Helt syd i Frankrike ligger et område som alltid har stått i identitetsspagat. Det var en del av den første romerske provinsen nord for alpene, Gallia Narbonensis og derfra bygget romerne de første veiene ut av den italienske halvøyen til Spania og til Atlanterhavet via Bordeaux.
Denne strategiske plasseringen gjorde området lukrativt og utsatt for invasjoner. Frankerne tok det og gjorde det til en del av Frankrike og Pave-Roma, og senere ble det invadert og tatt over av Katalonerne.
I dag er det fransk på papiret, men de har ingen fransk AOC, og selv vil mange av dem si de er katalonere. Vinmessig er vi i IGP Côtes Catalanes. Kvalitetsmessig muligens den mest spennende designasjonen i Languedoc-Roussillon – som ellers er kjent som en svært produktiv region av lavere kvalitet.
I dette området finner vi Domaine des Enfants, et domene drevet av Carrie Sumner og Marcel Bühler. Jeg har vært fan av vinene herfra siden jeg smakte dem på Vinfeber for et par år siden og har hatt dem på vinkartet der jeg har styrt utvalget.
Siden jeg synes dette er meget gode, og til dels annerledes viner, ville jeg skrive om dem. Litt søkeaktivitet på internett førte til mangelfull informasjon så jeg tok kontakt med Carrie Sumner via domenets Instagram-konto for å stille henne noen spørsmål. Siden Carrie gir gode, utfyllende svar på mine, sikkert tidvis irriterende, spørsmål ble det et større intervju enn jeg opprinnelig så for meg. Jeg har her valgt å presentere det på originalspråket da Nattverdens lesere neppe har problemer med engelsk og vi da ikke mister noen poeng gjennom en middelmådig oversettelse.
Moving to France
- I’m assuming the vigneron life is rather hard and unpredictable so what’s it like to make the jump across the Atlantic to work and live in France?
I got into this side of the business completely by accident. I was working in the restaurant industry in New York City, when I met Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project in Napa Valley. I wanted to learn about wine, mostly so that I could improve my general wine knowledge to continue on in the restaurant industry. He gave a harvest job in 2007, so I quit my job, and headed out to Napa, with no real understanding what it meant to work harvest. At the time, his operation was much smaller, and literally it was just the two of us doing everything along with a couple of his farmers Steve and Linda Tenbrink. I learned a lot that year, and we worked really well together. When I was finally getting ready to go back to New York, he asked if I would be interested in working on his French project the following year. This project was called Clos Thales, and is no longer around. I worked for him on that project for three years, and at this point had completely left New York behind to become a winemaker. It wasn’t long before I met Marcel, and have stayed in France since.
It’s been an interesting experience. Even though I have moved from New York City to a village in France of 1000 people, I am constantly stimulated with different challenges. It’s a different way of life. Learning the language is stimulation enough. But in an industry like wine, there is an overabundance of knowledge to learn, and here I have more time to do that. Adapting to village life has taken the whole ten years that I’ve been here. Home cooking has replaced restaurants, and work boots have replaced heels. I am currently in the process of beginning an olive oil project, but it’s very premature at this point.
- What kind of precautions do you have to take when you’re at the mercy of climate and weather in order to have a successful vintage?
In our opinion it’s about trying to predict the spring, so that we can then be prepared for the summer. Humidity and sunshine are major considerations. Do we need more leaves on the vines for the maximum amount of shade? Or is it a very humid year, and we need less leaves to prevent disease. Do we need to take off doubles by making ébourgeonnage (å fjerne overskytende skudd eller knopper på vinstokken) to allow the canes more vigour, or do we need to be concerned about strong winds breaking the few canes that are bearing fruit? If there was a warm winter we need to worry about an overabundance of wild boars eating all of our fruit.
In years that we have a lot of rain, we have to reevaluate our spraying schedule, which often includes first cutting down all the grass around the vines. And if we don’t do this fast enough, we will never keep up with the diseases humidity brings. And then of course, there is hail, which can’t really be predicted, but can destroy everything.
- Are perhaps the vintages less variable in the south of France than for instance Burgundy is known for?
In general we do believe our vintages are more consistent than in other places. We have a lot of sunshine. Every few years we will have an unusually wet vintage which we need to prepare for.
The last few years have brought incredibly hot summers, and with very mild winters causing earlier picking times. I often attribute this to Global warming, but it’s difficult to say, we unfortunately don’t have a long enough record in the region to provide a truly accurate response
- Do you have issues with not enough rain or is irrigation an option? With the mild winters are you getting to the point where the vines don’t get enough rest, or is it not that mild?’
Irrigation is not an option in France if you want IGP or AOP status, and for sure we have had years that we worry the fruit will not completely ripen due to the lack of rain. It is in these years that Chroma Soma and Domaine des Enfants really compliment each other. With Chroma Soma I like to pick early, and make a more gentle skin extraction. So, in fact I can profit off of a hot year. If we don’t pick early enough, you risk the possibility of losing fruit to rot, disease, heat, wild boars, and just the weather in general.
- I understand you guys work biodynamically, is that a help or does it make it harder?
We actually do not work biodynamically. We plough with our horse Nina, which makes a lot of people think that we work biodynamically. We also respect the moon calendar, but for now we only work organically. We read the agriculture course, the basis of Biodynamics, and after a time we were ready to implement these changes into our farming. When our son Jordi was born, the intensity of labour biodynamics brings made it so we finally couldn’t make the transition at that time. It’s definitely still something that we are interested in for the future
- I couldn’t find that much about the work in the cellar. I understand that is your domain, is that correct? How are the wines made? I see you work with native yeasts and I haven’t felt any distinct oak on them, but what do you use? Old wood, concrete eggs?
Yes, we need to update the website with more information. I am doing most of the work in the cellar. Of course, we work together as well, and it is definitely important that we communicate on what our final goal is. But I think that we utilise an array of different techniques in the winery. First and foremost, we truly believe that the wine is made in the vineyard. It is for this reason that we farm organically. I will give a breakdown of each cuvée in order to give you as much information as possible. I hope it is not too much
As you know, we have two white wines. Tabula Rasa and Le Jouet Blanc
These two wines are intentionally made in different styles.
Le Jouet blanc is generally made from 100% Macabeu. We believe that the picking time is crucial with Macabeu, as if it is picked too early the acidity is very high and out of balance with the fruit that has not yet developed in the grapes. However, if you wait too long; macabeu becomes overripe very quickly. The acid disappears and the sugar levels very quickly are quite high. Leaving an end product that is flabby and high in alcohol. Our goal is to find the balance between the two extremes, which is not always easy. We do our best. After the fruit is picked, it’s immediately pressed, and makes a sedimentation in the cold. We then rack the clear juice off the sediment, and let native yeasts begin the fermentation which takes place in stainless steel. Through the whole process up till fermentation the juice is protected from oxygen. The wine then stays on the lees until bottling, which usually occurs two months later. No malolactic fermentation.
- Do you block malo with SO2? You say it’s protected from oxygen; do you intentionally aim for reductive notes (the flinty character), or are you just protecting the fruit and try not to get reductive notes (or isn’t it really a consideration)?
We do block Malo with So2, and being that we try to keep So2 levels to a minimum, I will say that we have had the Malo start in bottle before. Not proud of that, but we try to learn from our mistakes, and be honest about that. The good news is that this wine sells out quite quickly, and this wine is meant to be consumed early. What I mean when I say we protect the juice from oxygen is that during the processing of the fruit, we utilise CO2. And, yes, I really love a reductive Macabeu. This flinty, smokiness is delicious in my opinion. I prefer it to a really fruity almost bubblegum characteristic that Macabeu sometimes has. Of course reduction is always a fine line, you never want it to get stuck in there.
Tabula Rasa is blend of 30% each Grenache gris, Grenache Blanc, Macabeu. With the remaining 10% (more or less) of Carignan blanc. These grapes are picked and vinified all together. The process is the opposite of Le Jouet in that we want an exposure to oxygen, and in fact we do a cold maceration for about 18 hours before the pressing and sedimentation. The purpose is to extract as much fruit from the skins as possible before pressing. After sedimentation the juice is racked into 400l French oak barrels, of which maybe 10% is new, but not always. We buy one new barrel maybe every other year. The wine stays on the lees for 1 year with battonage, and makes malolactic fermentation.
- What’s the idea behind the name? In Norwegian it is used in two ways that I know of: “å gjøre tabula rasa” = “to clean house” and the more philosophical meaning which is an idea that humans are born with no predetermined ideas or ways of thinking. Is this a comment on wine in general perhaps, or on terroir in your region? Or something different altogether?
You hit the nail on the head. It is definitely a reference to “a clean sweep” or the immaculate status of a newborn baby. This is all in reference to what inspired Marcel to create the domaine in the first place. As a child, Marcel wanted to be a gardener. But after the realisation that he has a very natural ability for mathematics, he ended up becoming a banker in Zurich. This lifestyle was incredibly unsatisfying for him, and so he quit everything, and left Switzerland on sabbatical which eventually lead him to Geisenheim. The Domaine is symbolic of his new beginning, as growing vines became symbolic of his childhood garden. Not only a clean sweep, but also a resurrection of the inner child that remains within all adult human beings. So, you can find a glimpse of this inspiration in the names of the different cuvées.
We have four red cuvées
Le Jouet Rouge is our entry level red. This is generally where we use our youngest vines. The first vintage was in 2012, and over the years it’s become quite consistent in the assemblage. 40% Grenache, 40% Lladoner Pelut, and the last 20% a mix of Carignan/Syrah. Out of this blend about 30% comes from one vineyard of young grenache in Maury, which we pick early and make a carbonic maceration. The reason for this is because this young vineyard is quite vigorous and with a late ripening grape like grenache in a hot region like the Roussillon, there is always the possibility of the vineyard not having a phenolic ripeness. At least not without dropping fruit, or just losing fruit in general. You have the risk of rot, disease, wild boars, and the sun. And finally, if the vineyard does get ripe the sugar levels can be outrageous. So there are many advantages to picking early and making carbonic maceration. The other fruit in the blend is traditionally fermented, and in the end it’s all blended together where it stays in concrete for one year.
L’enfant Perdu is our main blend. It is made up of 1/3 each Grenache, Syrah, Carignan. Sorted three times, destemmed, and fermented separately in concrete tanks. The wines make an élévage of two years (more or less depending on the year), half in concrete tanks, and the rest in French barrels of varying sizes (225-600l), of which 10-15% is new wood. This is the only cuvée that we use any new wood.
Suis l’étoile and La Larme de l’âme are our top wines which are vielles vignes coming from our most interesting vineyards. Marcel ploughs these vineyards by horse, as they are too steep, and the vines are too close together to accommodate a tractor of caterpillar. These vineyards are picked and vinified individually in open demi muids. Punched down by hand for a more gentle extraction. Élevage for both is two years in barrels (225-600l) that have been used at least once. The assemblage on these wines can vary from year to year because for us it is most important that the best barrels go into these wines. And that can change year to year depending on many factors.
Suis l’étoile- More focused on Grenache and Carignan
La larme de l’âme-More focused on Syrah
Maury AOC- We also make a Vin doux naturel. 100% Grenache noir fortified with a pure spirit. Generally, we produce a drier style of Maury, with an attempt to preserve acidity, which in our opinion brings more balance
- Do you own all the vineyards or are you renting some? Doesn’t sound like you buy fruit, so I ruled that option out. Do the fruit for Vivienne Catherine and Chroma Soma come from parcels that you also use for the other wines or are they from completely different places?
The wines of Domaine des Enfants are all made from our own vineyards. We recently have acquired négociant status, which will be helpful for the entry level wines, and the base for the Chroma Soma and Vivienne Catherine projects. As a soil study, it’s interesting to always find new vineyards at different elevations and on different terroir. At this moment I would say half of the fruit for Chroma Soma and Vivienne Catherine still come from our vineyards though. We will see how much the projects grows in the future.
Sales and the Languedoc-Roussillon
- Do you sell a lot in France? Locally perhaps, or do you export mostly? Which countries do you export more to?
The last few years I’ve been reading here and there about new producers in Languedoc-Roussillon and it seems there’s something happening there. A few years ago pretty much all I had heard of was mass production, Matassa and Gauby. Is there a new wave on the way, do you think? Not many have found their way to Norway as of yet, but the price point should make them interesting if the wines are and the explosion in sales of quality Beaujolais the last 6-8 years have been crazy so it could happen reasonably fast as well.
We do sell in France, but it wasn’t until the last 5 years that business in France really picked up for us. Most of our wine is sold on export. Switzerland is by far our biggest market with Germany, China, and the US following behind. But we sell all over Europe. Finland, Austria, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden. We also have good markets in Thailand and Russia.
In regards to the Roussillon: I absolutely think it’s changing, and has been changing slowly but surely for the last 20-30 years. I would definitely say that Gauby, Matassa (Nattverden skrev om Matassa i 2016), and Clos de Fees have lead the way. But many people have passed through here, blown away by the potential. Not to mention the land here is still affordable. People came from Germany, South Africa, Mexico, UK, US, Spain, Japan, and all over France (And for sure more). This is exactly how Marcel ended up in the Roussillon. In fact, he was looking for vines in Priorat, which were priced a bit out of his budget. It was someone he came in contact with in Gratallops that told Marcel to come look in the Roussillon. The wide array of different terroir and microclimates is impressionable. The Roussillon originally was famous for it’s Vin doux naturel, which you will still find, but attracts only a small market. With this surge of different talents from all over the world now making wine here, you will find the utilisation of many exciting techniques, which perhaps are new to the region. The Roussillon has absolutely reinvented itself. There are many people working organically and biodynaically. You will find orange wines, natural wines, and classic wines. Little by little, people are discovering this new face, and understand that the region now has a lot more to offer than Vin Doux naturel, as charming as this wine still is.
- You guys pop up on the Raw Wine site. Do you consider yourselves to be natural wine producers?
We don’t actually consider ourselves Natural wine producers. We have participated in the Raw Wine fair in the past. I don’t know their current rules, but at one point the regulation on So2 was 30ppm, and I think even at one point it was higher (70ppm). We use So2. We believe it protects the wine, and the integrity of the fruit. Also, our region is very hot, so the pH levels of the wines in this region are a bit higher, which is another risk. But we also believe that So2 needs to be used responsibly, and we try very hard to limit what we use. This amount is low enough to qualify for the Raw Wine Fair. This how we work now. Who knows what we will do later.
Chroma Soma and Vivienne Catherine
- On Instagram you mention Chroma Soma. Your importer here says that’s your project. It’s not currently available here, but has been and will return, I hope, so perhaps you could tell me a little about it? How does it differ from Domaine des Enfants?
Chroma soma is my personal project which came about for many reasons, but mostly it is a soil study. We talk about terroir endlessly in this profession, and I truly wanted to have my own vision of terroir, rather than listening only to theory and others’ opinions. The wines are made with a focus on purity of fruit with limited skin contact, and without influences of stems or wood. I do this because it is my personal belief that the soil is expressed through the fruit. Chroma Soma is only single varieties coming from a single type of soil. The grapes are picked early, and most of the extraction is done before fermentation. Once the fermentation begins the extraction is very limited and gentle. The wines are then pressed early.
Throughout the process of this wine I often work very much with reduction to protect the freshness of fruit. For this reason, it’s best if the wines are decanted while young, and the evolution can be seen in the glass.
This is my newest project, and the first vintage (2019) will be released this summer.
Vivienne Catherine is always 100% Syrah. Vivienne Catherine is not a Chroma Soma because there is more extraction, and I have also been making experiments utilising stem contact. From making a sachet that can be removed early, to partial whole cluster fermentations. VC will always come from one specific soil. Never blended.
With my first vintage, I left the wine in barrel for a year, and I plan to hold it in bottle another 6 months to 1 year before release. I think the wine will be far more expressive with some time in the bottle, something I have learned as well with my Chroma Somas from Granite. Here is a list of current vintages in case you are interested.
Chroma Soma 2018 Carignan from granite is from a vineyard in Belesta, at around 600 m, and picked on the earlier side. These grapes were picked, destemmed into an old demi-muid, and then made a 5 day cold maceration. Once out of the cold, the fruit is worked until coming to a natural fermentation, and then no longer touched. Pressed early, and fermentation was finished in old barrels, with an elevage of 1 year. 12.5% vol
Chroma Soma 2019 Grenache from granite is from a vineyard in Caramany, at around 300 M. Picked on the earlier side, and made with a similar process as the Carignan, but the élévage was made in a sandstone egg. 12,5%vol
Vivienne Catherine I , 2019 from granite is from a vineyard in Cassagnes, at around 300 M. Picked on the earlier side, destemmed, and vinified with a sachet of stems which were removed two days before pressing. Elevage in a 400 litre neutral barrel, and bottled September 2020. 12% vol
To be released in August.
Her slutter den delen av samtalen som kan kalles et intervju og som forhåpentligvis er interessant for dere, våre lesere. Dermed er det fint å avslutte med notater på vinene fra huset så kan dere selv gjøre dere opp en mening om hvorvidt det er verdt det å gå til innkjøp av noen flasker.
Le Jouet Blanc, Domaine des Enfants
Et skjær av oransje i fargen, men klar og brilliant.
Urter og blomster på nesen. Ikke så mye umiddelbar frukt, mest hvite blomster og timian. Noe kløverblomst også.
Intenst anslag, distinkt urtepreget bitterhet på tungen med appelsinskall, fersken og mer blomster. Middels syre med god fylde og meget god lengde. Litt finkornede tanniner i utgangen.
En hvitvin med struktur. Vil tro dette er en innertiertier til grillet kylling uten annen saus enn en god olivenolje.
Tabula Rasa 2019, Domaine des Enfants 269,90
Lys gul, med middels brillians..
Rå hasselnøtter, flint, appelsin og fersken. Blomster, urter og litt ananas. Virkelig en kompleks nese.
Bredt, nokså rikt ansalgs. Legger seg helt ut i kantene og fyller munnen med smak. Nøtter, appelsin, golden delicious, litt smør og noe urter i munnen. Fyldig og rik frukt. Middels syre, flott lengde.
En veldig deilig vin som på den ene siden gir noen Burgund-assosiasjoner med flint og hasselnøtter, men der frukten er helt annerledes. Bør prøves!
Tabula Rasa 2018, Domaine des Enfants 269,90
Appelsinskall, kirsebærblomst, rå hasselnøtt og artisjokk på nesen.
Bredt anslag, med moderat intensitet. Dyp og konsentrert frukt i munnen. Fyldig med fin friskhet. Smaker av aprikos og appelsin med noe urter og artisjokk. Flott lengde og tørr og salt utgang.
En usedvanlig god vin for pengene og distinkt annerledes enn det meste annet. Bør prøves!
L’Enfant Perdu Rouge 2017, Domaine des Enfants 274,90
Mørk lilla, på grensen til dolcetto-farget, men overraskende høy brillians. Vet ikke om det er bevisst, men kombinasjonen er tiltalende.
Roser, kirsebær, moreller, bjørnebær og noe med syrah-assosiasjon, men som jeg ikke helt klarer å sette fingen på. Kanskje litt rosmarin? Overraskende åpen, men flott og sjarmerende nese.
Intenst anslag med middels pluss syre, bred og intens frukt i munnen. Fløyelsmyk selv om det ligger et flygende teppe av finkornede tanniner i bunn. Et lite julekrydderpreg kommer i ettersmaken og gir assosiasjoner til Bordeaux.
En virkelig flott vin som vil kle mye mat, gjerne med godt med fett. Grillet entrecôte eller kanskje helst parmigiana di melanzane. Jeg merker så alkoholen litt (14,5%) i utgangen med helt ren munn, men med mat er dette stor stas.
Chroma Soma Grenache Granite 2019
Dyp rød i fargen. Grenache har moderate mengder fargestoff, og det er synlig her, men den er i den dypere enden av skalaen for druen.
Tydelig reduktiv på nesen. Ikke så mye annet enn krutt og pepper å hente ved åpning.
Bredt, fruktig anslag som bruker litt tid på å jobbe seg opp. Jordbær, pepper uten sparket, blomster (roser) og umami i munnen. Denne vinen har også flott lengde og god konsentrasjon.
Det kommer et lite røkpreg i ettersmaken.
Fascinerende vin som balanserer mellom en seriøs grenache i Chateuneuf-du-Pape-genren og juice. For konsentrert til å fly ned og for kompleks til å være juice, men føles ikke tung. Ganske flott vin. Skulle ønske jeg hadde en kasse slik at jeg kunne lagret dem en stund. Har stor tro på positiv utvikling i noen år fremover.
Oppdatering: Etter tre dager åpen har det reduktive preget gitt seg det er en klar og fin frukt; kirsebær, moreller, litt timian og fioler. Denne utviklingen gir meg bare større tro på lagring.