Villeneuve De Berg, Ardèche (Rhône)
The domaine les Deux Terres is a 13-hectare domaine (part in ownership, part rented) managed by two buddies, Vincent Fargier and Manu Cunin. Manu received us on a beautiful april day, Vincent was bust digging holes in the rock table in a new vineyard for the poles and wires. The domaine Les Deux Terres is in good company, with neighbors (just a handful of kilometers) like Le Mazel, Andrea Calek, Gilles Azzoni and many others who share this same life philosophy which is so obvious in their wines.
Manu and Vincent met each other in 1997, Manu (who is also from Ardèche but not this part of Ardèche) recounts that in 1997 he was in the south of France, not at all in the wine trade and happened to follow a training 5 kilometers from here with the intent to have vineyards but without clear perspective about which wines he'd do exactly. At the time, Vincent was managing the cellar/facility of this Centre de Formation, actually the Agriculture School of Aubenas at Mirabel (Aubenas is a mid-size town in Ardèche) which provides courses and trainings for adults. then Manu lefty for the south of France because he found a job in a domaine (Vallon dess Glauges) in the Alpilles, a sub-region of Provence.
Vincent's father was a grower selling to the local coop and he was still years away from retirement, so Vincent wanted to try his luck in another region pending his taking the reins on his father's vineyard. Manu had him hired in the domaine where he had found a job. Vincent was hired as chef de culture (vineyard manager) and Manu was on the cellar side in this winery. They learned thus to work together complementarily in this domaine, and this lasted 4 years.
[pic on right : La Tour Cassée, a restaurant with a good wine list in Valvignères, a village nearby]
After these 4 years working together, Manu left in 2004 to work in another domaine in Provence, the Domaine du Deffends [I realized while writing this story that I met him there in 2005] near Saint Maximin. In this domaine he was in charge of everything including the 13-hectare vineyard because the winegrower was sick. Vincent himself went to work in another domaine a year later in 2005, in the domaine de Trienne, a winery managed by Hubert de Villaine (co-owner of domaine de la Romanée Conti) and Jaqcues Seysses (Domaine Dujac). Manu and Vincent, each at their respective employers-domaines were almost neighbors and the two domaines also shared winery/vineyard tools and tractors in common, so they kept seeing each other regularly (plus, Vincent lived in Saint Maximin). That's when they began to think building something together; Vincent's father (who was a grower) had planned to retire in 2009, so there was an opportunity. Their first idea was to build a cellar, divide it in two and each make their separate wine. At that time Manu (who had no family vineyards) found parcels to rent in Lussas (a few kilometers north of Villeneuve-de-Berg) on a basalt terroir and they found it very interesting to make Grenache from these two very different terroirs, the basalt soil of Manu and the clay-limestone of Vincent. The grower who owned the basalt terroir was also a retiring grower who beforehand was selling his fruit to the coop. That's how the concept of "Deux Terres" (two lands, or two soils) came to life, one with a basalt nature and the other clay-limestone.
All the while explaining how this domaine came to life, Manu had us taste a first wine, some Viognier grown on a clay-limestone soil. When they started the domaine they had 0,8 hectare, these were massal selections on slope at an elevation of 400 m with low yields, like routinely 25 ho/ha. Now they replanted some viognier (60 ares) to reach a total of about 1,5 hectare when all is fully productive.
Manu took the sample from the cask which he's leaning on behind him. Until recently he says, there were still 5 grams of unfermented sugar as the wine cooled down in winter, but he thinks it already restarts with spring. The malolactic is completed though, you can feel it with the roundness of the wine. He says that in 2014 the malolactic in a red cuvée went on before the first fermentation. Theorically, he says with a laugh, the enologists say it is a problem but here it's fine, they have 0,30 of volatile and it's safe. Speaking of the viognier they always have this pause before the remaining sugar is eaten in spring, like in may or june.
Taking wine from another barrel across the surface cellar, Manu offers us some Chardonnay 2013, this is also a future table wine (Vin de France), they stopped asking for the IGP appellation, here they had no right for an AOC anyway, they were only allowed access to the Vin de Pays appellation [a category somehow even more derogative than Vin de France, it seems to me].
This is a new cuvée, they made some bubbly with this chardonnay in 2014 as the 2013 was sluggish. Manu explains that among the 10 hectares of vineyards on basalt he found near the village of Lussas, 3 hectares were supposed to be uprooted. The rest was contracted with the coop and he was obliged to finish the term (5 years) and keep delivering the grapes for that time, so he accepted to take the rental at the condition that he could work also with these 3 hectares (which I understand were partly in chardonnay). On the 10 hectares there were Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Ugni Blanc & Cinsault he could work on immediately, the coop-contracted part being planted with Chardonnay, Merlot and more Grenache. This is a bit complicated but Manu says that he is not attached to the land because he or his family never owned vineyards, and renting is OK for him. He yet also planted a small parcel of his own on an old farm which he bought to live there with his wife, they're running a gîte__B&B_ there too, the Ferme des Roumanes and his wife makes a bit of wine from their own parcel, so there's another wine story going on here in parallel, and he shows us a pallet of wine by her wife (also a trained winegrower) waiting for shipping to Quebec.
We now taste from bottles, first this rosé, La Pythie, in de France 2014 (table wine), made from grenache (80 %) and some merlot; direct pressing. Grenache here grows on basalt at a 400-meter elevation, the basalt giving (he adds that he hates overusing the following word) more minerality, more freshness in the wines soils. They have 10 days difference in the maturity between the grenache on basalt and the ones on clay-limestone.
On the basalt they can make grenache that reach maturity at 12 % potential, they are thus more balanced for this type of wine where freshness is important.
The merlot part comes from the two types of terroirs, roughly half each. They do that on merlot, on syrah and also on grenache.
They add SO2 only on the rosé at Deux Terres, and this one-time addition happens right after the pressing (before the settling of the lees), they add 1,5 gram, the thing being that grenache tends to be oxidative and they want to begin the fermentation with juice that can be kept in check in this regard. But they do that only with the rosé. Still, on the lab checks they often find afterwards less traces of so2 than on other wines (which had no so2 addition). For these other cuvées they print "no added sulfites" on the labels, and the lab analysis finds always levels under 5 mg total so2 (they need full lab checks for their Japan exporters).
La Reboule 2014 [vintage on back label, under lot code], Vin de France
The name of this red cuvée (la Reboule) means in French the festive party that is organized for the end of harvest in this region (every wine region has this sort of parties, with different names). This is the first year they make this cuvée, it is a carbonic maceration made with merlot (30 %), grenache (30 %) and cabernet sauvignon (40 %). The reason for this cuvée is that on his rented vineyard surface he had lots of merlot, a variety they don't like too much because it's not really suited for this region (in spite of a selection of good parcels of merlot with which they make another cuvée), and last year having given them big yields on merlot, they decided to make this blend with the two other varietals. The three grape varieties have their carbonic maceration separately, also because merlot is picked 3 weeks before the cabernet (this year was more like 15days though). they named this cuvée this way because at the end of the harvest party they tasted the three carbo juices and thought there was something here to make an easy drinking wine (a canon like we say in French), they even thought they might make a primeur wine (nouveau) with it but they had no time for it. They had the pickers taste a 20-liter micro blend that they made with the 3 fermenting wines and everyone was happy of it.
Very appealing nose here. Nice easy wine indeed, there's a small bitterness at the end of the mouth at this stage but he says that is probably brought by the basalt part of these grapes. What we taste here is a 15-day-old bottling and it's a bit too recent, 15 more days will do the job. The color is not very dark because the carbo lasted only about 10 days, they'd do them in cement tanks and would take out everyday the free-run juice. In 10 days the fermentation only started, little sugar was eaten, with a density of 1070. After that it goes into fiber-glass vat and stainless steel.
We then taste Vin Nu 2014 (vin de France), a 100 % Grenache, 50 % on basalt soils and 50 % on clay-limestone. The name of the cuvée is a play of words with their two names (Vincent & Manu) and also as you may know Jules Chauvet, the Beaujolais-based father of natural wines, used to call this new type of uninterventionist wine "vin nu" which means naked wine in French (the expression vin naturel somehow came later). Why "naked wine" ? Because these wines get no additions or tricks to cover their nature and character.
This wine was also bottled 15 days ago. It is not a carbonic maceration, the grapes were fully destemmed, after having been picked in 13-kg boxes (the grapes of first red were picked in 150-kg boxes) until 10 am, they used very small boxes because the parcels are far (7 km for the farthest grenache parcel) and this way the grapes are not crushed. After 10 am they do the destemming and they they have the grapes checked by 5 people on a sorting table because with the compact nature of grenache clusters, destemming is tricky on this variety. They also separate the juice that may flow from the destemming process and keep it apart. Then the maceration is classical, they tend to not intervene during that stage, a bit of pigeage maybe only.
These are all details you might says but when you see this gorgeous color and drink this fresh, enjoyable wine you want to know more. Manu says that this freshness and light alcohol also comes from the basalt part of this wine and the 400-meter elevation. Usually they pick grenach around september 15-20. On a hot year like 2009 they picked around september 2. They didn't make this cuvée in 2009. Total volume is 10 000 bottles, it's their biggest cuvée, their whole vineyard surface is almost 60 % with grenache. In 2013 they lost 60 % of the grenache grapes, and the Vin Nu made 5000 bottles only and other cuvées suffered too.
We then tasted from casks again :
__ Zig Zag, a red which will be bottled in june. Until 2013 they used to make it with Syrah (clay-limestone), Grenache (basalt), 50 % each and in 2014 they added 10 % of Merlot (on basalt too). All destemmed and sorted, vinified separately (they did it together until 2011) in both resin and stainless-steel vats. This was blended together before the malolactic, has its élevage in barrels since october. Will be racked mid-may for a bottling early june. Total volume here is also close to 10 0000 bottles.
Much darker color, with the syrah part and also the 25-day maceration. Here they do a bit more of cap punching. Nice aromas of ripe Burlat cherries, nice mouth. The cuvée Zig Zag makes usually more like 13 % or 13,5 %.
__ Bric à Brac 2014, Syrah 100 %, from another barrel. Carbonic maceration. A bit reduction on the nose. In 2009 this was the only sulfure-free cuvée they made, and Manu says they could have named it cuvée Andrea Calek because one day they went over the vat and found it smelled weird, so they called Andrea who came with three of his own bottles which they drank until 3 am and then he went with them in the chai and just said it's all fine, no problem here, after which he went home...
Usually bottled around may-june but this year they'll wait a bit more.
Very nice mouth and swallowing, nice chew, needs more time to mature though.
__ Merlot 2014, from another barrel, will go into the cuvée Silène which is 100 % merlot. Asked how merlot landed in this part of the Rhône, Manu says that 20 years ago single-variety wines were trendy here, and here in Lussas where he rents vineyards, they went beserk [like it happened in other wine regions alas too] and they uprooted their carignan, cinsault and old grenache to replant almost 60 % in merlot. That's quite hard to believe that growers with experience would destroy nice locally-adapted varieties to import international ones. After years making awful reds with these then-young merlot vines they (the coop actually) followed another trend, the rosé craze and began to make rosé with now-older merlot vines, irrigating the plain parcels to have more volume.
Pic on right : the carbonic maceration takes place in these cement tanks outside. They bought them in 2011, it was a big number of such tanks that they bought with Andrea Caleg and Gilles Azzoni, they rented a crane together to bring them all in the domaines, the crane worker broke the crane clutch at Andrea Calek, it stood there for a month afterwards....
Back to the tasting room we have a bottle of Siléne 2013. This vintage of 100 % Merlot is sold out though. More powerful wine, with a big chew, although tannin is not prominent. Sugary feel too, but Manu says it's dry. 14 % in alcohol on the lable (without added sulfites too). I think
it may easier to have with food. They make 2000-3000 bottles of this, half being exported to Japan.
__ Another bottle, Bric à Brac 2013, also sold out now. 2013 was tough because of the small volume in grenache that year (they had coulure, rain damaged the flowering). They had to reduce the allotment to their usual buyers.
Manu then reaches for a cuvée of natural sparkling, which he had almost forgotten to show us :
__ Big Bang, 100 % chardonnay in natural sparkling__pet'nat__ (picture on left). The first vintage they made natural sparkling was in 2009 and they failed, this was a try with a rosé sparkling using grenache. And in 2014, as the chardonnay 2013 wasn't ready yet they decided to make a sparkling with the grapes of 2014. The tricky thing with pet'nat is it needs lots of work at harvest time : as chardonnay is picked first, when time to check for the early bottling comes for the sparkling, that's about exactly when the grenache and the other varieties are picked and come in. They made 2500 bottles of this, half is already sold and they put the remaining bottles to rest sur lattes to sell it at the end of 2015. Disgorged by hand.
Nice vividly-turbid color, helps you ask for another pour. Very enjoyable, onctuous with thin bubbles. 12 % alcohol. This is a blend of two parcels and they forgot to add so2 on the 2nd batch (they add it right after the press), so there's anecdotic sulfur here. Oddly, comparing the two batches, the one with added sulfites had a smoother, fluid fermentation at the start. This said, these were two very different parcels, and next year they should do the same experiment but inverting the parcels. Manu still says that sulfur plays a positive role in the early fermentation, but they don't follow the general rule to keep adding after this stage. They blended the two batches when they reached respectively 1040 and 1050.
We followed Manu on nice and narrow winding roads to see a few parcels not far from Villeneuve de Berg. He drives a vintage Russian-made Niva, an two-door all-terrain vehicule that can stand driving on rough conditions, it's the same model with which my Russian friends drove me thousands of kilometers through central/southern Russia a few years ago.
From what I understand we went to some parcels owned by Vincent and his family, that's why so much limestone. Manu's vineyard was far, near Lussas, that's were the terroir has these black basalt rocks, but both guys had many things to do and we wouldn't see the Lussas area this time.
The parcel we park along is planted with chardonnay, it is 15-year old. They plow every other row but the following year they switch the rows. On the other hand if the spring is hot they plow everything to get rid of all the weeds so that the vines enjoy the remaining humidity. They usually plow in the evening if the weather is warm so that the humidity has time to return to the depths.
We walk up the slope and reach Vincent who is working on a new planting with an aide, digging with difficulty with a 2,5-ton excavator through the rocky soil to plant the stakes, the posts. Vincent is at the wheel and he says the machine sometimes seems to be stopped by the rock table underneath. They bought this caterpillar in common with a few other
winegrowers, using a CUMA, a cooperative
system that allows small groups of farmers to unite to buy tools in common, the goal being to reduce costs, not only for the purchase but for the maintenance. And of course here they have the trailer to tow the caterpillar conveniently whenever they need it. For this particular cask they adapted another digging tool but they use it mostly for excavation purpose.
The other growers in this CUMA are Andrea Calek, Gilles Azzoni, Le Mazel, not a vulgar CUMA as you can see...
These slopes were planted before and they left them several years quiet before doing the preparatory work for the replanting.
Asked if there was goblet in the past in the region, Vincent who stopped his machine a few minutes says yes, but right after the phylloxera when people planted hybrids, but as soon as they found the rootstocks to replant syrah and other traditionnal varieties they brought back the trellising. Manu says that the goblet wouldn't be very adapted here because you need a dry weather and here you may have lots of rain. Syrah wouldn't work in goblet. Andrea Calek as old grenache (60 years) in goblet, you still find some here and there.
Walking a couple of minutes from there, we reach an old parcel of Merlot, we could see quite a few missing vines there. This is quite stony too like all these slopes, the farmers took out the bigger stones from their parcels along the centuries, building low walls called clapas. He and Vincent also put lots of stones on the side in places and they plan to make such walls with them too. When you see the size and proportions of the ones on the picture on left, you could even build a roof for a small building, using the stone plates as tiles.
A few meters from there we reach an even more stony parcel, this is old Grenache (40 years). Manu says that this area is an incredible terroir, this is a big potential for winemaking, he says there is no mystery why several Burgundy winegrowers decided to settle here to make wine.
On this bed of limestone they'll plant soon grenache and carignan. I can undestand the excavator will be useful to plant the posts...
When I think to the difficulty of managing these soils I almost understand why growers were tempted decades ago to take a shortcut, drop these arduous terrain and prefer the high-yield flatland, especially that new enological tools and practices seemed to offer them comfortable corrections they thought their customer would never discover...
Notwithstanding the poor soil, you can see quite a few wild leeks here and there (pic on right), and during this short walk I'm sure I came across enough of them to have a nice little dish for lunch...
The area name (cadastral name) is Potillier.
I almost walked across this rocky plot without noticing these babies enjoying peace in this pristine, if arid, environment : here are young vines of Grenache
showing their head through big plates of limestone. These stones will probably help keep some heat at night in winter, warm feet with a cool head. On one hand they'll certainly have to struggle, especially in their youth, until their roors are deep enough to find moisture and nutrients, but they'll be spared the weedkillers, the fertilizers and other harmful chemicals.
You don't see it here but a few of them seem to have failed, but Manu says that sometimes it's only superficial and the vines comes back to life. If not, they'll dig a deeper hole as they have also plants with longer roots.
Last year they put some manure which they get from cattle farms around but it's only good to prepare a soil before a planting other wise later it would have a burning effect for the roots. Now they'd use rather sheep-manure compost (compost de fumier de Brebis) that you find that in organic shops, it's more gentle.
On the right you can see syrah vines that have just been planted in 2015, complete with their wax protection