The time has finally come. Many said it would never happen, that it was not possible. NASA commissioned a feasibility study and the results were not promising. Yet here we are, that once thought impossible has been made possible. Yes, I am posting about a bottle of wine that is not from Argentina. Hold your collective gasps (both of you). My first bottle since arriving back home and it seems appropriate to drink something European (because Europe is fucking awesome)
There are certain wines/producers that stay with you on that long journey of becoming a wine merchant. And a long journey it is; tis not for the feint of heart for tis an adventure most perilous with dangers on every corner (mainly bank managers and assorted creditors). One such producer that has stayed with me on my own treacherous sojourn is Chateau Maris. I started my wine career with the UK’s most important high street wine merchant Oddbins (I firmly believe they changed the face of wine drinking in this country) and we worked with the wines of Bertie Eden.
The son of a Lord and great-nephew of Anthony Eden it seemed he was destined for politics. He’s obviously too honest and too nice for that and he became a winemaker. I met him a couple of times back in the Odd days and had a great picture of us together at the annual Edinburgh fair that has sadly been lost in the mists of too many fermented beverages. Having gained experience in Australia, Italy, Burgundy, Spain & California, he settled in southern France in 1994. He wanted to create a new winery but realised the starting point had to be rejuvenation of the soils. It’s well noted that after decades of substance abuse the soils needed rehab. It was time for the garrigue landscape to get clean. (The only better ‘getting clean’ story belongs to Keef Richards)
Bertie set up two compost piles. He left one alone and treated the other with some biodynamic preparations. After a time the second of these showed many more organisms and so it was obvious to Bertie how he wished to proceed. Chateau Maris was to be fully organic and biodynamic. Think of biodynamics as being like organic (ironically) on steroids. Bertie officially took over Chateau Maris in 1997 and today the estate covers 32 hectares of vineyards on the hill above La Liviniere. Due to the long term application or organic & biodynamic farming the vines are healthier and have a greater lifespan. The estate was certified by Ecocert in 2002 and has since gained certifications from Biodyvin, demeter and BCorps. The estate is home to the world’s first hemp cellar, which passively consumes CO2 (the best way in my opinion), and is carbon neutral.
Minervois became one of my favourite French regions and it’s all down to my experiences with Chateau Maris. Minervois feels cool and trendy now (as cool and trendy as anything to do with wine can) but it’s not always been the case. In the west of the Languedoc, north of Corbieres, it was granted AoC (now AoP) status in 1985. Named after the town of Minerve which lies only 40 clicks form the Mediterranean coast, the town itself is named after Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom (her and I don’t really get on) and strategic warfare (we’ve had some belting games of chess though). This area has seen human activity for around 8000 years so no wonder the soils were knackered and reliant on drugs. You’ll find Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Lledener Pelut here (in the wider Minervois appellation at least 60% of the blend must be made up with one or more of these 4) alongside Carignan and Cinsaut (which between them may make up no more than 40%). Pay attention at the back as we’ll come back to percentages…
In terms of whites, grape twitchers amongst us can also spot Vermentino (Rolle), Roussane, Marsanne, Bourbolenc and Grenache Blanc. The region makes white, red, rose and sweet wines. It is divided into 5 climactic sub zones. To the north east lies the sub zone of Le Causse within which lies the cru of La Liviniere, covering 340 hectares. Established officially in 1995 Syrah and Mourvedre must make up a minimum of 40% of the cuvee. (told you we’d come back to the percentages)
I picked up this particular bottle during the recent Waitrose 25% off 6 or more sales (always a great offer) and I’m thrilled I did. If you’ve not seen me before I’m not one for doing in depth tasting notes. There are many reasons for this but one of them is that there are far better qualified than I to do so. I will say that this is rich and concentrated with dark fruit, spice and chocolate. What I really love is that herbaceous note of garrigue the wine carries on both nose and palate. It takes me both to southern France but also back to my first Oddbins (less glamorous I grant you but emotionally satisfying).
The fruit is sourced from a 3 hectare plot planted in 1982 and is a blend of Syrah and Grenache. Planted on soils of clay, limestone and sandstone at 300 m.a.s.l. the vines are at a density of 5000 per hectare and interspersed with garrigue, pines, lavender and thyme; all with a south-east exposure. Fermentation lasts 8 days at moderate temperatures before warming up a little for 4 weeks of post-ferment maceration. The wine undergoes regular pumping over and battonage. Ageing takes place for 12 months in French oak and then 6 months in concrete eggs. Production in 2015 was 20,000 bottles.
Does being organic or biodynamic make a wine better? I don’t know. To be organic and bio means taking much greater care in the vineyards and thus the vines get more attention which can only be a good thing. If you think about biodynamics it’s just about giving back to the soil what has been taken out by the vine over the previous year. As for the lunar interactions…best left for another day.
Thanks Bertie for consistently producing wines of such quality that are equally thought provoking.
Argentina will no doubt return soon…
Remember: it’s just grapes.