Tag Archives: Languedoc

Nocturnes at Mas Belles Eaux

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Mas Belles Eaux
Mas Belles Eaux

I was at Mas Belles Eaux, our vineyard in the Languedoc, a couple of weeks ago for a spectacular tasting of our wines against about 90 wines from all over the region. This is something we like to do from time to time to see where we are in relation to others, and to get a good feeling of what is going on in the region. This was a particularly extensive tasting, as it is now nearly ten years since we have been at Belles Eaux, so we were able to combine it with a vertical of all our wines there since we started.

We arrived the night before the first big tasting just in time to catch the “Nocturnes” at Belles Eaux. If you click on this link http://www.mas-belleseaux.com/en/vin-languedoc/les-nocturnes, you will see what this is about: If you are ever in the region (between Caux and Pezenas) on a summer’s evening, it is well worth a visit, though you should call to check which nights it is happening and whether there are any tables free.

Les Nocturnes at Mas Belles Eaux
Les Nocturnes at Mas Belles Eaux

I was very encouraged by how well our wines showed at the big tasting, which was done blind, but also thrilled by how many great wines are being made in the Languedoc now. Our reason for coming here in the first place was our belief that this region has some of the most exciting vineyard terroirs in France, and that over time the quality potential of these sites would be realized. This seems to me to be exactly what is happening. I don’t think my own tasting notes are of much interest except to me, but Andrew Jefford who was there wrote a great piece about it in his Jefford on Monday column in decanter.com which I think captures the spirit of what is going on in the Languedoc right now.

Find below a short video clip which gives you some idea of Belles Eaux and what we are doing, and a great monologue from our brilliant winemaker Cedric Loiseau which conveys clearly his feelings for the vineyard he looks after and its wines. Probably the most important thing that I do in my job is to make sure that each of our properties is run by someone passionately devoted to the vineyard in his or her care, and as you will see from the way Cedric speaks, he is perfectly qualified! The result shows in the wines, as our tasting confirmed.

If you have trouble watching this video, view the web version here

Harvest 2010 – Conditions in general

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Now that we have had some time to taste and retaste the wines of the remarkable 2010 vintage in Bordeaux, it is time to post a harvest report. The rumours you may have been hearing are perfectly justified: 2010 is an outstanding year in Bordeaux. I give below a summary of how things went in all of our vineyards, in Bordeaux and elsewhere.

Bordeaux – grape sorting at Château Pichon-Longueville - Pauillac
Bordeaux – Grape sorting at Château Pichon-Longueville - Pauillac
In Bordeaux, even if the end of spring and summer were relatively dry, the vines showed no signs of stress.The harvest of 2010 has given birth to a vintage that will undoubtedly take its place at the summit of any vintage classification, with an exceptional maturity. From an analytical point of view there are record breaking levels of ripeness in terms of sugar levels and also of polyphenols. In a somewhat different style, it will unquestionably bear comparison with its predecessor, the great 2009 vintage.

A great year for the dry whites and the reds, but also for the liquoreux, with a perfect late arrival of botrytis that enabled us to harvest an impressive 2nd and 3rd trie.

In the Languedoc, summer was extremely dry. Thanks to our first year of installation of irrigation on half the Belles eaux vineyard, we were able to optimise quality. Here also, 2010 will be a lovely year.

Burgundy - The harvest at Domaine de l’Arlot - Nuits Saint Georges
Burgundy - The harvest at Domaine de l’Arlot - Nuits Saint Georges

Burgundy was a little less fortunate, with a terrible winter and severe frosts that caused severe damage in certain climates, leading to a reduction in yields that an irregular floraison did nothing to help. Very low yields therefore, but a beautiful maturity for these 2010, and some lovely wines in spite of the difficulties earlier in the year.

Tokaj – Disznókő – Picking of the Aszú grapes
Tokaj – Disznókő – Picking of the Aszú grapes

No drought in Tokaj, rather the contrary, with 800 mm of rain between april and mid September. A difficult year with a lot of disease problems, very weak “sortie” and a chaotic floraison, all combiing to give us an historially low yield. But the Aszús we were able to harvest will enable us to produce all the same a harvest in the style of 2004, aromatic and vivacious, with a structure marked by finesse and elegance rather than by power.

Douro - Quinta do Noval – Foot treading in the lagares
Douro - Quinta do Noval – Foot treading in the lagares

In the Douro we harvested an impressive volume of the kind not seen since 2007. This significant production gave all the same wines that are very pure, elegant, aromatic and structures, both for Port wine and for Douro reds.

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.