Château Capitoul

I recently spent a morning at Chateau Capitoul on the Massif de la Clape.   This was my first visit to the estate, and at the suggestion of my friend,  Christine Bertoli who works for the owners, the Bonfils family.   The château itself is pretty eye-catching.  In fact you cannot possibly miss it as you drive towards Gruissan.   It was one of the châteaux pinardiers of the Languedoc, a folly dating back to the end of the 19th century, and apparently inspired by the architecture of the Cité de Carcassonne.  


The property now belongs to the Bonfils family, and is one of seventeen properties that they have in the Languedoc, totalling some 1700 hectares, which makes them the largest vineyard owners of the region.     First we went for a walk in the vineyards, with neatly pruned vines in late February.  Altogether there are 80 hectares, in production, most of which are in the immediate vicinity of the château, apart from some Carignan about two kilometres away towards Narbonne, and a plot of Syrah up in the garrigues.  The vineyards are planted with the usual Languedoc varieties, including a quantity of Bourboulenc, which is the key variety for La Clape.  They are also working on Assyrtiko which is in line to become part of the appellation.The soil is very stony, a mixture of clay and limestone.   This is the southernmost estate of la Clape. There were views of the Pyrenees in the distance, and you could just see the handsome, but unfinished cathedral of Narbonne.  There is a facility for recycling water, which is essential, as the Massif of la Clape is a protected site.   


The Bonfils family bought the estate, in partnership with Karl and Anita O’Hanlon in 2011 and they opened the eight room hotel in 2021.   Oenotourism is very much their focus, as well as wine production. There are several villas adjoining the chateau, with a dry garden designed by Olivier Filippi,  a local proponent of dry gardening, and two restaurants, Asado, which is a cheerful brasserie,  and Méditerranéo, which provides more gastronomic experience.  The vineyards are cultivated according to the precepts of HVE, rather than organic viticulture. 

A look at the cellar revealed a traditional large Languedoc cellar complete with cement barrels, as well as old barrels, with the concept of Tonnellerie Conduction.  Old barrels are renovated, cleaned, with the tartrates removed, and sold again.   


The Bonfils family, namely Jean-Michel, who is now 84, plus his parents, left behind 200 hectares of vines in Algeria at the age of 22.  He first developed Domaine Lirou near Béziers, and subsequently had three sons, Laurent, Olivier and Jérome.  Thomas, the genial son of Laurent, the current CEO, joined us for the tasting.  He has studied in Montpellier and Paris, and spent some time in Cognac, but essentially has learnt the business from experience.


2022 Rocaille, La Clape Blanc - 13.00€  

A blend of 40% Bourboulenc, 25% Marsanne, 10% Roussanne, 15% Grenache blanc and 5% Viognier.  Fermented and aged in concrete vats.  No malo.  Kept on the lees with some bâtonnage.


A little colour.  The distinct salty nose of La Clape.  Firm and salty on the plate.  with a slightly bitter finish, a joli amer.   Good texture and balancing acidity.  Very refreshing finish.  I liked this a lot.   


2023 Rocaille

Just about to be bottled.  Deeper colour.  Quite firm acidity.  Quite stony, fresh and elegant with some salty notes.   Promises well. 


2019 la Clape Blanc, Cayenne  - 17.00€

From a single vineyard.  Bourboulenc dominates the blend at 40%, with 25% Grenache Blanc, 20% Marsanne and 15% Roussanne,   All fermented and aged for 12 months in barrel, except for the Bourboulenc.   A touch of vanilla on the nose, but also some salty notes, which repeat  on the palate.  More rounded than Rocaille, but still with some salinity.  The oak is well integrated, adding weight and texture to the palate.  


2020 Les Portes la Clape Blanc - 22€   

Another single plot, and a selection of barriques.   Again Bourboulenc is the main variety at 40%, with 30% Grenache Blanc, 25% Roussanne and 5% Viognier.  Again all aged in barriques, except the Bourboulenc.  A little colour. More oaky, more rounded, textured.  A hint of peachiness from the Viognier.   For me, Rocaille was the most classic and typical of La Clape, and the wine I chose to drink with lunch!


2022 Rosé, Languedoc.  Ode - 13.00€

La Clape can only be a white or red appellation, not a rosé.  A blend of 70% Syrah and 20% Grenache, pressed, and 10% Cinsault, saigné.  Pink orange colour.  A touch of raspberry on the nose.  Satisfyingly structured with fresh acidity, and some dry raspberry fruit,  A food rosé


2022 Rosé, Languedoc, Rive - 42.00€ 

Presented in what looked like an outsize perfume bottle; in fact an angular  spirits bottle.  40% Cinsault, with 30% each of Syrah and Grenache Noir.  Fermented and then aged for eighteen months in French oak, in barrels of two, three and four wines.  Orange golden colour.  Quite firm and structured.  Good texture and mouthfeel.  Well integrated oak, with satisfying mouthful and dry fruit.  Thomas admitted that they were inspired by the wines of Chateau Gassier in Provence.   I thought it very successful.  2019 was the first vintage of this cuvée.  


The red wines follow the same pattern as the white cuvées.


2020 Rocaille La Clape Rouge  - 13.00€

A blend of equal parts of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault.  They do not have any Mourvèdre in the vineyards.   No wood. Mechanically harvested, so destemmed grapes, with a sorting table to control quality.  The Carignan undergoes a semi-carbonic maceration in that the berries are still whole, even though they are destemmed, which is necessary to remove any green flavours from the stalks.   Then the  Carignan crop is divided into 3 different vats, with a maceration period lasting from 10 to 12 days for one vat, 15 to 20 days for the second and up to 5 weeks for the third.

Medium colour. spicy fruit on nose and palate.  A streak of tannin, but nicely rounded.  Garrigues and spice.  Medium weight.  And very appealing and drinkable. 


2019 Cayenne

Mainly Grenache, with some Syrah and Cinsault.  From a plot near the lagoon, which you could see in the distance from the château. Twelve  months in wood.   Medium colour. Liqueur cherries the nose, with some spice.   And on the palate.  Nicely gouleyant.  Rounded fleshy spice, with supple tannins.  Medium weight.


2019 les Portes 

From their highest vineyard at all of 60 metres.  70% Syrah with 20% Grenache and 10% Carignan.  Aged for 12 months in oak.  Deep colour.  Rich spice and rounded oak on the nose and palate.  Some black peppery fruit and tapenade.  Quite firm and tannin, with notes of the garrigues.  It should evolve nicely.  


2019 Solstice - 28.00€

From equal parts of Syrah and Grenache noir.  Fermented in barrique – a vinification intégrale - and then aged for 12 months.  Bad marks for the heavy bottle.

Deep colour. Rich tapenade fruit on the nose, and on the palate more black fruit and spice with some oak.   Firm tannins.   Good depth.  Plenty of potential.


2018 Maelma  - 43€

Named after a village in Algeria.  The previous owner of Capitoul was also a pied noir, so a nod to the Algerian roots of the estate.   Dense colour. Rich and oaky.  Quite solid, rounded oak on the palate.  Dense and rich with supple tannins.  


2017  Maelma - 45€

A blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Carignan.  Fermented in barrel and then aged for eighteen months.  A selection of the best plots.  More subtle oak, more evolved.  Supple and subtle.  Some cedary notes.  Medium weight.  More elegant and benefitting from the extra year’s age.   


And then we finished with two new wines, with a new concept 


L’Espace, millésime Alpha - ie. the first vintage, namely 2022 - 15.00€

A blend of Cinsault from Capitoul, and Grenache and Carignan - one third each - from Château Vaugelas in the Corbières.   Medium colour.  Fresh peppery fruit.  A tannic streak.   And refreshingly no oak.  Easy drinking.


Le Temps - a blend of vintages - 2019 - 2022 and four grape varieties, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, from four estates, Capitoul, Vaugelas, Villerambert in the Minervois and Esparou in the Côtes du Roussillon.   Rounded supple spice. A little peppery.  Quite fresh, but more evolved than l’Espace.  A touch oak and some tannins, and also some appealing spice.


And then we adjourned for a convivial lunch at Asado.








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