Domaine Virgile Joly
It has been a while since I last tasted with Virgile. In fact his new cellar on the road between St Saturnin and St Guiraud was still a building site. Although building work began 2014, it was only finished in 2018, thanks to issues regarding the electricity supply. the mayor of St Guiraud is anti vignerons independents in the village……
Virgile is very happy with the new cellar. He used to make his wine in a tiny cellar right int he centre of St Saturnin. It was very artisanal but far from practical. Now he has the luxury of space. Everything operates by gravity. There are stainless steel vats for rosé and white wine, all thermo -regulated, and concrete vats for red wine, and barrels in a well-insulated cellar eight metres below ground. He also has a couple of eggs, and a concrete container that looks rather like an outsize perfume bottle! and a sorting table.
Virgile has a total of 28 hectares, all farmed organically, producing about 1500 hectolitres a year. He is firmly attached to his appellation of St Saturnin, even he is one of only a handful of estates to produce it.
He also makes Terrasses du Larzac, and some of his vines are simply AOP Languedoc. And after admiring the new cellar, we adjourned to his small cellar in the village of St Saturnin for some tasting.
2021 Le Joly Blanc, Languedoc - 8.90-€
A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Roussanne, Elevage in vat. A very floral nose, with some aniseed on the palate. Good acidity, rounded and textured. 2021 was the year of the frost, something that is virtually unheard of in the Languedoc, and consequently the crop was 30% down. And in the summer of 2022, when I was visiting, St Saturnin had not had as much rain in the middle of August as some parts of the Terrasses du Larzac, just 35 mm on 17th August and another 15 mm on 19th. But it was better than nothing.
2021 Saturne Blanc, Languedoc - 12.90€
Grenache 60% with 40% Vermentino. No wood. A fresher nose and more herbal, with even more herbal notes on the palate, with some weight and good acidity on the finish.
2019 Virgile, Languedoc - 21.90€
A blend of Grenache Blanc and Vermentino vinified in barrel. The oak is noticeable on the nose and palate but is quite well integrated. A nicely rounded palate with good acidity and a fresh dry finish. It really needed food, as we proved later over lunch.
2021 Saturne, Rosé, AOP St Saturnin - 9.90€
Although St Saturnin has had a long tradition of rosé, for some reason this was not recognised when the appellation was created, and it took them another ten years, until 2020, to finally get the rosé of St Saturnin recognised by the INAO. Otherwise it would be plain AOP Languedoc, without any distinguishing origins. Historically it is quite a light rosé and this was relatively pale, with a rounded palate that was both ripe and fresh at the same time. Virgile observed that the Grenache makes for gras or body, while Syrah gives freshness and colour, The blend also includes some Mourvèdre and Cinsault
Nicely rounded. Red fruit, with a certain freshness and structure. The Mourvèdre gives structure with a little tannin
2020 Le Joly Rouge, AOP Languedoc - 8.90€
The entry level red wine. A blend of mainly Syrah and Grenache, with some Carignan and Cinsault. Elevage in vat. Medium colour. Red fruit with notes of the garrigue and bay leaves, with rounded spice on the palate. Structured palate, with some supple tannin and some complexity.
2020 Cybèle, Terrasses du Larzac - 14.90€
A blend of 60% Syrah 30% Mourvedre and 10% Grenache, with two years élevage in concrete vats. No barriques here. Hand harvested. Indigenous yeast. From vines in St Saturnin and St. Guiraud. 2019 was Virgile's first vintage of Terrasses du Larzac. Virgile talked about Mourvedre, which he really likes as it gives more character to a wine, and consequently the inclusion of Mourvedre has changed the profile of some of his other cuvées. A nicely rounded palate, evolving well, with firm garrigues notes and a supple structure and balancing tannins. Medium weight, with freshness and energy. A long finish. And why the name? If you know your mytholog, Cybèle was the wife of Saturne.
2019 Saturne Rouge, St Saturnin - 14.90€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, but no Mourvèdre. Medium colour. Some smoky red fruit. Quite a sturdy palate. Aged in concrete vats and quite different from Cybèle. It almost tasted younger even though it was a year older. Virgile commented that the Terrasses du Larazac is a modern appellation, describing it as more croquant, or crunchy, fresher and younger. Whereas Saturne is classic Languedoc, with silky tannins, but a sturdier palate.
2017 Virgile, St Saturnin - 24.90€
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, with 18 months in barrel. This was the drought year and Virgile lamented the problems of other years, 2018 mildew; 2019 a sudden coup de chaud or spike in temperature. 2020 was normal; 2021 had frost and 2022 drought.
Good colour. Oak well integrated, with some lovely fruit. Virgile talked about his use of wood and experiments with new wood. Here the fruit is tempered by the oak. One third is new, from Seguin Moreau and Taransaud. And the palate is very harmonious and glanced with lots of nuances of flavour. It was long, but not heavy, with some elegance.
2019 Promesse, St Saturnin - 36€
60% Mourvedre, 35% Syrah, 5% Grenache. Virgile has bought a 6 hectare vineyard of old Mourvèdre vines, with the help of crowd funding, an organisation called Terra Hominis; they are 40 years old vines which is mature for Mourvedre vines in the Languedoc. And he wants to do something exceptional with them, making what he calls a cuvée d'exception, with numbered bottles. The wine is aged in new oak, which is quite apparent on the nose, but nicely integrated, with youthful potential. There is an underlying elegance. It was a lovely finish to our tasting.
I quizzed Virgile about the differences between St Saturnin and the Terrasses du Larzac. St. Saturnin is stricter, with a yield of 42 hl/ha as opposed to 45 hl/ha. and requires three grape varieties. 60% is the maximum of a single variety, so no one variety is dominant in the blend. Carignan is important historically. However, St Saturnin has lost its historical reputation. Today there are just six producers. The village cooperative accounts for 70% of the appellation and the others are d'Archambaud, Mas Bertrand, Argenteille and Domaine des Therons, which is based in Montpeyroux. Therons and Virgile are the two biggest.
Virgile was also very excited as he had just received an award for biodiversity and he talked about disinfecting his vats by using a gas, rather than chemicals. He has ponds in his vineyards and sows grass between the vines. And tasting finished, we adjourned to the village restaurant, le Pressoir, for lunch and some drinking, and sat and watched the world go gently by in the little square.