I've been to Domaine La Sarabande near Faugeres, down in the Languedoc region of France, a couple of times since 2012.
The extremely hospitable and knowledgeable owners Paul and Isla Gordon have done a really impressive job creating some lovely wines in the last six years.
I sent Paul and few questions about where they've come from and his views on organics and sustainability in general. Here's his responses below.
Tell us a little about how Domaine La Sarabande came about.
Paul Gordon: We founded our domaine in 2009 after an extensive search through the Languedoc. Isla and I both wanted to work with what we call Mediterranean varieties.
After working in Priorat we also wanted to find similar soils in France. We knew in France the rainfall would be higher and therefore the wines could be more balanced than those we found in Spain.
Faugères had everything that we wanted including the potential to grow into a great wine region.
Can you describe your various wines and the differences between them, grapes, blends, etc.
PG: Misterioso – A Grenache based wine that is often completed with Syrah and Mourvèdre. Blended to be a soft, early drinking wine. Perfect lunch, BBQ wine.
‘Les Rabasses’ Tradition – Again based on Grenache but with a bigger proportion of Syrah and Mourvèdre. We sometimes blend some Carignan here as well. A complex wine, partly aged in oak and blended to express the extraordinary terroir of the Faugères AOP.
Vieilles Vignes – A wine that is our example of what was traditionally made in the Languedoc. The Carignan vines, in this blend, are at least 65 years old. These vines produce only a small amount of fruit that is highly concentrated.
‘Les Espinasses’ – A single Syrah vineyard wine from a very special bit of terroir near Autignac. Black intense, full flavoured but beautifully balanced.
PG: The soils in Faugères are entirely made up of schiste. This slate-like rock demands that the vines’ roots grow deep down into the subsoil in search of water.
The annual rainfall in Faugères is around 365mm per year. The rain mostly falls in winter and spring and in good years it will sufficiently fill the aquifers. Therefore during the extended heat of the summer the vines stay strong and healthy and are drought resistant.
You are proud of being organic. Why? Is it health driven or just good farming given where you are and the weather? Tell us about any innovations you've implemented due to organic farming or any improvements you've noticed as a result.
PG: Being organic is very important to us. We have converted our vineyards over to organics. We have noticed that the disease pressure has decreased as the vines become more immune to mildews.
Not only are we organic in the vineyards but we avoid adding unnecessary chemicals to our wine in the winery. In that way we are natural. We allow wild yeast to ferment our wine, use no fining agents, no filtration and use just a small amount of SO² to preserve the wines.
Biodynamics. Proponents say its just wisdom based on farming experience. Do you buy into any elements of it?
PG: It is a touchy subject because those who believe are very passionate. I personally believe that Biodynamic farming works because it is labour intensive and if you have a lot of people working your vineyards then you are going to have a lot of eyes to pick up any problems. Also you need a lot of manpower to do the labour. Whilst I believe a lot of the beliefs are rubbish I do think there is merit in following the moon cycles.
Are you worried about climate change in the Languedoc? Are you exploring methods to keep sugar and alcohol levels down as a result? Ie canopy management, different yeasts, etc
PG: I am worried about climate change everywhere. The Languedoc has always been a hot viticultural area. It cannot get much hotter. The big problem is rain, or potential lack of rain. Extended dry weather means less fruit, increased tannins and more alcohol.
Therefore our schist soils are essential with the before mentioned drought resistence. Also it is important to maintain the old school methods of vineyard training. For example Grenache works best in goblet form so that the vines have natural shade from the vigorous canopy.
How's 2015 looking so far and what are your plans in the next few years for your vineyard parcels and your wines in general?
PG: 2015 has been an interesting year. We have had plenty of rain early in the year so the vines are healthy and green. The flowering was excellent so there is a lot of bunches. However the summer has been extremely hot.
If this heat continues the bunches will stay small and be quite intense. Hopefully the acidity will hold!
The next move for us will be to build a winery on our vineyards. Then when we have more land then I can start buying some more old vineyards that I have had my eye on!
More on Domaine la Sarabande at: http://www.sarabande-wines.com
They do a great BBQ and tastings of the wines, readers should arrange to drop by and buy a few cases if in the area. I really like their Las Espinasses wine, it's huge and wonderfully balanced. And the 2010 and 2012 Domaine la Sarabande (white labels on bottles) wines too. But they don't make a bad wine at all, and the more entry level bottles are excellent value. I reviewed a few bottles on my other wine blog a couple of years back here. And here's a blog post from MW and blogger Rosemary George about the winery.