Gallivanting in the Gaillac

Nicolas in the Vines

Nicolas in the Vines

Between the trade shows in Montpellier and Angers, I had the good fortune to spend 2 days in the Gaillac region of France visiting our biodynamic producer Nicolas Lebrun of l’Enclos des Braves.  Wait, where?  It’s just northeast of the city of Toulouse, in the Southwest part of the country.  Wait, what?  OK, OK, take a look at the map if you can’t be bothered to Google it.  Sheesh, I have to do everything for you people…

Gaillac!

Gaillac!

See?  Nicolas lives outside the town of Vertus, near the medieval (and gorgeous) city of Rabastens.  This was something of a discovery for me as even though I had family in Toulouse at one time, we had never visited this area.  My grandparents were very fond of the regions south of the city and the mountains between France and Spain, the Pyrénées.  As someone who loves exploring new places, I jumped at the opportunity to visit Nicolas and his hillside vines.

Hillside vines

Hillside vines

It was chilly and wet when I got there after a 5 hour train ride.  Nicolas picked me up and we went straight into the vines (yay!).  We drove through the hilly back country, taking a look at his small plots on their steep slopes and their old vines.  Nicolas has 6 hectares, most of them contiguous, and works the land biodynamically.  So no chemicals, everything’s done by hand, there’s tons of growth between the rows, and you can tell the vineyards are happy.  There are also bees and fruit trees on the property, which Nicolas believes helps diversify the fawn and fora of the local ecosystem.

Cement rocks

Cement rocks

The grapes are picked manually, sorted both in the field and at the winery by hand.  Cement tanks help keep the focus of most of his wines, though the older Braucol does see some wood (used barrels of 3-5 years age).  No manufactured or selected yeasts here, everything’s indigenous.

Tasting old Braucol

Tasting old Braucol

At bottling, there is a drop of sulfur added, but frankly, this doesn’t bother either me or the wines.  In fact, it helps stabilize the wine for the long trip to the US, where it has turned into one of our top sellers (who’d have thunk?).  The reds are dark and juicy with racy acidity and lovely earthy aspects on a firm structure, but then again I might be biased.

You'll need these...

You’ll need these…

We got to the base of the slope and Nicolas pulled a pair of boots out of the van.  “You’ll need these,” he said.  Um, OK.  I slipped them on, and the moment I set foot in the vineyard, I understood why.  It had been raining a lot, and with clay soils at the bottom of the hill, the land looked solid but was more like crazy glue than mud.  I’m pretty sure I would have left my regular vineyard half-boots in a water-filled hole had I not been wearing these things.  We slogged up the hill, looking at the old-vine Braucol, the gnarly Duras, the lean Loin de L’Oeil and the hardy Gamay.

Nicolas

Nicolas

The soils at the top of the hill are lighter in both color and composition, with more limestone aspects.  When you think about it, it makes sense as clay is heavier and would have a tendency to slip downslope.  This explains the sticky mud…  We went into the chai to try the whites (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Loin de l’Oeil), racy and lean with gorgeous perfume (arriving just in time for Spring!) and a feminine structure.  Then we moved onto the reds, with their earthy juicy fruit and long finishes.  What a great day!

Press time

Press time

The next morning at breakfast, his wife Chantal offered some home-made jam, honey and juice of Loin de l’Oeil (without alcohol – quite racy, with appley notes and a bright floral aspect).  These people do as much as possible themselves, which is always so cool to see.

Yummies

Yummies

We also had the opportunity to taste back vintages of Nicolas’ wines going to 2005, his first year working his own land.  Truffly, dark, earthy, everything I love about wine was present in that bottle.  Absolutely gorgeous, with a firm structure and a long finish, delicious with our meal of roast duck.  Nicolas also poured his Rosé, which was bright and floral and full of berry notes, but also had a slightly sweet fruit to it, balanced with some lovely acidity.  However, he wasn’t happy with this 2013, as it had kept too much sugar, and so he declassified it.  He didn’t make that much of it, so we won’t be bringing it in this year.

Gourmands_Blanc_2013

Gourmands_Blanc_2013

We’ll be bringing his Gourmand Blanc, however, that beautifully refreshing blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Loin de l’Oeil made in the cement tanks.  Look for the label above, which is similar to his Gourmand Rouge.  Bracing, gorgeous, this will be perfect for the warmer months (assuming the weather ever improves…).

Old-school laundromat

Old-school laundromat

As we drove back to the train station, Nicolas showed me the gorgeous medieval city of Rabastens.  Situated above the Tarn river, this was a major laundering area back in the day.  There were no less than 12 public wash areas, where folks could bring their dirty clothes to clean in the river’s sparkling waters and from springs under the city.

Rabastens

Rabastens

After a fantastic lunch, I hopped on the train and headed back to Paris.  What a great visit with some great people making great wines.

Cheers!

PS: More pictures can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151570684926837.1073741826.13939566836&type=1

 

 

 

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