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Balazu des Vaussieres, Christian and Nadia Charmasson in Tavel
After reading about an estate in Tavel that practices totally natural, more-than-organic vineyard work and vinifies without adding SO2, we made an appointment to visit Christian and Nadia Charmasson on the Chemin des Vaussières in Tavel. Our visit occured during a storm of howling winds and torrential rain and was cut short by a truck load of organic manure, but we found both the wines and the people to be extraordinary, and we are happy to offer Balazu des Vaussières to natural wine lovers in the US.
The estate was created in 1986 by the step-father of Christian Charmasson, named Balazu, with one hectare of vines which are now 90 years old, located on the Chemin des Vaussieres in Tavel. The family had been winemakers for many generations. Five hectares of Grenache, Bourboulenc and Clairette were added from Nadia’s family in 1993. The estate farms with organic and biodynamic methods and does not use the normal organic approved copper-sulfate in the vines, feeling that this treatment harms the flora and fauna of the soil. The soils are not usually plowed as the Charmassons prefer to not disturb the upper level of soil where so much important microbial activity occurs. They nourish and treat their vines in completely natural ways with herbal tisanes using nettle, chamomile, horsetail and willow for mildew, as well as biodynamic preparations, and the wines are vinified and aged without additives of any kind. The fermentations are long and slow and the wines typically age in vat for 2 to 4 years before bottling. This is not “laissez-faire” winemaking, but rather the work of intelligent, hard-working people who have the courage of their convictions to produce a pure and healthy wine from living soils. And while the wines may deviate somewhat from “conventional” norms, they can also be wildly delicious and elegant as we found on our visit last winter.
The 2015 “Vin Libre” is predominantly Grenache Blanc and Clairette with Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Bourboulenc. A complex and elegant wine of the south, at 14% alcohol, the wine shows dense, supple white fruits with a great earthy and mineral core – a very young wine, it is fresh, lively and delicious now but will certainly benefit from five to ten years of further aging. (Jean Gonon particularly admired the wine when we opened a bottle with dinner.) On the label of the Blanc and Rosé is the Berber Flag from North Africa (Nadia’s heritage) with the symbol of the free man and three colors representing Berbers who lived by the sea, in the mountains and in the desert.
The estate’s rosé, called “Sept Syllabes,” is made with Grenache Blanc and Noir, Carignan and Cinsault, depending on the vintage. It’s a direct press rosé with little or no maceration and no added SO2. While the wine is fabulously complex and utterly fascinating, it is very much a "sauvage" and natural wine that may not appeal to those who prefer conventional rosés - for the rest of us, it's highly recommended!
Though most of the estate’s vines are around the house in Tavel, there are vines in nearby Roquemaure (Lirac) especially for the reds, which are a different blend each year. The 2012 “Cuvée Millepertuis” is made from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan, which undergo an approximately two month carbonic maceration, followed by pressing and 3 years in vat (no wood.)
The 2013 Rouge “Dent de Lion” made with Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache with 25% of Grenache Blanc and Clairette.is Less dense and earthy than the “Millepertuis,” this wine is exuberantly aromatic, with a beautifully complex and supple palate, just a joyful natural wine. "Our wine is more like a food (aliment)” says Christian, "fermented grape juice that nourishes the body and the soul."
We're proud and happy to have the wines of Balazu des Vaussieres at Chambers Street and we hope you will try them!
The 2015 “Vin Libre” is predominantly Grenache Blanc and Clairette with Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Bourboulenc. A complex and elegant wine of the south, at 14% alcohol, the wine shows a deep gold/hay color with complex aromas of peach skin, dried flowers, lemon confit, earth and brown spice. The palate is dense and ripe with white peach and pear, citrus, mineral and earthy flavors. There is a bit of skin tannin and firm acidity in the very long finish. This is an extraordinary and soulful natural wine from the stony soils of Tavel and Roquemaure - perfect with bouillabaisse with aioli, monkfish in sauce and white meats, or just sip and contemplate. Highly recommended. On the label of the Blanc and Rosé is the Berber Flag from North Africa (Nadia’s heritage) with the symbol of the free man and three colors representing Berbers who lived by the sea, in the mountains and in the desert. David Lillie
The 2017 “Sept Syllabes,” was made with Grenache Blanc and Noir, Carignan and Cinsault. It’s a direct press rosé with little or no maceration and no added SO2. The wine spent approximately two years in vat before bottling. Slightly opaque pink color. The wine shows pretty aromas of creamy raspberry, peach skin, orange peel and earth. The palate is dense and textured with berry fruits, brown spice, citrus and mineral flavors, quite intriguing. There is a bit of funk on the palate, due to the absence of SO2, but the wine remains complex and delicious with terrific length. The color browns slightly with a few days open but the flavors deepen nicely - a few years of aging would be interesting. This is not for everyone, but we find it fascinating and delicious. David Lillie
The Balazu des Vaussieres 2013 Rouge “Dent de Lion” was made with Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache with 25% of Grenache Blanc and Clairette. No chemicals are used in the vines and no additives are used in the winemaking - a long carbonic maceration followed by pressing and three years in vat. Even though it was a root day when we visited last winter, the wine showed exuberant aromas of red currant, blackberry, plum, violet, spice, cocoa and orange peel, bringing a smile to our faces. The palate shows a cool, light aspect, a bit similar to the L'Anglore reds, with dense, brambly red currant and blackberry lifted by bright acidity and a bit of tannin, with spicy berry fruits lingering in the finish. This is a beautiful natural wine, serve cool and enjoy! David Lillie
The 2012 “Cuvée Millepertuis” from Christian and Nadia Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussieres is made from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan, which undergoes an approximately two month carbonic maceration, followed by pressing and 3 years in vat (no wood). The wine shows a deep black/red color and complex earthy aromas of black cherry and blackberry from old-vine Grenache, with a cool, fresh aspect, a real product of living soils. The palate is complex and beautiful with dense black cherry, blackberry, earth, citrus, rose, cocoa and licorice with a long tart, earth and mineral finish. Anyone who appreciates natural wines should try this! Our thanks to Christian and Nadia for their beautiful work... David Lillie