Chateau La Caminade

The vineyards of Cahors lay an equal distance from the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees. They are planted along the banks and hills of the Lot River valley. As a result of its millennia of work carving through a limestone plateau, the Lot River left a narrow band of hills ideally suited to the vine. The soils vary according to their proximity to the river, with the lower terraces having more alluvial deposits and the upper vineyards having more exposed rock. The vineyards date back at least two thousand years and the wines of Cahors have an illustrious history that includes being sought after by the Roman Emperor Domitian, the Russian Orthodox Church and numerous kings and bishops.

The Chateau La Caminade vineyards lie in Parnac, in the heart of the Cahors region. The Ressès family has been making wine here since 1895 and Dominique and Richard represent the fourth generation. The 27 hectares of vineyards are planted on a variety of soil types including gravelly sand and clay/limestone. The vineyards are certified “Haute valeure Environmentale” Level 3 which requires a comprehensive sustainability. Until the French Revolution the domain belonged to the clergy who left behind much documentation attesting to both their winemaking techniques and their understanding of the terroir. The Ressès bring forward quite a tradition.

Read Dominique’s comments in the Southwest Vintage Reports

The appellation of Marcillac is located in the western part of the Auvergne, nestled in the mountain range known as the Massif Central. The vineyards lie along steep slopes in a remote valley that offers a beneficial micro-climate. The valley draws warm and dry air from the Mediterranean during the summer and fall while also sheltering the vineyards from the harsh winters. The history of the vineyards is closely aligned with the Abbaye at Conques whose monks recognized the valley’s potential and planted vineyards in the area beginning in the 10th century. Centuries later, it was the bourgeoisie from the nearby city of Rodez who took an interest in the vineyards. These city folks greatly expanded the vineyards and built themselves summer homes in the surrounding villages. The devastating effect of phyloxerra at the end of the 19th century and the economic problems of the early 20th century led to the great abandonment of the vineyards. During this period, the region steadily depopulated with many “Auvergnats” going to Paris and finding work in the restaurant trade. Over time, many of them opened their own bistros which became an important customer base for the farmers back home who were reconstituting the Marcillac vineyards. The local grape of the area is Fer Servadou, called locally, Mansois. In the local dialect, Occitan, it was called Saoumences, which is interesting because of the last part of the name being similar to Mencia, or the Spanish name for Cabernet Franc. In fact, the Cabernet Franc and Fer Servadou are both part of the Carmenere family of grape varieties. There is some speculation that because the Abbaye of Conques was an offshoot of the Abbaye at Cluny, the 10th century vineyards were probably planted with Pinot Noir.

Domaine du Cros, with its 33 hectares, is the largest independent producer in the appellation and Philippe Teulier and his family have been instrumental in reestablishing the reputation of Marcillac’s wines. Philippe Teulier’s vines lie at elevations as high as 450 meters on a few different hillsides that surround the village of Clairvaux. Much of his vineyard is terraced and the soil is an iron rich clay known locally as “rougier” with outcroppings of limestone. His wines are made from one grape type, the local grape of Marcillac, Fer Servadou.

Read Philippe’s comments in the Southwest Vintage Reports

Spread out around the town of Albi, the Gaillac vineyards extend over 73 communes along the Tarn river. The appellation includes significantly different terroirs , the results of different geological strata, which include limestone plateaus, hillside vineyards with limestone and clay soils and alluvial plains with soils of gravel and sand. The climate is more Mediterranean than Atlantic and the vineyards benefit from a warm and dry autumn. The wines have a balance of concentration and restraint that is rare and the appellation’s local grape varieties contribute to the originality of Gaillac’s wines.

Domaine des Terrisses has been the property of the Cazottes family since 1750. Alain and Brigitte Cazottes, like the generations before them, have expanded the estate which now includes 40 hectares of vineyards. In the 1960’s and 1970’s Alain’s father was among a small group of Gaillacois vignerons to produce estate bottled wines which focused on quality and authenticity. Alain and Brigitte continue in the same vein. The vineyard is situated along the “Premiere Cotes” of Gaillac, the hillsides facing south-southwest toward the Tarn River with predominantly clay soils that Alain says are similar to those found in the Medoc. The majority of the vineyard is planted with the traditional grape varieties of the region; Mauzac and Loin de L’oeil for the whites and Braucol, Duras and Prunelard for the reds. The balance is planted with Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Domaine des Terrisses offers a wide range of wines which is typical of the Gaillac appellation and is a reminder of the region’s long tradition of wine production which predates the Roman conquest two thousand years ago.

Domaine Philémon is located in Villeneuve-sur-Vere, a small village on the Vere river in between Albi and Cordes in the northeast quadrant of the Gaillac appellation. The Vieules family have had a vineyard in Villeneuve since 1804. Today the vineyard is run by Mathieu Vieules who grows wheat, sunflowers and grapes in equal proportions. All his land is farmed organically with the vineyard being certified in 2013. The domain takes its name from Mathieu’s great-grandfather, Philemon, who in 1914 was the first generation to produce wine commercially. In 2003 Mathieu became the first to estate bottle his family’s wines. Along with his other crops, Mathieu has twenty hectares of vineyards in production along the Cordes plateau on south facing slopes with a calcerous soil. They are planted almost entirely to the traditional Gaillac grape varieties: Loin de L’oeil, Mauzac and Muscadelle for the whites, and Braucol (Fer Servadou), Duras, Prunelart and Jurançon Noir for the reds. The vines are largely trained in the gobelet fashion meaning that they are head pruned and yields are kept exceedingly low; 40 hl/h for the whites and 30hl/h for the reds. A good proportion of the vines are more than fifty years old and the harvest is done entirely by hand. In addition to being certified organic the domain is a member of Nature et Progrès, an organization that certifies natural wine.

The appellation Madiran is situated among the northern foothills of the Pyrenées in the heart of Gascony. It is a pastoral area which is sparsely populated and often evokes references of “Old France”. The appellation takes it name from one of the 37 villages that comprise it. The AOC Madiran refers only to red wine production whereas white wine produced in the same area uses the AOC of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. Due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean the climate is somewhat humid with moderate temperatures that benefit from the prevailing south winds that bring warm dry air in the summer and fall.

On a family domain where the wine was formerly sold in bulk, Jean-Marc Laffitte began estate bottling in 1975. The vineyards, in the commune of Maumusson, are on chalky clay soil and are planted to 70% Tannat and 15% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The average vine age is 40 years. Harvesting is done manually.

The Jurançon appellation is spread throughout the Bearnaise hills south of the city of Pau. Some 500 growers cultivate approximately 1,000 hectares of vineyards which are scattered throughout the steep slopes of this bucolic countryside in the Pyrénées. The appellation’s mandate is for white wine only, though a small amount of red wine is produced in the region and falls under the Bearn appellation. Historically, the wines of Jurançon were “moelleux”. Dry wines are a recent development, receiving a separate AOC in 1975 and requiring the word “sec” to be added on the label in conjunction with the name Jurançon. At present, Jurançon has approximately 60 producers of estate bottled wines.

Jean-Marc Grussaute and his mother, Jany, own a small but remarkable vineyard situated in the Chapelle de Rousse area of Jurançon. The family arrived at Larredya in the year 1900. At first, they raised cattle and planted fruit trees. A half century later they began cultivating strawberries as a commercial crop. In the 1970’s Jean Marc’s father, Jean, one of the region’s pioneers in re-establishing the wines of Jurancon, planted 4 hectares of vines along their terraced hillside. In 1983, Jean Grussaute passed away pre-maturely and Jean-Marc’s mother held together the estate until Jean-Marc arrived in 1988 at the age of 20 having just received his diploma from Bordeaux. Together, Jean-Marc and his mother have transformed their remote hillside vineyard into a world renowned wine estate. The vineyard, much of it planted by Jean-Marc’s father 50 years ago, is terraced and lies on steep and curved slopes that form an amphitheater. It is south facing with an amazing view of some of the highest peaks in the Pyrénées. The vineyard is planted to 65% Petit Manseng and 27% Gros Manseng and 8% Petit Courbu/Camarelet. Jean-Marc Grussaute began estate bottling in 1988 and in the years since, he has evolved both as a farmer and as a wine maker. He has farmed organically since 2007 with the first certified vintage being 2010. He also farms according to bio-dynamic principles and is certified by Demeter. Jean-Marc names his different cuvées in accord with the vineyard parcels from which they come. He is committed to using indigenous yeasts and minimal doses of SO2.

Read Jean-Marc’s comments in the Southwest Vintage Reports

The appellation of Irouleguy stretches along steep hillsides in the Pyrenees within the French Pays Basque. The 245 hectares are planted almost exclusively to red grapes. The vineyards which range in altitude between 200 and 450 meters can have inclines up to 70% and are often planted along narrowly cut terraces that require an enormous amount of hand labor. The characteristic soil of Irouleguy is a red sandstone that is rich in iron. This is complemented by a richer mix of clay/limestone and some outcrops of limestone. The vineyards face south and are protected by the surrounding mountain peaks from the wet weather coming off the Atlantic. The cool and wet springs are balanced by an “Indian summer” that allows the full ripening of the grapes into October.

The Branas started as wine and spirits negociants in the Pays Basque in 1897, an activity that continues today. A few generations on, in 1974, Etienne Brana decided to plant a pear orchard and build a distillery in Saint Jean Pied de Port that would focus on distilling local fruits such as pears, plums and raspberries. Ten years later in 1984 and one hundred years after phyloxera ravaged the Basque vineyards, Etienne planted 20 hectares of vines, making the Branas the first in Irouleguy to replant on a meaningful scale. Tragically in 1992, the year before the completion of the Brana’s stunning winery, built into the steep hills above Saint Jean Pied de Port, Etienne died. He left his wife, Adrienne, and their two children, Martine and Jean, to carry on with his projects. Jean took over the vineyards and winemaking after studying oenology and then interning with Basque neighbor and winemaker at Chateau Petrus, Jean-Claude Berrouet. Martine took over the sourcing of fruit and the distilling. Most recently, in 2018 a new structure was built housing a new distillery and tasting room. The accomplishments of the Brana family are recognized not only in the Pays Basque, but internationally and their Eaux-de-Vies are considered among the best in France.

Jean Brana’s farming philosophy could be called bio-diverse. He gave up his certification of organic farming because the treatment of his vines required an application of copper that produced toxicity in his soils. He also abandoned most of the bio-dynamic remedies he employed, moving instead to a biodiversity that encouraged the natural flora and fauna to co-exist with the vines. The result has been the return of insects and birds that hadn’t been seen in the vineyard for years as well as one hundred and ten plant species that co-habit with the vines. To celebrate this development, Jean redesigned all the wine labels so that each one features one of the indigenous birds found in the vineyards.