A trip through the Sud de France

7/25/16 -

The number of organic and biodynamic estates in Southern France has been increasing in recent years, and as the farming has improved and growers have started to turn from the prevalent co-op model towards making and bottling their own wine, we’ve been able to enjoy some fantastic blends and single-vineyard expressions from the region. Today, we’ll take a trip on paper to introduce some of the small estates that we have started to work with over the last year. Some of these wines will be perfect for summer gatherings, grills, and BBQs, while others may be more appropriate in the fall and winter. Without exception however, these are all wines of terroir, which speak to a natural approach in the vineyard and cellar, and the varied soils and grapes of the South.

Clos des Boutes

We start in the Costières de Nîmes, north-east of Montpelier, with an estate called Clos des Boutes. Sylvain Boutée settled in the region around Nîmes in 2003, after stints in Burgundy and Bordeaux. He converted 8.5 hectares to organic viticulture, and “out of no particular financial means,” started his project. Sylvain’s focus on organic farming, careful work in the vineyard, and development of polycuture led him to eventually convert to Biodynamics in 2012. His theory is that good vineyard work is necessary to reveal terroir, and through manual harvesting, gentle fermentations with indigenous yeasts, and ageing on the lees, Sylvain is able to bottle wines that - in our opinion - prove his theory.


Heading west from Nîmes, we stop in Corconne, just north of Montpelier, home of Christophe Beau, the winemaker/poet at Domaine Beauthorey. Christophe’s history in the region dates back to the autumn of 1979, when he was backpacking in the Languedoc and ended up working as a harvester. He stayed a bit, and from that point on situated himself in the Languedoc. Over the last 30+ years, Christophe has pursued a philosophy of respect for nature and self-sufficiency, not only in the vineyards (adhering to organic and biodynamic principles), but also through the form of a collective community model, establishing partnerships with local vineyard owners, wine stores, and preservation societies (only about a third of the vines are privately owned and the rest are worked collectively). He has reintroduced animals, plants and trees to the vineyards and has even started a “winemaker’s garden,” where the community is exploring different methods of vine growing and training, with a focus on ancient Greek and Etruscan techniques. Beauthorey wines have been certified Organic since 1985 (Nature et Progrès), and certified Biodynamic for more than a decade.

La Petite Commanderie

Heading south, past Montpelier and deep into the heart of the Languedoc, we reach Corbières, where Stephane Madiec decided to start a little domaine – La Petite Commanderie - more than 15 years ago. He built his cellar by hand with reclaimed century old oak beams from Normandy, and soon after bought vines in Pradelles-en-Val. After spending many years putting things in place - pruning, retraining and recuperating the vines – and struggling with erosion and other challenges, he started using manure and completely abandoned synthetic products, starting in 2007 with organic farming. Gradually the land has been planted with wild oats, poppies, and other beneficial flora and fauna. Stephane plows a bit, but allows grass to grow, and only uses sulfur and copper (Bordeaux mixture) when necessary in the vineyards to prevent oidium and mildew. The grapes are harvested by hand and carefully sorted, then undergo whole cluster carbonic maceration. All of Stephane’s wines are bottled by hand without any added sulfur. As he says: “there is nothing to correct or protect, deter or make up.” When the wines are ready, he uses unbleached cardboard boxes (no chlorine) and even applies the labels using a natural adhesive (no chemical glue). Some may scoff at the extent of Stephane’s holistic approach, but the wines are the real deal, and truly taste like a pure and unedited expression of the wild countryside of the Languedoc.

Enfants Sauvages

Finally, we head south to the Cotes Catalanes, close to the border of Spain, to a town called Fitou, where Niko and Carolin Bantelin began their winemaking project, Les Enfants Sauvages. They came to the area from Germany, originally to visit friends, and then, after they fell in love with the region, to settle down and continue their life together. When they purchased an old estate with 7.5 hectares of vines, the idea of working the land and making wine immediately appealed to them. Carolin studied winemaking in France, as she and Niko began revitalizing their vineyards by applying Biodynamic methods, and integrating the vines into a natural organic cycle. After selling their grapes in 2000 and 2001, Carolin interned with Olivier Pithon, who encouraged them to make their own wine rather than selling to the co-op. So the story of Les Enfants Sauvages began! In the vineyard there are no pesticides or herbicides. Instead, self-made preparations of nettle, chamomile and horsetail. Their vines are cultivated in the traditional "goblet" style, on a terroir of clay and limestone. Grapes are harvested by hand into small crates and wines are aged in cement or barrel, depending on the cuvee. They may not be French, but Carolin and Niko are as open, friendly, and passionate as any of our favorite French winemakers, and the wines are as authentic as they get. 

Eben Lillie


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