Formerly known as Gravières de Sancastel (now the name of their top cuvée), Jean-Marc’s family has grown grapes on this estate for three generations, but he is the first to bottle any significant amount of wine. Both his father and grandfather made the wine, but sold it in bulk to local négociants. When Jean-Marc and Anne took over the winery in 2000, following oenology school and apprenticing all over France (naturally), they decided to systematically replant 13 out of the 20 hectares, leaving the most productive, mature plants, but also injecting youth into the vineyards. 2019 will be the first year where all their vines are finally back online.
The soils are very similar to most of the Southern Rhone, dominated by large quartz stones (galets) and clay. The concentration of stones, however, increases dramatically as you move eastward on the estate, so Jean-Marc is careful to keep these plots separate and identify their unique characteristics for each grape and cuvée.
Chardonnay and Viognier are planted in the stone-dense western part of the vineyards and though they are not allowed in the Minervois appellation, Jean-Marc really believes in these varieties and so makes them into Pays d’Oc wines. Each receives exactly 50% fermentation and aging in fibreglass tank and 50% in barrel: French barriques, zero new, averaging 3 years old. Once fermentation and aging is complete, the two halves are blended, rested and bottled. Both are wild fermented, go through malolactic fermentation and only receive a small amount of sulphur prior to bottling.
All the reds are destemmed, crushed and receive twice-daily pump-overs. The wild fermentations are temperature controlled (28 degrees maximum) for as long as it takes, in tank. None receive any oak treatment except Gravières, which is aged in 600l tonneau for one year (1/3 new). All of the reds are named for their plot (L’Amandier, near the almond trees; Clot de Pals and Gravières are old lieux dit) except Paul, which is both Jean-Marc’s grandfather’s name and his 12-year-old son’s.
L’Amandier is 100% Cinsault, a grape that Jean-Marc says has historically been an eating grape, but if made into wine, is reserved for rosé. He was making it into a red (winemaking above) and drinking it chilled in the summertimes (often 40 degrees outside), but not selling it. Fanny (his export agent) upon tasting it at one of his barbecues, insisted he bottle it. It’s super fruity and Beaujolais-like in character, but ripe and juicy without a hint of bitterness. Totally delicious.
Clot de Pals and Paul are simply inverse percentages of Grenache and Syrah (Paul the Syrah dominant) with winemaking above. Gravières is the “serious” oaky wine, which can stand up to anything in Minervois and even other power Rhone appellations like Rasteau.
All of the reds were better with an extra year of age (we tasted 2017 and 2016) and all of the 2017s were distinctly better after they were open for 15-20 minutes.