Monday, June 15, 2009
A Day in Saint Chinian
Where? Look at the map. If it looks like the middle of nowhere, then you've got the right idea.
During my stay in Europe, I had a chance to pop over the border and visit my Saint Chinian producer, Clos Bagatelle. There, I was greeted by Luc and Christine, the brother and sister winemaking team that I profiled a while back. They are making wines that reflect their terroir's gifts while maintaining a lovely elegant style that differs drastically from most St Chinians.
Luc is the vineyard manager, and while I was there he drove me through the torturous roads that wind their way through the local hills to show me his Saint Jean de Minervois plot. This vineyard is planted to Muscat, and makes a very particular dessert wine. While it actually only received its AOC qualification in 1949, the area has been making wines since the Romans were sauntering about.
As you can see from the pictures, it's a very stony soil at the top of a hill that overlooks the region. The wind was a constant howling companion, washing over the crest of the hill and rustling the vines. After about an hour of this, I began to believe the local legends that say it can drive someone mad.
More interestingly, however, was the way the vines were planted. They were all staked individually, and grew to no more than 1 meter in height. Big deal, right? No, because these tiny vines have to be plucked by hand. As difficult as hand-harvesting is, this must be back-breaking!
We also drove to some of Clos Bagatelle's other parcels, planted to traditional varieties like Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignan. All are beautifully maintained to ensure the highest quality grapes. Which is where Christine's skills come into play...
Christine is the winemaker for Clos Bagatelle. She coaxes beautiful flavors and aromas by doing a post-fermentation blend, and can spend many days trying to figure out the perfect assemblage. She is looking for freshness but also a certain transparency of the region's terroir. Many of her neighbors make wines that are somewhat over-blown and even cooked due to the heat. Not Clos Bagatelle.
Thanks to Luc's skills in the vineyard, the grapes are never abused, and once they're in Christine's capable hands the results are there for everyone to taste. And boy did I taste! Going through their entire portfolio made me smile. This domaine is a winner and is one to watch. Their wines are fantastic, though of course I am just mildly biased...
PS: More pictures are available on the Vinotas Selections' Facebook Fan Page.