I first met Françoise Ollier when I was researching my book on the Wines of the south of France and she was secretary of the syndicat of the Faugères wine growers. She planned an itinerary for me and arranged visits, and also introduced me to the delights of honey ice cream in a restaurant outside Soubès, that sadly no longer exists. And now that we have a house close to the pretty village of Fos, we have become good friends and also good customers. Friends from England expressing interest in visiting a wine grower are usually taken to see Françoise, as you can be sure of a warm welcome.

This summer, as well as a simple visit to the tasting caveau, we’ve also managed to coincide with a journée cave ouverte and participate in a balade vigneronne. The open cellar day provided an opportunity to admire their new cellar; it is still a building site, but the last stone has just been laid. It is being built in porous pierre du Gard; the blocks apparently weigh a ton, but they are great for providing natural insulation and the cellar will be surrounded by earth on three sides, with un toit vegetale or green roof. This way they will save on electricity for insulation and air conditioning. And when you see where they currently make their wine, you can appreciate the need to move from the cramped conditions. The cellar is not ready in time for this year’s vintage, but should be operational by the end of the year.

Further entertainment at the cave ouverte was provided by a cheerful gentleman on stilts, Jacques, and his copine, Marianne, who joined in the jollities as we tasted and chatted. And to show just how well Faugères can develop with bottle age, we were treated not only to current releases, but also to some older vintages.

2001 Grande Réserve - a delicately leathery nose, with an attractive note of maturity on the palate. Perfumed leathery fruit. Very elegant and subtle, with a dry finish.

2000 Grande Réserve – Drier and more leatherier on the nose, but riper and more rounded on the palate. Again some elegant fruit, with a supple delicate finish.

1999 Castel Fossibus. This is their oak aged wine; medium in colour with mature leathery notes on the nose. The oak was beautifully integrated and gave just a touch of sweetness and richness on the palate. You would not have thought that this wine was over ten years old.

And the balade vigneronne earlier this month provided the opportunity to visit their vineyards outside Fos. The family have 35 hectares, which is still a manageable size for a family business I chatted to Francoise’s father, Alain, as we walked. The family vineyards came from his wife’s family – she was a Mlle Taillefer – hence the double barrelled name. He has been making wine since he was 20and is just clocking up his 47th harvest. His son Luc joined him in 1990 and is now in charge of the wine-making, while Françoise came back to work with her family in 2003. But M. Ollier said that even as a teenager, she loved coming with him to help with tastings.

They have a small vineyard just outside the village, with a collection of various vine varieties, including the traditional ones that you might expect to find in the Midi, such as Syrah and Cinsaut, and also Alicante Bouschet, and white varieties such as Vermentino and Roussanne, and something called Jacquet, a red variety that is there solely for historical interest.

We talked about the problems with the wild boar. M. Ollier explained that they put grain down for them, but in the woods far from their vineyards and that seems to keep them away. He didn’t rate electric fences; the little boar can get underneath and it is only the snouts of the adults that are sensitive to the electricity, with the result that if they lose a baby in the vineyard, they simply charge the fence. We walked further out of the village to where the pickers were hard at work and then on past a restored capitelle.

M. Ollier is pleased with the harvest this year. The quantity is lower than average as the summer has been very dry, but the grapes are wonderfully healthy, with no disease. Back at the cellar we tasted some grape juice, some Roussanne, which was lovely and sweet, and some Syrah that will be destined for rosé.

And then we tried the current vintages, with some local charcuterie as an accompaniment.

2009 Les Collines rosé – 5.95€
A blend of Cinsaut and Grenache, as well as some young Syrah and Mourvèdre. Both saigné and pressed. Fresh raspberry fruit on both nose and palate, with a rounded finish. The schist soil of Faugères is high in acidity which apparently makes for wines that are lower in acidity. I am not sure I really understand that – it’s something to do with pH levels ……

2008 les Collines rouge. – 5.95€ This has a lot of Grenache, with some Carignan and Syrah and some young Mourvèdre. This has suffered from the hail on the eve of the vintage, which as Françoise explained, concentrates everything, acidity as well as fruit. There is an edge of concentration of fruit and acidity, so that the wine is not as harmonious as other vintages. I really loved the 2007, which is more supple and spicy.

2008 Grande Réserve - 8.30€ This comes from a selection of the oldest vines. The colour is medium and the nose quite perfumed, with some structure and tannin and perfumed fruit, but more concentration and depth than Collines. It would age in bottle.

2007 Grande Reserve 8.30€
August was much cooler in 2007 than in 2008. The wine is rounded and supple, with the lovely spice and herbs of the garrigues, with a tannic streak and a certain concentration of flavour. It promises well.

2008 Castel Fossibus – 12.50€.
This is aged in oak and there is some perfumed vanilla oak on the nose, with some firm tannins as well as fruit on the palate. Youthful and fresh, and a wine to keep.

2007 Castel Fossibus – 12.50€
This is much more perfumed on the nose. The oak is beautifully integrated, with some lovely spice on the palate. Again still very youthful.

2009 Allegro, Faugères blanc – 9.00€ From Vermentino and Roussanne. I love this wine, and it develops beautifully with some bottle age. The Vermentino provides some natural freshness and herbal notes, while the Roussanne fills out the palate, with a touch of white blossom. Our local goats’ cheese from Mas Rolland in the village of Montesquieu is the perfect foil.

2007 Baies de Novembre – 12.00 for 50cls. From Grenache Noir picked in November. They leave one bunch per vine, and if the birds, the weather, and the tourists are restrained, the grapes are picked when they are fully raisined. The juice is fermented in oak, very slowly until the summer and the wine stays in oak for a couple of years, to develop the oxidative notes of the Grenache. There were notes of honey and orange, with balancing acidity; it was sweet but with a fresh finish. We drank it with some sugary biscuits called oreillettes – our grandmothers used to make these, said Françoise. Or you could try it with foie gras, she suggested.

And our tasting finished with Fine de Faugères – 31.00€. Faugères did once, back in the 19th century, have reputation for eau de vie, a tradition which they are striving to revive. A mobile still comes round the villages; it is a charentais still, which makes for some finesse. The distillate, from the fine lees – this is not marc from skins and stalks - is 60° – 70° proof, so they tone it down to 40° with local water from the Montagne Noir, and then it spends five years in barrel. To my nose it seemed quite subtle and elegant, and it struck me as an original alternative to an Armagnac. As always a great visit,


AlanM said…
My favourites, there are better producers but not many and the welcome is second to none
Matthew Pemble said…

Any comment on the grape theft?
Matthew - Apologies for the delay in replying. We've just had a two day drive back to London. I was astonished by the theft of the two hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon - it made the headlines of the Midi Libre on Thursday morning. What is intriguing, when you consider how much the wine industry is controlled by paperwork, is how whoever did this will 'lose' the grapes. The Midi Libre suggested that it was unlikely to be a cooperative member as they couldn't just turn up at the coop cellar with two hectares worth of extra grapes - so presumably a private wine grower with his own cellar who is short of grapes and will then claim a higher yield than his actual yield. This year's crop is relatively small with berries short on juice as there was little summer rain. And I do feel sorry for the wine grower in question - you would tend to expect a professional respect - rather like allotment holders - you don't pinch each other's grapes, in the same way that you don't pinch each other's cabbages.

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