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Over the years, the natural wine world has been developing a thirst for wines from the Auvergne, a rural region nestled in the center of France, with Clermont-Ferrand as its major city. The area is known to most French people as a great region for camping, and cheese. Indeed, the mountain ranges, and over 300 dormant Volcanos provide the setting for plenty a scenic vista, and the cheese production from the Auvergne accounts for over 1/4 of France's entire output. If you ask an avid Parisian natural wine fan about the Auvergne, camping and cheese will be afterthoughts to the singular wines from the area. The soils are a patchwork of granite, limestone, sand, basalt (sandstone) of several colors - including the rare pink basalt - volcanic rocks, and some clay. This already lays the groundwork for some very special flavor profiles, with the operative word being "Volcanic." On top of this, there is the region's special Gamay D'Auvergne, which is distinct from other types of Gamay found in Beaujolais or the Loire Valley, for example. Gamay D'Auvergne is known to yield darker and spicier wines than its cousins, Gamay de Bouze or Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc (the Beaujolais Gamay). Though there used to be hundreds of Gamays in France, according to Julien Guillot from Vignes du Mayne in the Maconnais, now there are less than 10, with Gamay D'Auvergne and Gamay Tinturier perhaps being the rarest. The final detail that contributes to the Auvergne obsession of our Parisian friends is the fact that production is minimal at best. Wines from Patrick Bouju (La Boheme), Aurelien Lefort, Pierre Beauger, Vincent Marie (No Control) and our eccentric friend Fred Gounan (L'Arbre Blanc), are extremely hard to come by, and are often completely unavailable in the US. When I visited Patrick Bouju several years ago, he had only two large barrels of wine from his Auvergne parcels. This was not an exception, but rather the rule here.
The Auvergne was historically a large wine producing region in France, before Phylloxera decimated the vineyards of Europe. It was at one point the third largest wine producing region in France, with the Allier river serving as a route north to Paris. With the advent of railroads, which became the preferred method of transporting wine, production started to curb, replaced by wines from Provence and other up and coming regions. After the First World War, many yougner people moved to industrial hubs, and north to Paris, leaving behind family vineyards and farms. The Michelin company also contributed to the downturn in wine production, as their factory and headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand pulled many agricultural workers from their family plots and into industrial work. Jumping to the late 90s and early 2000s, we begin to see a very quiet and slow appearance of small estates, with two legendary domaines setting the stage for the slew of young vignerons whose wines are now all the rage in Paris. Jean Maupertuis, and Marie and Vincent Tricot are the names to know. Both producers have been mentors to many young winemakers in the region, and their wines are a must try for fans and Auvergne-curious wine drinkers. It seems clear that there isn't a producer of natural wines in the Auvergne who hasn't worked with or been influenced by these estates. Both Jean Maupertuis and the Tricots were inspired by the "first generation" of natural winemakers, most notably Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Francois Ganevat, and the like. The approach of working with little or no SO2 and fermenting only with indigenous yeast was clearly paramount. The step of looking for vines and settling down in the Auvergne is perhaps the questionable one, as the region is generally unkown as a wine-making region, even to French natives. Questionable as it was, we are all very grateful now, as the unique Volcanic soils provide for some of the most distinct wines of the country.
Today marks the arrival of several new wines from Maupertuis and the Tricots. Often trickling in at different times of the year, the timing was ideal this year, with an exciting batch of wines arriving simultaneosly from both producers! We are very happy to have a chance to share these legendary wines in one offer. Supplies are limited, as always, so don't hesitate if you have been wondering what all the fuss is about the Auvergne. Aside from the natural wine scene in Paris or a local Bistro around Clermont-Ferrand, this is one of the only chances we'll get this year to sample the magic!
Puy Long is Chardonnay from granite and limestone soils. Direct press, with fermentation and aging in barrel on the lees. From my experience with the wine, it has potential for aging, and should be given a year in bottle after release, if at all possible. Stone fruit prevails, with medium weight and subtle mineral edge. Acidity is balanced, but by no means high, which makes it a prime candidate for meals with rich sauces or spice.
Les Pierre Noires is named after the dark stones found mixed into the soil of this vineyard, which sits at the foot of a volcano. The vines here are 80-100 years old. 90% Gamay/10% Noirfleurien (a rare local grape variety). Half of the grapes are destemmed, wine undergoes partial semi-carbonic maceration, and is aged in old barrels. All the character of Gamay D'Auvergne is here, along with the nuance from Basalt-rich volcanic soils.
La Plage is named for the sandy soils of this vineyard. Unlike other cuvées, this sand and limestone site produces fresh, light wines without the marked minerality and volcanic influence of the basalt and volcanic rocks found in other sites. The Gamay vines planted here, all around 30-40 years old, are the more common "Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc," otherwise known as Beaujolais Gamay. This has always been a lovely, fresh Gamay that is typically ready to drink young.
Neyrou (the local name for Pinot Noir) is a bottling of Pinot Noir from a site that ranges from sand to clay sub-soil. Always a lovely expression and quite distinct from Bourgogne Pinot Noirs or Pinots from the Loire et Cher. Yields from this site are very low, usually around 10hl/ht, which is certainly very low, but on the bright side, contributes to ideal concentration of fruit. An impressive Pinot Noir with darker, deep character, more black cherry and dark berries, with flavors of earth and spice.
From the Auvergne—perhaps better known for Volvic mineral water and charcuterie than for wine—comes this incredible bottle of Chardonnay. Tricot is the village leader in Orcet, a small town with volcanic soil. With less than six hectares of vines, Tricot has been working organically for many years. The plot of Chardonnay that gives this wine was planted in 1973 and has been farmed without chemicals since then. Aged in old barrel, the wine is quite lush and full-bodied and reminds us in some ways of a ripe Mâcon wine. Made entirely without SO2, this is a squeaky clean yet lightly oxidative wine that is oh-so delicious.
Rosé of Gamay, from limestone and volcanic soils. A very small plot here, so production is tiny. Big, bright berry fruit, and mineral, dry finish.
The Rosé rendition of the 3 Bonhommes cuvée. 100% "Pinot Nwar."
Rouge Lux is a delightful cuvée from Marie and Vincent Tricot, all Gamay D'Auvergne, from soils of mixed volcanic origin, over limestone. Bright and vibrant, with some trademark spice and tickle. Great with a light chill.
A pretty expression of Pinot Noir, from old vines on a mixed soil of limestone and volcanic rock. The fruit is destemmed, leading to a very bright, and elegant style. Acid level is ideal, making this an age-worthy wine, while it is still joyful and energetic enough to open now and enjoy.
Les Milans is a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay from two of the Tricot's plots. The Pinot Noir is destemmed, and Gamay goes through whole cluster fermentation. The 2019 'Les Milans' was absolutely lovely last year, especially for having such little time in the bottle. Vibrant, with perfect mid-palate and grit from the mix of volcanic and sandstone soils. Well worth aging for 3-5 years.