The Natural Beauty of the Aveyron: The Wines of Nicolas Carmarans

10/3/16 -

Driving deep into the foothills of the Massif Central mountains to the village (nay, hamlet) of Le Bruel, near Campouriez, northeast of Toulouse in the Aveyron department, winding roads lead around fantastically steep slopes and through lush forests. The hamlet itself boasts no more than twenty homes and barns, no shops or stores among them, making one feel as if they’ve stepped back in time to a more rugged, simplistic era. The region is incredibly pleasing atmospherically, and boasts the title of France’s largest producer of sheep, but it is no longer a hotspot for viticulture even though the hillsides here were historically dotted with steep terraced vineyards. Those days are long gone as people left the hardships of living in such a rugged region behind for an easier life in Paris in the late 19th/early 20th century. Today there are only 19 hectares under vine in the local apellation Pays d’Entraygues, and there is without a doubt one producer who is making soulful wines here: Nicolas Carmarans.

While running the Parisian natural wine bar, Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, Nicolas got the itch to begin making wine. He chose his ancestral village in the Aveyron as his great-grandfather was a winemaker here; his grandfather left for Paris during the aforementioned period. Starting with a handful of vines in 2002, it wasn’t until 2007 when he purchased a vineyard named “Le Mauvais Temps” (and the house that came with it) that he decided to pursue this way of life full time. This is a special parcel that used to be part of a much larger area of vines planted to a southern exposure in soils composed of schist and decomposed granite at around 500m in elevation. Nicolas has worked incredibly hard to bring this parcel back to life. In a very interesting long-read article in Wineterroirs, Bert Celce writes that “Le Mauvais Temps” was all but abandoned after a devastating frost in the winter of 1956. More on that here:  He converted entirely to organic farming, with no herbicides or pesticides used at any time. The surrounding woods allow for a great amount of diversity – both of insects and plants – a natural fact to which Nicolas attributes the health of his soils and vines.

The winemaking process is fairly straightforward, with mostly carbonic maceration for the reds in large tronconic vats, after which the wines are racked into neutral oak barrels, with a minimal amount of SO2 added. This process yields wines that are incredibly bright and aromatic, with a decidedly silky texture on the palate. All of his wines are bottled by hand.

These are beautiful wines that showcase this uncommon terroir. The reds from 2015 are delicious, clean natural wines that are showing very well right now, and we still have a bit of the fantastic 2014 Chenin Blanc – a very thoughtful, precise take on the grape that has enough energy and verve to compete with Chenin grown further north in the Loire Valley. If you haven’t had the wines of Nicolas Carmarans before, now is your chance. Tim Gagnon

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