Almond trees blossom in Montpellier, snow in Angers: from Millésime Bio to Demeter

First up – I’m not a morning person, having spent most of my professional life in the performing arts – so a 6am start in order to drive to Millésime Bio in Montpellier with Paul is, in every sense, a bit of a new dawn for me.

I’ve been involved with Les Clos Perdus at a low level ever since its beginnings in 2003, and I’m the proud owner of a four-hectare vineyard at Fraïssé des Corbières which Paul looks after for me, and whose gapes find their way into L’Année rouge as well as the single vineyard cuvée Frézas. But recently, I became an investor in the business, and have committed to helping Paul with marketing Les Clos Perdus’ wines at professional wine salons.

So we speed towards Montpellier in Paul’s distinctive orange van as the dawn breaks on almond trees in blossom across the landscape – and a new chapter opens for me.

Millésime Biomondial du vin biologique and the international platform for organic wine-making – is housed in Parc des Expositions de Montpellier. First impression: the sheer scale of it! With some 800 exhibitors in four adjoining halls, a programme of talks and videos, restaurants and cafés, it’s literally a wine village. And then the satisfaction of realising how important the organic wine movement has become, not just in France, but in the wider world too, a magnet for professional buyers from all over Europe and North America.

There’s an interesting democracy about the way the salon is organised. Exhibitors are ranged not according to region and country but almost, as it were, placed at random.  In that way, you make unexpected discoveries. We find ourselves sandwiched between makers from Chateauneuf du Pape and Sancerre. The level-playing-field ethic also gives everyone the same plain table top with no fancy displays allowed – nothing but a pure interaction between the wine, the maker and the potential buyer.  That suits us very well.

This year Millésime Bio is celebrating its 25th anniversary  – Les Clos Perdus has been on the journey with the salon for nearly half of that time – and it’s the place of choice for LCP to meet up with its regular and loyal importers, cavistes and sommeliers.

As day one swings in to action my instructions are to describe,  (usually in French) our gamme of seven wines – L’Année blanc, L’Année rouge, Cuvée 141, Prioundo, Mire la Mer, L’Extrême blanc and L’Extrême rouge. Keep it neutral, and keep it simple!  The wines will do the rest. Plus, the professionals almost certainly know tons more than I do.  But I can’t quite stop myself embroidering a bit when I come to describe the steep north-facing slopes near Tautavel where l’Extrême comes from (because I remember the back-breaking labour of picking there a few years ago) – shisteux, I say, très vertigineux, impossible à tractoriser! – waving my hands around with Gallic enthusiasm. Fortunately, the wine speaks for itself.

Our regular importers swing by to taste our latest vintages, and I begin to build up a picture of this key network of people who take our wine to almost every corner of the globe. We have agents in Australia (coals to Newcastle, or what?), Quebec, California, Japan, sans compter most of the major European countries.  The warmth of their response to the wines and their eagerness to hear all the latest news from the cellar and vineyards goes beyond mere professional interest – and I find that both unexpected and touching.

On day two, it feels as though every caviste in France has beaten a path to Montpellier.  Some are regular customers – like expansive Matthias from Weingarage in Zurich, whose existence seems to be one long, joyous party – while others have found their way to our stall through word of mouth.  It’s somehow satisfying to think of Les Clos Perdus’ wines being drunk in corners as diverse as Fontenay-le-Comte, Ajaccio, La Rochelle, Noirmoutier, Paris, Zurich and beyond.

The salon has been a huge success and the order book is bulging.  We return to home base at Peyriac de Mer with one of our importers and amazing Basque/Rioja wine-maker Oxer Bastegieta in tow for a convivial evening – a brilliant meal cooked by Paul’s wife Deb and exceptional bottles from Nicolas Joly’s Coulée de Serrant vineyard in the Loire, Paul’s minerally, complex L’Extrême blanc and Oxer’s own beautifully balanced ‘Suzanne’ Rioja (a nod there to Leonard Cohen, he explains).

The following week we’re off to Demeter wine salon in Angers for two days – altogether a more laid back affair on a smaller scale, though part of a much bigger Loire wine circus in the next hall, bristling with sharp-suited marketeers and fancy stalls bearing extravagant photos of glossy vines and turreted chateaux.

There’s a collegiate, co-operative atmosphere in our corner – ice is scare (we’re in the Loire – there are many white wines to cool!) and we share what little there is to go around.  There’s time to taste one another’s wines (discoveries for me include Céline & Laurent Tripoz’ carefully crafted wines from the Maçonnais and impressive Bandol from Domaine Castell-Reynoard), and we swap experiences and compare winemaking techniques (correction! Paul does – I listen attentively..).  But there’s still business to be done, and plenty of interest in Les Clos Perdus’ wines. We reconnect with regular clients, particularly those from the Loire and Paris area. M. Québec has travelled up from Montpellier and passes by to increase his order, and we’re suddenly engulfed by an eddy of Japanese student sommeliers, eager for new tastes, new experiences.

It’s cold up north, but on the first evening we take a walkabout in the fine city of Angers and happen on a buzzy natural wine bar – A boire et à manger – (motto: ‘seul ennemi: la soif’).  Not surprisingly, since its salon time, it’s bursting with young, hip winemakers engaged in intense debate and degustation. Our own wine-by-the-glass choices range from the frankly swivel-eyed end of the market to the damn near sublime – the world of natural wine is a broad church.

And then it’s time to head back home on the TGV, my suitcase heavy with bottles of wine to share with friends in Paris and London.  It started to snow on the final morning and, as I trudge towards the station in the continuing snowstorm, I’m hoping that I’ve acquitted myself well over the last few days and haven’t made any major gaffes. The experience of helping Paul has given me a valuable insight into the way Les Clos Perdus positions itself in the market, how wine is bought sold, and the generosity of spirit of so many of the people up and down the chain.

If I’m asked, I’ll be back for more!

Faith Wilson

January 1, 2018 Update

The 2017 vintage, as with the 2016 vintage, brought a low yield for Les Clos Perdus, the main reasons being two years of well below average rainfall, hungry wild pigs and some early season frost damage.

The good news is that both vintages are superb and are going to bring plenty of enjoyment.

The very early 2017 vintage has produced super clean and fresh wines that are a joy to taste.  Our indigenous yeast and bacteria ferments finished well before the cold set in. The wines are now safely sitting on their fine lees developing complexity.

After four years at Les Clos Perdus, Ben Adams has decided to move back to the UK with his family to become involved in the English Sparking wine industry. I’m very grateful to have had opportunity to work with Ben and wish him the best in this new endeavour.

As a consequence, I will be giving more of my attention to the vines where I will be led by my belief that a diversity of life within the soil leads to complexity and vitality within the wine.

Deborah Old, my wife, will be spending more time in the office dealing with logistics and other French bureaucracy.

I will call on extra help in vines where I hope that, through sharing the knowledge of Les Clos Perdus, a strong working relationship might develop.

Faith Wilson is to become an associate of Les Clos Perdus. Faith who lives part of the year in Paziol has been helping Les Clos Perdus since its beginning in 2003.  She has had a long career as a freelance Publicist and is enthusiastic about wine from the Languedoc, so much so that she purchased a vineyard in the high Corbieres which is now worked by Les Clos Perdus. Faith will be lending a hand in coming Montpellier and Angers salons.

Our other associate, Stuart Nix, will continue to keep his keen eye on all things financial.

So as 2018 begins, a cold  winter has the surrounding Pyrenees covered in snow and at last some rain has started to fall in our thirsty vineyards. Fingers crossed that more rain will follow.

Perfect start to the season

After the extremely dry 2016 growing season our stressed vines got what they need during winter, lots of water.

The 1000mm of rain that have fallen since vintage has allowed our vines to enter into bud burst with re-found vitality and surrounded by greenery.

The mild April temperature has prevented vigorous early growth that can result in severe cane breakage when followed by the all familiar tramontane winds off the Pyrenees

So, a very positive beginning.

Late January into early Spring is the time for  salons in Europe. This year I attended tastings in France, Switzerland and Italy. It is a vital time to taste and discuss the new vintages with importers, cavistes and sommeliers as well as many new faces . This intense period of tasting and communicating next to other vigneronnes offers time for reflection and can inspire you into the next growing season.

The current Les Clos Perdus wines that I thought were drinking particularly well during the Salon were:

Prioundo 2013 – A great expression of the cool 2013 season.  Lifted red fruit and plenty of sappy vitality.

Mire La Mer 2014 – The riper 2014 year. Primary fruit still showing while background of leather and charcuterie keep the wine well grounded. Powdery mouth filling tannins.

L’Extreme 2012 – The 2012 was a difficult year for Grenache due to an extremely poor flowering. So it is surprising how well this wine is drinking. Plenty of rustic garrigue on the nose.  Lovely balance, wet stone minerality, plenty of vitality and so easy to drink.

L’Extreme Blanc 2015 – Atypical L’Extreme Blanc due to long fermentation and extended contact with solids. Almost orange in colour. Concentrated baked apple, pear fruit and pickled ginger. Full of character and interest.

Vintage notes 2016

As vintage approaches there is a tendency to find similarities between past vintages, but when a vintage like 2016 arrives, all previous vintages flash into the distance. One become quickly aware of the importance of a sense of now, trust what you see and taste and know that the time of picking and handling of the fruit  in the winery will be critical if the potential of the crop is to be realised.

The winter of 2015/2016 was extremely warm – for reasons not relating to stoicism or being miserly we only used one bundle of firewood, compared with our normal three.

Expecting an early growing season we rushed to finish the pruning and apply the compost only to find that the warm winter had been replaced by a cool spring. This cool and dry weather continued into early summer, slowing down the progress of the vines.

We spent time bringing water to and weeding our newly planted Terret and Grenache Gris as very little rain had fallen since last year’s vintage.

It was another annoyingly poor flowering for the Grenache, which would be all ripped out if didn’t produce such elegant supple and seductive wines that blend beautifully.

Into early July what had at first appeared to be an early growing season was now running two to three weeks later than average.

Then summer proper arrived, perfect for tourists, beach day every day and no rain.  The vines took on the water stress that I hadn’t seen before. Two things can happen in this  situation; the stomata in the leaves can close preventing the water loss, closing down photosynthesis and delaying maturity, or the opposite can occur, with the vine acting like a selfless mother and rushing its offspring to maturity at the risk doing itself serious damage. In all the varieties apart from the Carignan it was a rush towards maturity that occurred.

In late August  sugar levels in the grapes started rising quickly so we decided to pick, opting for freshness and good backbone of  acids rather than rich soft juice with  high potential alcohol levels .

Many hours in the cave were spent removing green stems that seemed to splinter in the de-stemmer and for this reason whole bunches were fermented when the stems were not too green.

I like what I’m now seeing in the cellar. Delicate, with less tannins than I’m used to, some greenery but very clean crystalline wines with great tension and aromatic lift.

The true quality of this 2016 vintage will be revealed in time, but we do know that the quantity is down on last year, partly due to the wild pigs that decided that braving the vineyard’s electric fence was worth the drink.

In the next couple of weeks we will finish pressing the reds and move back to the vineyards where we will be applying the bio-dynamic cow manure compost, 500P . The cycle starts again.

Welcome to our new website

Website cave 012

The launch of our new look web site represents a new stage in the life of Les Clos Perdus.

Over the last two years, in the knowledge that my founding partner Hugo Stewart would be leaving the business, I have put in place a team of talented individuals that will help carry Les Clos Perdus in its ambitious journey of creating vibrant and elegant wines that reflect the wonderful and varied terroir of the Languedoc/Roussillon.

Over our short history it has become evident that the functioning and success of a viticulture/winery business relies, and is fuelled by, an extended family that understands the workings, ambitions and philosophies of the enterprise. These people include direct family, winery and vineyard workers, suppliers, agents, importers, caveists and sommeliers.

We are very grateful for those of you that have helped fuel Les Clos Perdus to this point and are looking forward to sharing with you our continuing development.

In the cave we have already undertaken a level of small batch exploration in new techniques and blends that should inform Les Clos Perdus in its future. In the vineyard we have increased treatments with tisane and compost liquids so as to reduce the reliance on sulphur.

So, having gathered a body of knowledge we hope to move forward with the same energy and innocence of our beginning.

Little Gidding

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S Eliot