La Roquebrussanne, Var (Coteaux Varois Appellation).
There are two reasons I wanted to get the story about the Domaine du Loou : First, I remember my father discovered the estate and its roman-era ruins in the late 70's and regularly bought wine there then. Second, B. and I recently rediscovered the Domaine last year as we dropped for a visit, and we were impressed by the quality of their wines and by our conversation with Mr Dominique Di Placido, the owner.
The Loou is located near La Roquebrussanne in the Var departement (Provence), roughly 30 km from the coast in the vicinity of Toulon. This is the provencal back country with valleys and wooded mountains all around. Altitude is 300 meter.
Wine was already made there during the roman era. Researches established that wine was made here when the estate was given to a roman legionnaire of the 6th Legion, in 46 B.C. An archeological team worked there several years (1978 to 1983) and found the exact location of a gallo-roman villa, a wine facility, and a dozen graves. The buildings date from the 2nd half of the 1st century A.D. Many artifacts were found during the digs, several of them can be seen at the winery, like this 10 cm oil lamp [pic on the right] or this amazing antique stone press on the left (a reconstitution of this type of roman press can be seen in Asti, Italy).
Mr Di Placido was not there when I dropped recently and Mr Giamarchi being the one in charge, he gave me all the informations about the estate. Mr Di Placido built the winery in 1972 (his grapes were going to the village wine-coop before) and gradually increased the vineyard surface to the present 60 hectares.
The Loou has always been known for the quality of its reds. The red varietals here are Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre and Grenache. Red wines used to make 50% of the production, they make about 40% now, with the high demand for rosé wines. The whites make about 5 to 10% of the total. The Loou has been very active in the creation (and correlated quality improvements) of the Coteaux Varois Appellation in 1993. Before 1993, the wines had the lesser label of VDQS (superior quality wines). Loou is the oldest in the App, with Chateau des Chaberts (named then Domaine des Chaberts).
The vineyards are backed to the hills of the Massif de la Sainte Baume, a vast expanse of wilderness and hills (with altitude peaking from 620 to 850 m) providing cool air during the summer nights. Asked about wild boars (I remember how big is the problem for Chaberts' vineyards not far from here), he says they don't do too much damage around here, in spite of the proximity of their habitat. The soil has this lightly redish colour typical of the region, it is a clay/limestone soil, quite gravelly, in some places it looks thick with big stones [like on the pic on left, with these young Cinsault and Grenache vines].
The vineyard management includes plowing, de-earthing (double hydraulic) in january-february. No chemical weedkillers, no insecticides, they could ask for the organic agriculture label here. They just have a few systemic sprays along with "Bouillie Bordelaise" (copper) spray when necessary. The dry climate in provence is a good help in this way. They also have sheep flocks graze the grass and deposit their manure in alternating vineyard plots between november and early march.
The white varieties here are Rolle ans Semillon, plus a little bit of Ugni Blanc.
The share of the rosé wine is increasing in the Domaine. In spite of that, they were already sold out in august, and I witnessed during the 2 hours or so I stayed at the winery as customers were dropping now and then and seemed disappointed that there was no more rosé. Rosé here [ pic on right, shot last year] is made with a majority of Cinsault and Grenache, plus some Syrah and old Carignan (small quantity). They made many trials for the rosé, including with Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. They have worked hard on the vinification side, bringing the harvest in at night (they use harvester machines since 1983). In this region where the temperature can be hot including at harvest season, it is important to have the grapes picked and trasported to the winery without suffering from the hot temperature. They were the first around to use such machines at night (as they do since 3 years ago). Plus they have a powerful wine-cooling unit for low-temp macerations. Among the varieties for rosé, Syrah has to be carefully handled for colour, but it brings lots of red fruits and violet aromas in the wine. Vinification makes the difference between ordinary rosés and better ones. This very summer, I could compare the Loou rosé (they still had a few table-wine rosé when I dropped the first time) with a supposedly higher AOC rosé from another estate nearby, and the Loou had this straightness and acidity that lacked to the latter. This other one was too sugary and flat.
Mr Giamarchi says they use adapted external yeasts for the fermentation. It helps counter the decrease of yeast concentration when lees are taken out. He says that checking the nitrogen level is very important as the yeasts feed on nitrogen. These parameters have to be known to complete correctly the fermentation.
Cold macerations : They also make such cold macerations as early as in the Bucher press. This is more a painstaking work than a direct press and he often as a result stays very late in the night in the chai to do it. It takes hours to just rack it off. The different types of juices (free-run, press) are blended if they are deemed fit, or separated (there are several qualities of rosés at Loou). Vinification for rosés is made in enamelled and concrete vats. After the separation of the lees from the wine through cold temperature, the wine goes to another vat for the fermentation and they check that the natural CO2 is transferred too to protect the process. From this stage on, a data sheet is filled for each vat, to follow the process. When the juice reaches 998-995, even sometimes 992, this is a smooth landing.
I tasted 2 reds before leaving :
__1 Mourvèdre 2004. Straight from a tronconic wooden vat. Very nice nose, very "Cotes du Rhone". Morello cherry in the mouth. The colour is less concentrated than for the 2003, he says. The variety is very delicate and can be affected by late september rains.
__2 Coteaux Varois Tradition 2003 (4,8 Euro). Some of this wine has aready been bottled but the one we taste will stay in casks another 6 months. He says that just with the nose he sees an evolution compared with the last time he tasted it. I did not take notes but if I remember, this is a dark, already nice red-fruit wine which will be enjoyed best in a couple of years.
Most of the bottles at Loou are priced under 10 Euro.
The estate sells to local customers (25 %), to restaurants and cavistes (30 %), and to supermarkets. Very little export : A little bit in Belgium and maybe in the future, in Canada.