Tauriac, Côtes de Bourg (Bordeaux)
The word Petiote, in French, is an affectionate adjective for a baby girl, meaning something like "the small" and Valérie Godelu named her new domaine Les trois Petiotes because the gestation and birth of her domaine really coincided with the coming of her three daughters, which means that you can have a project as consuming as tending a vineyard and making wine and still raise a large family...
Valérie Godelu was working in the banking sector in her former life, she had studied in a business school in Lille, working then in different French regions and settling in Paris around 1999 with her husband who had a similar job in a bank. In Paris they were beginning to get bored of their respective jobs and they decided to go back studying something in a different field (all the while keeping their day job) and because they both loved wine (since she had joined a tasting club while in Lille) they decided to further their knowledge in wine. In the course of their exploration they had begun to discover little by little wines that were different from the ones they'd taste at the beginning of their hobby and each time these particular wines which they loved were made by people that had common work ethics, which challenged them into learning more, something they did when they visited these artisan vintners.
They were very serious in their quest for knowledge and enrolled in correspondance course at the Viticulture School in Beaune (Burgundy), following BPREA program all the while working their day jobs in Paris. At the time it was the only viticulture schol to offer such a distance learning for adults, she says, and she realized that many people like themselves followed this training in Beaune. Typicall they'd receive the courses by mail and from time to time they'd take a leave from their day job to follow training in wineries and pass exams at the school in Beaune. You can rush the program over one year but you're allowed to take your time and they did it in their spare time over the course of 4 years.
Valérie's new venture in wine is really connected with her three petiotes as she used her maternity leave when she was bearing her first daughter to work quietly on her courses. Typically for your first child in France you can take a paid maternity leave of 16 weeks including 6 weeks before birth and she used her time to further her correspondance courses, while admitting that taking care of a baby is time- and attention consuming.
Her babies really helped again as when the second child was on her way they moved to Bordeaux after she was hired by a Bordeaux bank, her husband following her and using the legal parental leave (it can be shared between the father and the mother) to take care of the children and look for another job for himself in Bordeaux. In the first place they had both decided that it'd be fine that she'd accept this job offer in Bordeaux to see if their boring in Paris was connected to Paris itself. They thought, maybe once in a smaller, gentler city like Bordeaux they'll get along fine with their respective banking jobs and decide to stay put and not change career after all, but after 3 years there, she felt she really had enough with this type of job and that's when she realized she really had to do something else for a living. So she began to look around in the Bordeaux region, she had in mind to find a very small structure or vineyard surface because she hadn't any sufficient money for a downpayment and she knew she'd have to take a loan.
Before the start of her new job in Bordeaux she took the time to spend time in a winery in the region for her training, she did the harvest plus the vinification cycle and the beginning of the vineyard-management season. The estate was a family domaine that was totally conventional but this part of the interest of the experience : watching what was done elsewhere in the Bordeaux region. When she arrived in the region she says she wasn't impressed by the wines there in general, she found many of them to be flabby, too woody and with a sugary feel she didn't like at all, she found them linear and boring. Plus they often wouldn't change along the hours after the bottle was opened, and she loved precisely the wines that kept changing after you'd open the bottle and help yourself along the meal.
To be honest, she adds, she still found a few wines in the region that fitted her taste and she decided to have her own try at winemaking in the region, with a clear focus on what she didn't want to do. Her prerequisites for her potential parcels was that they had to be located 30 minutes from Bordeaux as she and her family were living there [and traffic jams are a regular feature of Bordeaux} and she found this 3-hectare bloc of vineyards through the SAFER, a French organism helping redistribute agricultural land when it's available.. She started thus her domaine in 2008, at the same time than Thomas Boutin whom she met in the artisan-wine fairs, the guy having like her started without family connection and with a very small surface.
Her newly found block of vineyard (today aged 45) was split roughly between Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc (a bit less than 1/3) and Malbec. Valérie says that the good part for this available rental was that the vines were planted in a much thicler way on the parcels, with rows 1,5 meter from each other when the norm is more like 1,8 m or 2 m. All the other vineyards around were owned by growers selling their grapes to the local coop and they weren't interested by this 3-hectare enclave because they couldn't use their wide tractors between the rows. This was a chance for Valérie, the vines were something like 40 years old but the grower who planted them was apparently still planting along early-20th-century modes. She reminds me that in Bordeaux the norm is to pull the vines every 20 years and replant anew, at least that's the norm in places like here in Côtes de Bourg where much of the surface is used for coopérative wine, they push the vineyard to get high yields with fertlizers and after 20 years they're worn out. Little by little she realized that the pruning style in the region isn't favorable for the vine and this also contributes to their short living span.
Another chance about this 3-hectare block was that part of it was planted with Malbec à Queue Rouge, the original type of Malbec in the region, not the one that had been selected by the INRA agricultural research body (the latter being selected for high yields) : with the Malbec à Queue Rouge you have a diversity of grape size on the same cluster and when you taste them before the harvest it's a wonder because every grape has different aromas, this is very interesting. Malbec has often been pulled out here in the Bordeaux region because it's fragile, the stems break easily too and for combine harvesting it's not favored around here, and also because Merlot had been fashionable at that time.
In addition to this surface she recently added a rental of 40 ares which she's converting organic.
She found this basket press in the Loire, it's bigger than the other one which was too small. She gets very good press juice because she doesn't press to the maximum, especially compared to these other wineries where the pomace is almost dry when it's taken out of the press. She's not into volume wines, so it's OK for her to "loose" some potential juice.
At the beginning when she started her domaine she had no buiding whatsoever where she could vinify, the vineyard block was naked, without facility and she'd vinify in a rented place 15 km from here, not really easy. She tried to find something closer but local people didn't know her and she wasn't offered the opportunity to either rent or buy a building which she'd use as a chai, so she decided to clear a few rows of vines and have the chai built right in the middle of her block. Of course she had to go back to her banker to ask for another loan and happily he accepted. Near the building she's also leaving some room for her vegetable garden and a few fruit trees, and she pland to have a few hens also which she'd set free in the vineyard from time to time. She also hope to one day keep a few sheep there, also in the philosophy to build a microcosm of real farm, she's not officialy biodynamic although she does some biodynamic practices, like also she's picking herbs and flowers for herb tea [tisanes in French], recently under a flower day she picked Dandelion flowers (pic on left) which she'll use later on her vines. She also uses horsetail which is effective against mildew and thanks to which she could lower the copper part in the mix. Then she uses also nettle, fern, oak bark, picking the raw material themselves as much as possible.
Technically speaking they could build a house here but they bought their house in Bordeaux already, have the girls schooled there, and also there's the issue of pesticides in the vineyard-planted areas, it's a health issue for her family even if the small block here is organic. All the population living in the vineyard-planted areas around Bordeaux is exposed to pesticide particles floating in the air, even people living inside the villages, and cancer rates are known to be higher. A recent documentary showed the danger of living in these areas, with hair samples of village children being analyzed in a specialized lab in Luxemburg where they found traces of 40 potentially-dangerous pesticides in these hair samples.
Speaking of the vineyard management, Valérie mows the grass but tries to leave one row untouched for a while so that the insects can migrate, she takes care to keep a strong life diversity. There's of course lots of life undergrounds including moles as proved by small earth mounds here and there. She is in the long process of changing the pruning style on the vines, keeping focused on the harmonious sap flow, something which wasn't the case in the conventional farming. She works on the soil too, she plows (cavaillonage, décavaillonage) and then she passes with blades. This was a shock for the vines of course because like for all conventionally-farmed ones they had lots of surface roots, but on the other hand this particular block hadn't had any chemical fertilizers for a decade, so it was more stable. the thing is, the previous farmer who rented it just tended it with minimal investment (not by organic faith), thus eschewing the fertilizers because he waited for a friend of his to take the rent, which never materialized. This block was far from his own domaine so he just sprayed herbicides under the rows once a year and that's basically all. That's one of the reasons also why she thought the block was a good opportunity, it was unwittingly already on its way back to non-chemical farming.
She says that in the Côtes de Bourg AOC you're supposed to leave grass on every other row but some leave only a 20cm stripe of grass as there's no precise requirements, and anyway it's mostly delusive because underground the damage is huge even under the grass stripe, as herbicide will spoil all the soil. Plus farmers use heavy tractors that compact the soil and there's no oxygen in these soils. Her own tractor is a Fiat 55-86 which she bought used at a tractor dealer, she preferred to buy to a dealer than to a farmer because she knew she could count of their repair facility in case of problems (she had a few already...). This tractor is light and narrow and can pass between her rows. You can find used Fiat tractors beginning 4000 € on the main French classified farm equipment website, and as low as 2000 € for this vintage 1970 tractor in working condition. She learnt to use and drive it here, the seller showing her briefly how to maneuver it...
She still has some surface where she can replant vines here and she plans to replant other varietals, red and white. She pulled out her Cabernet Franc because too many were missing and the rest were really sick, she says the rootstock was not fit for this type of soil and also the pruning style had badly damaged the vitality of the vines along the years. She lets the empty parcel rest for now and will later replant the 5 local white varietals in its place. She plans to plant them like they used to be in the early 20th century, on posts (échallas), even though it's not authorized in the AOC rules, she'll certainly forced to bottle these whites as table wine [another proof of the ineptness of the wine authorities].
Another nice side of planting other varietals is that the varietal diversity in a parcel, added to the weeds diversity makes a block of vineyard stronger, with a much better resistance to pests and disease, even drought, she witnesssed that herself. Even wheat farmers who grows patches of different cereals together see a drop in disease and problems for their crop. She says it's a bit like the difference between cheese made from pasteurized milk where harmful bacteria can develop unhinced, and raw-milk cheese where the diverse bacterial life is a barrier against listeria. The fruit trees scattered in the parcels in the past played that role too, and it's too bad they were uprooted when the tractors were introduced.
Right now her reds are still in the AOC Côtes de Bourg, part of them at least as she took out her micro cuvées from the appellation because of the small volumes and the costs. Plus, they'd be dubbed "atypical" obviously and by the way she says this tasting uniformity by the AOC panels is directly connected to the fact that there are two enology-services companies doing enology consulting for all the Chateaux, so it's no mystery why wines not vinified along these two companies stand out and are deemed "atypical" by the AOC tasting panels... Her wines adds no lab yeast, no enzymes and nothing of the conventional-winemaking paraphernalia, they can't but taste different.
Typically, she has everything picked in boxes(the blue ones atop the fermenters on the picture on right) which are pulled on a small sled to the chai, all the sorting being done in the vineyard. Then the grapes are destemmed (destemmer here on left), they take out the leaves and the many insects hiding in the clusters, saving spiders, ladybugs, butterflies anf then they climb onto the two 50-hectoliter fermenters with buckets to fill them from the upper opening. She had this metal structure built later because at the beginning they just climed on a ladder but that was quite uneasy.
At this stage when they're poured into the fermenter the grapes are pretty intact, not open, which allows her to have both a fermentation with air exposure and some carbonic maceration, and because of that it yields a wider aromatic range in the wine. The fermenters are of course not filled to the top because of her small volumes these last two years, and she puts some CO2 at the beginning. She makes sure that the cap remains humid and soft, pouring some juice atop from time to time. Mostly she leaves the juice/grapes infuse quietly. Some cuvées remain longer in there, the cuvées les Trois Petiotes stays 5 to 6 weeks in there, then goes into barrels where it'll go through an élevage of one or two years.
I tasted a few wines with Valérie and a caviste from Lille who came for a visit with his wife and baby girl : Aurélien Chutaux opened hiw wine shop Les Vins d'Aurélien in 2012, and he also holds tasting events in his shop including for whiskies (read his blog for dates). No need to say that's a good place to buy artisan wines (and spirits) in Lille...
Valérie says she uses only old casks and she keeps them as long as she likes their tasting features in the wine, she uses them just for the natural micro-oxygenation. She gets them from friends who vinify organic but want more wood impact in their wines. When she racks the wine she tries to let the casks empty as short as pissible so as to do mild sulfurwicking only. Now she's going to keep the lees when she racks her wine and do sulfur wicking on the lees, because the main problem is the sulfur in dry barrels, if you keep the inside moist the sulfur doesn't encrust in the structure of the wood, she has friends who do that in the Languedoc and after they've cleaned everyrthing clean of course, they get more freshness and fruit on the following wine compared when you use sulfur wick on a really-empty cask. She puts the press juice in separate barrels and blends according to what she likes, except in 2013 where the harvest yield was catastrophically low (she made 2000 bottles total that year).
__ Malbec 2014 (cask sample). She says she keeps the wine on the reduction side so as not to have to add sulfites. The wine is cold, I'm warming the glass in the hands. This wine got just from 0,5 to 1 gram during the fermentation and it vanished later. She did without and with to see the difference and she noticed that without SO2 in the fermentation she has sometimes unpleasant aromas developping. She tops the casks once every 3 weeks,
Tastes very well for me, nice tension, the tannins are well in check for a young Malbec, it's silky and fresh. She says that surprinsingly we'll find more tannin in her Merlot than in the Malbec. It has to do with the "cold" clayish soils, the malbec having here a different expression and tannin style than in what you'd find in the Loire Côt for example. She says she likes the length in these 2014. Asked if she does something about the fermentation temperature she says no, she checks them but doesn't interfere except for opening the chai in the early morning. And she says that the temperature inertia of these fermenters is better than in a stainless-steel vat.
Valérie says that she is not looking to repeat the same wine year after year, the vintages are different and she adapts to what she gets. In years like the difficult 2013 she made 2000 bottles instead of 8000, regrouping the cuvées under a single bottling. She got troublesome years since she started, in 2008 (her first vintage) it was the hail damage, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were OK, then 2012 had smaller volumes, 2013 as said was awful, 2014 had better volumes and then she pulled out a parcel, so her volumes were down again. Still for 2013 the conditions were difficult but she managed to make wine without the tricks done elsewhere, most Bordeaux red wines that year were made with heating the juices to get extraction (Pre-fermentation flash pasteurization), this is modern enology. The reason is that the mainstream wineries want to make the same wine every year so as not to disappoint the market. Same for the choice of lab yeast, you're trained to choose the strains according the targeted style of wine.
The pressure on the vignerons by labs is strong, they push the owners to use their products using fear that if they don't, their wine will turn into vinegar. For example she herself brings samples to a lab for analysis and at the first lab she worked with (she changed since), even though she had no contyract with the enologist of the lab, he couldn't refrain from pushing her to do this or that under the threat of an impeding disaster if she didn't comply... She remembers that the first year the guy even had prepared a small bag with all the chemist-kit additives including yeast, she politely accepted but asked him if she could bring it back if she didn't use it, and he smiled and said don't worry you'll use them otherwise it won't work... Of course the wines weren't square and they were quite acidic and at the following at the lab with a sample the guy said she'd have to de-acidify, to which she replied no, I like it like that that... They're kind and do this in good faith but she had to sort of fight all the time as a "new" vintner facing an "experienced" enologist to keep working naturally.
Speaking of SO2 at bottling she puts a bit of it, but not at bottling per se, a couple weeks before when she racks the wine, so that the SO2 has time to combine with the wine.
__ Merlot 2014, from another barrel. Will be bottled in summer. She has a small mobile bottling line belonging to another domaine come here for the bottling, they work well as he's working also with organic domaines. Before that she bottled by gravity with a 3-spout filler. Her wines are unfiltered, unfined.
Very aromatic on the nose. Fruity mouth with cooked fruit notes.
At the beginning she thought she'd not sell wine in Bordeaux because of the difference of her wines but she did, because there are some wine amateurs who are looking for different emotions even in Bordeaux wines. She used every social occasion even sport meetings to have people taste her wines and while some Bordeaux lovers were put off, some liked them and she started to have customers here.
Asked how she otherwise found her first commercial customers, Valérie says that at the beginning her volume of wine was so small anyway that it wasn't difficult, she sold to friends and by word of mouth, then she was lucky to be profiled by the demanding wine magazine Le Rouge & Le Blanc after having travelled to Paris and left a few bottles at several good cavistes (including Le Vin en Tête where Emmanuel of Le Rouge & Le Blanc was working at the time). This helped at the beginng and anyway her volumes remain relatively low so she sells without having to do commercial work or trips. She aknowledges that she must produce more wine, possibly by using other vineyards, she's working on the issue.
__ No Wine is Innocent, Vin de France 2014. This is some sort of solidarity cuvée made with Antonin of the blog No Wine is Innocent in order to help Aude Richard, a vigneronne who is alone in her domaine to do everything. This cuvée is a 100 % Merlot made with her grapes, around 2500 bottles.
Color : quite clear and light. Nose : thirst-wine type with cherry notes. In the mouth very pleasant and easy swallowing with a creamy, even chalky mouthfeel, very nice. Speaking of Antonin, his great tasting even Sous les Pavés, la Vigne is back this weekend in Paris, don't miss it (just check the participating vignerons if you have some doubts). I'll not attend alas I'm out of Paris that weekend. You can buy the wine at the domaine's price during this tasting event, it's a real bargain in addition to speak with the winemaker who is there in person.
Valérie takes part usually but not this year because of her schedule, but she took part to a nice little wine fair in the region, in Brive la Gaillarde, Au Fil du Vin, with also great artisan winemakers attending.
Brive-la-Gaillarde may seem far from Paris (it is indeed) but you can now reach it by bus for a mere 8 € if you buy your ticket a month in advance.
Valérie also takes part to the Les Vin Anonymes wine fair in Angers at the turn of january/february every year, also a great natural-wine event.
__ Les Trois Petiotes 2012, Côtes de Bourg. Merlot 50 %, Malbec 35 % & Cabernet Franc 15 %. Yields 11 hectoliters/hectare. Contains sulfites but not that much : 13mg/L [that's what it says literally on the back label]. This wine likes oxygen, carafing will do good to experience its aromas [also printed on the back].
This was her first cuvée in 2008 and she keeps doing it all the while making now other cuvées, some being one-off and some being repeated, depends of the vintage. For example in 2009 she made En Attendant Suzie [not her own daughter but a niece] which was 80 % Malbec and it was the first time she did some hand destemming to have the grapes ferment directly in the barrels. This was also the first time she used a hand destemmer and she realized the quality was so different (in the positive sense) that she's generalize its use the following years.
__ Les Trois Petiotes 2011, Côtes de Bourg, same wine previous vintage. More complexity, I find aromas of zan here, I liked this one more, on the spot. Valérie says that 2011 was a very serene, gentle vintage with rain and sun coming at the right moment and volume, and she says this harmony reflects in the wine.
But she is right for the carafing, I drove back to Bordeaux with the opened 2012 and we had it for dinner with my friends, it was terrific, much more enjoyable that when just had opened the bottle (plus the bottle was cold then).
__ Le Petit Chaperon Rouge 2013. 2/3 Malbec, 1/3 Merlot. She had made a first try of this cuvée in 2012 but the wine was different. In 2013 she vinified all her grapes in this single cuvée because of the difficult conditions of the vintage and the grapes, with a short (10 day) maceration and no wood (but still a year-long élevage in vat). When she picked the grapes she felt there was still an interesting substance and that's why this year in vats.
She didn't expect the success of this cuvée, which as a thirst wine immediately found its public, to the point that it was sold out much quicker than expected, and she is planning to repeat the experiment. When she released the cuvée the buyers just didn't shift their orders on this cuvée, they kept buying the other ones but made additional orders for this new one.
The down side of this swift sale was that she was nearing the point she'd not have available wine for professional buyers.
The nose is uterly gourmand, appealing. Swallowed : a nice tannin touch with this nice freshness spike