Buzet and Duras, Gascony and the Landes, Jurançon, Béarn and Irouléguy then moving inland and up-river to Bergerac, Cahors, Marcillac, Aveyron, south east to Fronton and beyond to Gaillac.
In this whistlestop tour we’ll focus on 3 domaines across the region: Vignereuse in Gaillac, Du Vent des Jours in Cahors and Domaine du Pech in Buzet.
Long before the marshes of the Garonne and Gironde were drained for vine planting the Romans were planting vines in the region of the ancient city of Albi. As time progressed winemakers in Bordeaux supplemented their crops with grapes grown in Gaillac before shutting the region out by placing high tariffs on wine made in the region as it passed down river to the coastal ports. Now predominantly a producer for ‘bulk’ wines the region was at risk of losing its native varieties in favour of the international grapes. Thankfully a small band of winemakers have clung on to these heritage grapes like Braucol, Mauzac and Duras and making beautifully refined wines true to their origin and terroir.
Marine Leys is a trail-blazer natural winemaker. Now one of France's first officially certified natural winemakers under the Vin Nature accreditation scheme she works organically and without sulphite addition. Originally a marine photographer she retrained in Turkey and Beaune as a winemaker before falling in with the (infamous-natural-wine-pioneering) Plageole family in Gaillac and starting her own project. The vineyards are situated on the South-East-facing slopes of the Cordais plateau. The soil is schist on limestone – less argilo-calcareous than the rest of Gaillac. All wines are fermented and aged in fibreglass.
Situated in a crook on the river Lot, Cahors has a winemaking heritage stretching back to the Romans becoming famous in the medieval period for its ‘black’ wine. In the late 19th century phylloxera hit the region badly and then in the great frost of 1956 nearly all vines were lost. In the replanting Malbec came to dominate and now the AoC rules determine that up to 70% of an official AOC Cahors wine must be Malbec (also known as Côt or, confusingly, Auxerrois (not the same as the Alsatian Auxerrois!)). Stylistically different to the wines of Bordeaux and its immediate neighbours and now overshadowed by its Argentinian cousins in quantity of production, French Cahors producers have been pushed to re-evaulate the quality of their production making for some exciting red wines.
Domaine du Vent des Jours
After a distinguished sommelier’s career and founding and running the natural wine bar, Lot of Wine in Paris, Laurent Marre returned home to Cahors in 2018 with his partner Nathalie to set up their domaine “Du Vent des Jours”.
After being taught by (infamous winemaker) Fabien Jouves (for those of you that remember the wine “You Fuck my Wine”), they now bio-dynamically farm six hectares of Merlot and Malbec at La Pélissière in the town of Villesèque. The vineyard is located 380m above sea level – the highest point of the appellation. Their objective is to keep the soil alive by using natural fertilizers (horse and cow dung, crushed branches, etc). They also use draft horses to maintain the vineyard: the work of the horses is especially important after the harvest to aerate the ground.
Love an aged bold Bordeaux but wince a little at the price tag? Then you’ll love exploring the wines of AOC Buzet! The region has a lot in common with its bigger brother to the north, Merlot and both Cabernets (red) dominate plantings here with a sprinkle of Malbec. Flavour-wise these wines are more like the keepers of the secret flame of Bordeaux - traditional age-worthy bold reds resistant to (and largely unaffected by) the increased pressure to release younger market-driven reds.
Domaine du Pech
Founded in 1978 by Daniel Tissot, son of a long-standing winemaking family in Jura. In 1997 the estate was taken over by his daughter Magali and her boyfriend Ludovic Bonnelle. Now I must admit I think Ludovic is amazing - a real hands-on farmer of a vigneron he turns up to do tastings in his farmers dungarees with soil and windswept hair - definitely a man of the land! In 2003 they started the conversion to biodynamic farming, officially gaining certification in 2005. They now farm using horses to plough between the vines to reduce compaction of the soil. Winemaking here is particularly old-school. The Totem is destemmed and foot-crushed, naturally fermented and then left for14 years in massive oak foudre before bottling. No sulphites are added at any stage.
Explore more of the southwest here
- CroiZADe 2018
A short maceration of only 1 week with no punchdown or pumpover makes for an elegant and versatile table wine blending young replanted vines of the native Duras and 40 year old Syrah. Buy here
DOMAINE DU VENT DES JOURS
- UN JOUR AU LOT 2018
Expect deep rich plummy fruit opening up with a more defined leathery back note and structure. A very easy drinking and approachable 100% Malbec. Buy here
DOMAINE DU PECH
- TOTEM 2004
Bold prunes and leather abound here with a nicely grounded rustic’ness’ giving the wine a sense of energy. Buy here
SW Food mag
We regularly share recommendations with the SW Food mag.
Recently we shared our favourite BBQ wines, including what to pair with spicy chicken and some of our favourite reds to drink when the sun's out. We managed to include a sneaky cider too.
Read it all here
New releases! May 2020
- An intro to Pet Nat
Spring is the time when Pet Nats start to arrive on our shelves! It’s one of the first wines of the new year to be bottled; new releases have been arriving at Pullo since April, and are still coming in. Now that picnic weather is here (hopefully to stay!) we thought we’d round up a few new arrivals for a closer look.
Firstly though - what is a Pet Nat? Pétillant-naturel (also known as méthode ancestrale), meaning natural sparkling, is believed to be the original method for sparkling wine production in France. Today Pet Nat production has exceeded the boundaries of their origins, and has become a general term for practically any sparkling wine made in this way. The wine is bottled before primary fermentation has finished, leaving it to complete fermentation in the bottle without the addition of secondary yeast or sugar. This traps carbon dioxide in the bottle and creates a natural fizz. By contrast, méthode champenoise or méthode traditionnelle (the method used to make Champagne, cremant and cava) means a wine that has finished fermenting undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle with additional yeast and (sometimes) sugar.
Whereas Champagne styles take some time to make - with two fermentations and usually a long time ageing in bottle - Pet Nats are ready once the fermentation has finished and are intended to be drunk young. This simple style of production is reflected in the taste and feel in the bottle; Pet Nats are usually lighter in body, with lower alcohol, and tend to be easy-drinking & uncomplicated wines. Perfect for drinking in the sun, for picnics, brunches or as an aperitif.
Pet Nats tend to be more varied too, with a wide range of flavour profiles and a varied amount of fizz in the bottle, but typically with a more gentle sparkle. Flavours depend on grape variety & terroir of course, but also on how it’s made. You can choose not to disgorge, for example, and indeed many winemakers prefer not to. The result is often hazy or cloudy, sometimes adding a creamy edge to the wine. It also means there may be sediment in the bottle. All this adds flavour to the wine, but if you don’t like the cloudiness or you've got a wine with lots of sediment, resting it in an ice bucket for 30 minutes or so and then pouring carefully means most of it will be left behind in the bottle.
Following the rise of Pet Nats in the natural wine world, an increasing number of new cider makers have started experimenting with the style, too (although similar methods for bottle conditioned, naturally sweet ciders have been used in traditional cider making already.)
Pet Nats are generally the preferred sparkling style for makers who work naturally, because no additives whatsoever are needed in the process. Natural wine & cider-making is never about control, and making sparkling wine this way suits this approach of letting nature and time do most of the work. When the wine is bottled before it’s finished, there is always an element of unpredictability, which is part of the fun and excitement of it all!
Splash! Chateau Barouillet. Bergerac, France.
100% Semillon. Vincent racks this wine to retain some natural sugars, and does not disgorge. The result is light, sherberty & fragrant with a creamy touch.
Broco Lee, Vignereuse.
Pet Nats have a long history in this area and the method is here traditionally known as Méthode Gaillacoise. Marine works with a few local varieties in her winemaking, in this case Braucol. The process is gentle, with a short maceration on the skins, but the colour is vivid! This wine is disgorged, but not filtered. The result is light, dry & very refreshing.
Tinc Set, Ramon Jane. Catalonia, Spain.
This is made predominantly from Xarel-lo, the traditional grape variety for making Cava, but made here as a Pet Nat for a fresher style. The name means “I'm thirsty” in Catalan, and it is utterly thirst quenching - very crisp & slightly saline with a hint of tropical fruit.
Snicket & Pendragon, Find & Foster. Devon, UK.
For these Pet Nat style ciders, Polly is also using another method more commonly found in winemaking - skin maceration. The two are made in the same way but using different apple varieties, an interesting comparison! One is lemony & zingy, the other is mineral with apricot notes. Both are clean & fresh and with subtle aromatic qualities brought out by the skin maceration. Perfect summer drinking!
On the record with Offbeat
You’ve had a busy year; can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to?
It has been a crazy year! It all started with the release of my first wine last summer - a pet nat from 2018. I was bowled over by the response and I’m so grateful to all of the small independent shops and restaurants, such as Pullo, that took the wine on. As a result the wine sold out in a matter of weeks. With my desire to produce small batch, authentic wines growing ever stronger I decided to take the leap, leave my full time winemaking position at Langham Estate in January and work towards establishing a small winery of my own that purely focuses on low intervention wines. The new cellar space is located on a small Biodynamic vineyard just south of Salisbury and is slowly being equipped as we speak. The centrepiece will be a traditional wooden basket press, with terracotta and neutral oak barrels being the primary vessels being used. The building is powered by solar energy and sustainability and environmental impact is being considered on every level.
What's the ethos and aim for your wines? What influences your winemaking style?
The ethos is very much about producing characterful, authentic wines with minimal inputs, from home-grown grapes. The approach to growing the grapes has to be environmentally considerate – organic, biodynamic or lutte raisonée and no herbicides. The aim for the wines is for them to completely reflect the place from which they were derived and the characteristics of each year. To achieve this a traditional approach is adopted with the use of amphora and older wooden barrels, movements by gravity wherever possible and the addition of nothing whatsoever, including sulphites.
My winemaking style has largely been influenced by those wines I’ve tried that have really made me think. During my visits to traditional winemaking regions such as Georgia, Slovenia, Champagne and Jerez I have tasted wines and met people that have made me realise there really are no boundaries.
Offbeat Wines is one of the very few ’natural’ wines made in the UK; why did you adopt this approach?
I’ve always been fascinated by natural systems and as I’ve got older I have realised how important it is to try and protect those systems and our own health at the same time. We’re fortunate that grapes and the surrounding environment have all of the things required to produce honest, characterful wines and I’ve never been one to take the shortcut – good things take time! When I began drinking wine I very quickly got bored of drinking ‘manufactured’ wines and realised that a lot of the time, beauty is in the imperfections.
What’s your views on winemaking in the UK in general? What do you think the future holds?
I think the winemaking scene in the UK is beginning to diverge, with larger producers looking to produce ever larger volumes of entry level wines and a handful of producers looking to experiment and produce something completely different. I think consumers, particularly the younger generation, are driving this change by seeking out wines that have been produced with an eye on the environment and a focus on the wine in the bottle, rather than the branding on the outside. I’m hopeful that as younger winemakers come through and sustainability becomes ever more important, there will be an increase in home grown ‘natural’ wines.
We’re excited about your new releases; can you tell us a bit more about them?
I have just released three new wines: 2 pet nats and an amber.
‘Mind Over Matter’ pet nat is a field blend from a small Organic vineyard in Devon. The blend consists of Solaris (64%) and Siegerrebe (36%) harvested in October 2019 that were spontaneously fermented in amphora with 10% Siegerrebe skins. The wine has lovely tropical notes, salinity and a great texture from the incorporation of the skins. No additions.
‘Wild Juice Chase’ is a carbonic red pet nat made from Triomphe, again from the 2019 harvest. The fruit came from an old (35 years) and gnarly vineyard in the Test Valley. The fruit was sealed, whole bunch, in a stainless steel vat for 5 days before being pressed and left to spontaneously ferment. The wine was then bottled with a small amount of the natural sugars remaining to complete fermentation. No additions.
‘Skinny Dip’ is a cracking amber wine made from Solaris picked in 2018 from the Organic vineyard in Devon. The fruit was destemmed into amphora and fermented spontaneously on skins. The wine macerated for 3 months and was aged for a further 8 months before being bottled without fining, filtration or any SO2 additions. The wine will have spent 9 months under cork before being released. The wine has an amazing burnt orange colour with incredible purity, salinity and spice on the palate. Such a versatile wine.
The artwork for the labels was created by Stephanie Leighton, a young artist from Exeter. The illustrations are both honest and intriguing and reflect the wine inside the bottles so well.
Apart from your own wines, what do you like drinking at the moment?
After a trip to northern Italy and Slovenia last year I’m constantly drawn towards skin contact wines. I had a fantastic macerated Müller thurgau from Markus Ruch in Switzerland the other day that walked the tightrope between primary fruit, volatility and acidity so well. I’m also enjoying the freshness of lighter reds at this time of year from the likes of Pierre Cotton and Lapierre in Beaujolais.
All 3 wines are now in our webshop! This month we are highlighting English wines, find our full range here
Daniel Ham is one of only a handful of winemakers working naturally in the UK. Forward thinking but with a traditional approach, using methods like skin maceration and ageing in clay amphora, his wines are nothing like the English sparkling wines you know! Daniel originally trained as a marine biologist, but discovered a love for winemaking while living in New Zealand. In 2015, after working for various vineyards and studying Viticulture and Oenology in the UK, Daniel took the role as Vineyard Manager and Winemaker at Langham Estate in Dorset. This is where he started to move towards natural winemaking, over time altering the winemaking to include wines made without the addition of yeast, without fining or filtering, and using SO2 sparingly. This is where we met Dan last year, in the sunshine at Langham, tasting wines from the estate alongside the Pet Nat produced under his own label Offbeat Wines, a side project he had only just set up back then. We also got to taste samples of his skin contact wine ageing in amphora at the time, and we knew it was going to be something special. That was it for us, we were hooked!
Fast forward a year and we recently caught up with Daniel to chat about his new range of wines being released - including the aforementioned amphora wine! Read the full interview below
The 2018 Pet Nat, now sold out
Traditional basket press & handmade
clay amphora in Daniels new winery