We traveled to the southwest of France earlier this year and published posts on four producers (Domaine Capmartin, Champ D’Orphée, Les Enfants Sauvages, and Domaine Réveille) whose wines were already represented in Massachusetts, and also on our shelves. We also visited several producers whose wines had never been imported to the U.S., and thus we had to wait to publish anything until the details of importation had been worked out. Two of those producers are featured here, and two more will be arriving someday soon…
We sped away from the airport in our rental minivan to meet Katia Garrouste, co-owner and winemaker of Château Flotis. In part because this was the first visit of our trip; in part because we had successfully found ourselves in light jacket weather in the dead of winter; and in part because of the inherent charm of the gentle slopes of Fronton; visiting Katia and Château Flotis was a memorable treat. She led us down the muddy path that divides the main portion of her vineyards in half, explaining the work she and her team have done to maintain what she feels are the best vineyards in Fronton. She was interrupted by a noisy flock of sheep, unpaid employees of the farm who were busy keeping down the weeds between the rows of negrette.
After a brief stop in the newly-built, simple chaï where the wines are fermented and aged, we walked up the hill to the main building to taste, just as the sun was setting. We tasted a quirky white, made in a quantity too small to be commercial, then dove headfirst into the negrettes. The local specialty of Fronton, it shares some genetic material with malbec, though the relation must be distant. Whereas malbec from nearby Cahors is often be heavy and tannic, each of the negrettes that we tasted were fresh and bright enough to be possibly confused for something from the Loire Valley. We tasted last year’s rosé, still showing as fresh as any current release, followed by a tank sample of the new vintage. Though richer and darker than a Provençal-style rosé, these were equally as refreshing, with abundant strawberry, grapefruit, and a sprinkle of black pepper. Katia poured the first red, “Les L de Flotis”, which she called “un vrai negrette“, or a true example of how negrette should taste. Intense bright red fruit, violets, black pepper, and light on its feet! She then sampled us on some barrel-aged examples, both brooding and desperate for a meal. She also showed us her current pet project, a waist-high clay jar in which she is aging some negrette from their best vineyard. She mentioned that she is one of a around a dozen clients of the local jar-maker who are experimenting with the unique conditions that a clay jar provides for aging wine.
Following our tasting, Katia invited us to join her for dinner that night at her favorite bistrôt in Toulouse, La Pref, where we ate what turned out to be the most thoughtful and delicious meal of the entire week.
Charcoal gray clouds crept over us as we approached the hills of Duras. A sign pointed us down a small road to Mauro Guicheney, where we parked in front of a building marked “Le Vignoble”. We found the building empty and began to walk further down the street. We spotted a worker in thigh-high yellow rain boots coming in from the rainy vineyard who turned out to be a son of the owners. He promptly found his mother, who ushered us into the winery just as the rain really began to pick up. She began to tell us her story, struggling at times to speak louder than the rumble of rain on the roof.
“Je suis une fille de la terre.”
A descendant of farmers, Coline Guicheney learned her respect of the land from her grandmother, of whom she spoke in reverent tone. Her clarity of purpose was striking. When she spoke of the sun she raised both of her hands skyward. It was clear that while her first vintage was 2011, her understanding and experience was that of a seasoned vigneron. After a while, we were joined by her husband Didier, whose cheerful expression and demeanor didn’t show the hours of work in the rain from which he had just come in. For a couple as interested in the natural world as these two, the wines were stunningly clean and straight-forward. We tasted white and red from both Duras and Bordeaux, all four wines showing the same purposeful demeanor as their creator. The whites stand out for me. They’re not the light, ambient whites that we typically think of with white Bordeaux. These have an extraordinary level of extract, with the closest comparison I would suggest as a sauvignon from Styria. Where you might find light citrus or grapefruit in a typical blend of sauvignon and semillon, these lean more toward guava and tamarind. The reds, both merlot-based, have very focused fruit-forward profiles, and seem to offer the potential for greater complexity with age.
We shall see!