Domaine de Cébène - an update
If I had to name my five favourite Faugeres wine estates, there is no doubt that Domaine de Cébène would be amongst them. Brigitte Chevalier has been making wine in the region for nearly 20 years now and her wines seem to evolve and improve every time I see her. This time she was very excited as she now has two amphora, one of sandstone, from Limoux and the other clay, from Italy, as well an an egg and she is experimenting, putting the identical wine, some 2021 Mourvedre, which is eventually destined for Felgaria, in different containers, barrels and vats as well, and observing the differences. She admitted that barrels had always bothered her. You can’t really control a barrel; the coopers decide the toasting and the wood and you cannot modify the quantity of oxygen exchange. The amphora are lightly porous and much easier to control And with an egg the wine is always gently moving, which Brigitte likes, as she works with the lees. In an amphora the wine is static. So far she finds the wine in sandstone more pure, and very direct and neutral, whereas in clay, it is more rounded.
My friend Seema is working on sustainability and was particularly interested to ask about that. It was raining that morning, so our look at the vines was a little cursory. Brigitte has mostly north-facing vines, facing the dominant wind. The difference in the harvest here in Faugères, where the altitude is about 300 metres and in Béziers on the coastal plan, is about three weeks. Thanks to the wind, the ventilation in the vineyards is excellent. Brigitte farms biodynamically, and is anxious to avoid treatments, and with that, the use of the tractor. More is less, with minimum use of energy.
And her cellar operates by gravity. There are no pumps as they damage the grape skins. She uses minimum sulphur during the wine making so good hygiene is all important. In her eleven hectares, she has several different plots, which make for interesting blending possibilities. Her criteria are aspect, altitude, ripeness and vigour. They give you choices in the final blend.
Brigitte talked about field grafts on old vines. If a vine has died, but the rootstock is still alive,you can graft a new variety on to the rootstock and only lose one year’s production. The vine roots are interconnected and it is a major undertaking to pull up the roots of old vines. For a new planting of Carignan and of Mourvèdre, she has bought vines from a nursery. She is also planting more trees, walnut and almonds. And she talked about the importance of the nutrition for the vines; the roots go deep through the cracks between the layers of schist, finding nutrition in the cracks.
Brigitte is always very generous with her tastings, so we settled down to not just her current vintages but a vertical of les Bancèls.
2021 Ex Arena - 14€
Mainly Grenache with some Mourvèdre, grown on sandstone, so not Faugeres
Light colour. Picked when the Grenache is just ripe. Cherry fruit on both nose and palate, with a balancing streak of tannin.
2021 A la Venvole - 16.00€
This is Brigitte’s entry level wine for Faugères and the third vintage of this particular cuvée. A blend of one third each of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache, blended a couple of months before bottling. The Carignan is relatively young vines, planted by Brigitte when she first arrived in the region. It is very fresh and elegant, with more structured that Ex Arena. Some lovely spice with youthful freshness and a mineral note. Elegant and refreshing. Certainly a great introduction to Faugères.
2020 Les Bancèls
The quality and character of vintages in the Languedoc so often depends on the amount of rain, and also when it rained. In 2020 there was a wet winter and some rain again in April, at the right moment, with the result that the wine has more acidity and less power than some vintages, so an appealing combination of freshness and acidity.
At the time of my visit, in July 2022, the Languedoc was suffering from drought, with very little rain during the winter. There was a little in November, and some in April. There has been the odd shower, such as the morning we were visiting, but nothing that will do more than refresh the vines. 2021 in comparison had summer rain, which make for large bunches, and some fine tuning in the wine-making. No year is the same. And now in early June 2023, the drought conditions continue, with very little winter rain, and some showers and even the occasional storm, which helps to maintain freshness, but does nothing to restore the water table. And the Languedoc is not suffering as much as Roussillon.
Les Bancèls means balconies in the Occitan, our identity, enthused Brigitte. Syrah is the dominant variety, all north facing, and there is elegant concentration on the palate, with some youthful tannins. It promises well, but is already drinking nicely. And there is Grenache, planted to face the wind, and a little Mourvèdre on a south facing slope.
2019 - A hot summer, giving the wine a sunnier profile. There was some spring raining and what Brigitte called 'a correct amount' in July and August. A much sturdier nose, and on the palate, more solid, rounded and ripe with more body and weight. Nicely rounded palate with youthful fruit.
2018 was the year of mildew and consequently no Bancèls.
2017 - Minimum rain and not too much sun. More concentration, but elegant concentration. Beginning to evolve nicely, with some red fruit. Very rounded and harmonious
2016 is less rich than 2017, and fresher with more acidity. Quite a light colour, with fresh red fruit. Medium weight. Elegant finish. Evolving nicely.
2014 The colour beginning to mature and the wine is evolving elegantly on the palate. Quite leathery notes. Elegant with supple tannins and fresh acidity. Nicely balanced, and not powerful. Reminiscent of a cool Syrah of the northern Rhône.
2020 Belle Lurette from old vine Carignan, but Brigitte does not say so on the label. Quite a deep colour. Quite firm sturdy red fruit. Quite solid and rounded, rich and concentrated with a firm streak of tannin. Two vines make one bottle……
2017 Felgaria, which is the old name for Faugeres. Dominant Mourvedre with some Syrah. This is the wine that featured in the Top 100. See an earlier post on wines from that competition. Good colour. Quite firm, structured nose with red fruit and on the palate some cedary notes, with nicely rounded Mourvèdre fruit,
Quite a rounded nose. Very harmonious and evolving nicely. Quite supple tannins. Elegant Mourvèdre fruit with a firm backbone. Some comparisons were made with Bandol, for which the terroir is hard chalk, which makes for hard tannins in the young wine. The tannins are more supple with Mourvèdre in Faugeres. Brigitte had some south facing Syrah and she has grafted it with Mourvèdre
There is a suggestion that some people have planted Mourvèdre in the wrong place, when it became compulsory for the appellation, such as in a valley bottom where it would be damper, which Mourvèdre likes, but there would also be less sunshine, so that it does not ripen properly. Mourvedre is a late ripener, usually well into October, by which time it has rained. Carignan is similar. Cinsault is not nceccesarily suitable in the heat. It too needs a good site. Grenache and Carignan are best. And for white wine Brigitte would favour Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. There is currently a fashion for Vermentino but she is not convinced; it is very variable with different ripening. She would like some white vines, but they are difficult to find in Faugeres.
2016 Belle Lurette
Deep colour. Quite sturdy; quite firm on both nose and palate with good fruit and structure. A lovely finale to our tasting.