To the Languedoc for the blending session for the 2009 wines of Mas Belles Eaux

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After weeks of freezing temperatures in Bordeaux, it was a pleasure to enjoy more Southern temperatures: the difference between -6 and 12 degrees celcius is appreciable, and underlines the climatic differences between the two regions. Before the tasting we toured the vineyard: I have a special affection for Mas Belles Eaux. These photographs may give you some idea why.

We acquired the two vineyards of Sainte Hélène and Belles Eaux in 2002, and merged them together to form the property of Mas Belles Eaux. Since then transformative work has taken place in the vineyard, notably in the trellising, replanting, or regrafting of large parts of the property. However, some parcels needed no changing at all, and this magnificent plantation of old vine Carignan is an example.

Old Vine Carignan at Mas Belles Eaux
Old Vine Carignan at Mas Belles Eaux

These wonderful old vines, planted in the 1940s, planted in the heart of the noble terroirs of the property naturally produce a very low yield of superb wine, full of depth and character, which we use in the blend for the Sainte Hélène Grand Vin, but also bottle in small quantities as a Single Varietal Carignan under the Mas Belles Eaux label. I opened a bottle of the 07 at home on Sunday and was struck by how fresh and balanced it was, but also by its finesse, not a characteristic I would automatically have associated with the variety before I got to know it a little better.

Mourvèdre is another variety that I have enjoyed becoming more familiar at Mas Belles Eaux. Fortunately there were already several hectares planted, but the results have been so encouraging that we decided to graft some old vine Cinsault with Mourvèdre to increase the proportion of this noble variety in the vineyard.

Mas Belles Eaux - Grenache Noir on the right, just before pruning - Mourvèdre on the left
This parcel is at the summit of the Mas Belles Eaux slopes.

Here you see a parcel of Grenache Noir on the right, just before pruning, and on the left a parcel of Mourvèdre that has been grafted onto Cinsault, reasonably old vines, in this case planted in 1973. In the distance you can see the Black Mountain. This parcel is at the summit of the Mas Belles Eaux slopes.

As with the Carignan, we use Mourvèdre for the Sainte Hélène blend (and Les Coteaux) but also bottle a small amount as a single varietal under the Mas Belles Eaux label. In fact I opened a bottle of our 2008 Mourvèdre on Sunday at the same time as the Carignan, purely for the purposes of comparison, and it was fascinating to see the marked difference in style between the two. They were judged equally enjoyable – the levels in the bottles descended at almost exactly the same rate – but wholly different. This is an experiment I can only encourage you to make yourself, preferably on a regular basis.

Mas Belles Eaux - Grenache grafted onto Old Vine Cinsault
Grenache grafted onto Old Vine Cinsault

Here is a closer look at a recent grafting. In this case, Grenache grafted onto Old Vine Cinsault. We have had considerable success with grafting onto old vines here. This enables us to benefit from the age of the vines and their extensive root structure, but to change grape varieties when we feel appropriate.

Syrah is though, at the heart of the blends for both Sainte Hélène and Les Coteaux. Here are some of our finest Syrah, in the parcel known as la Cacarie.

Terroir of Mas Belles Eaux
The Terroir of Mas Belles Eaux

You can see something of the terroir of Mas Belles Eaux from this picture, deep beds of Villafranchien gravel mixed with ferruginous clay, which gives the soil its typical red colour, and which gives finesse and elegance to the Syrah planted here.

In fact the colour – and indeed the gravel – shows more clearly in the next picture, which is of some older vine Grenache, in the parcel we call Gil. The sun was just setting, which exaggerates the red colour a little, but it really is red.

Grenache Vines at the top of the Belles Eaux plateau
Grenache Vines at the top of the Mas Belles Eaux plateau

These photos should give some idea of why we decided to buy here. We spent over 18 months searching before we found Mas Belles Eaux : there is some serious terroir here, capable of producing great wines. There has been a steady progression in quality since we began work in the vineyard. Our aim is to make terroir driven wines here, that express the place they come from: either through a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan, or sometimes from a single varietal bottling of any of these. There is something magical about the land here, and our aim is to express this in the wines of Mas Belles Eaux.