Newsletter

Many thanks to James Dunstan and Shoko Nakagawa for spending a few days with us over vintage and for James in allowing us to use his detailed notes .

We caught up with the harvest on Sunday September 9 at Les Clos Perdus in the Languedoc-Roussillon where one of our favorite vignerons Paul Old makes a range of wines well above pay grade. We knew we’d get an education from Paul because as many of you will know he’s a native English speaker, who blends art, science and craft, with his background as a contemporary classical dancer, graduate in wine science from an Australian University, and now on his 15th harvest.for several weeks after, meaning the longest harvest Paul has experienced.

After a normal winter, cold, some rain, the months April to August saw an unusual amount of rain, as well as a heatwave. You may have seen pictures of the Seine river in Paris nearly overflowing bridges and parts of Northern France were flooded.

There were heavy rainfalls in the South, too – though less so in the wine regions in the middle of France, Champagne, the Loire, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Alsace, Northern Rhône. The rain caused serious problems with rot throughout the South of France from the Southern Rhône to the Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence. There are two main types of rot, downy mildew (known simply as mildew) and powdery mildew (known as odium). If you practice organic or biodynamic farming, you can treat with Sulphur (in powder form) against odium and with copper sulphate (called Bouillie Bordelaise, a liquid) against mildew. But this year the rain fell almost every week from early April to late June so there often wasn’t time to treat both before and after. Moreover when it rains you can’t always get into the vineyard after because the soil is too wet to move on.

Below is the monthly rainfall recorded in Narbonne (with 2017 in brackets). The truth is more complicated because Paul’s vineyards are scattered up to an hour from his base in Peyriac, 20 minutes south-east of Narbonne and closer to the sea. But it gives an idea.
January 23mm (69)
February 44mm (107)
March 151mm (81)
April 117mm (13)
May 93mm (19)
June 10mm (27)
July 41mm (14)
August 13mm (21)

Today we’re picking two parcels, both an hour away beyond Estagel in the Catalan hills of the Roussillon. Here Paul sources fruit for several wines, L’Année Rouge and Blanc as well as the top of the range L’Extrême Rouge and Blanc.

Up at 05h15 in the dark, there’s time for coffee but not to eat and we rely on last night’s big dinner for fuel. At 06h15, we join Paul outside his winery to leave in a convoy, Paul in front in his old, reliable orange Volkswagen van equipped with 4 wheel drive that gets it up and down hillside tracks. In a van behind, the Spanish vendangeurs.

The first parcel is one hectare of Macabeu planted in 1950 near Montner just beyond Calce on a south-facing hillside of mica schist, which presents minerality and salinity in the wine. The conditions are overcast and around 22ºC, perfect for picking, though not very uplifting for the soul. We pick for an hour and a half. I manage to fill about 3 cases. We have to be vigilant with each bunch picked to make sure there’s no rot. And if there is, we carefully pick it out or just drop the bunch completely if there are not many healthy berries left. 10 of us pick a total of 35 cases. We sit down for 10 minutes to drink a coffee with a croissant before moving on. However, we leave the 35 cases here because the next vineyard is up such a steep dirt track that the 4WD can only cope without an additional load. Bit scary.

Back to Estagel and out towards Maury and just past Mas Amiel in the Mas de Fredas, we leave our car at the foot of the hillside to hop in the VW to go up the slope while the Spanish mountaineers almost run up. Here we’re going to pick a half hectare of Grenache Noir planted around 1900 to 1910 on a very steep south-facing slope on crumbly schist or shale. Despite the age of the vines, this fruit will go into Paul’s inexpensive L’Année Rouge because being south-facing it gets too much sun and heat to develop finesse and complex aromas while retaining freshness. Albeit, Paul has vines on the north side of the slope from which, a couple of weeks later, he’ll harvest fruit for his majestic L’Extrême Cuvées. We spend a couple of hours to pick this parcel for a total of 65 cases. It’s harder work here since much of the fruit is so low-hanging as to be almost on the floor, and much hidden within the inner foliage of the vine. We load up the cases into the van and hop in for a hairy descent for the path seems almost vertical at points, deeply rutted and drops away sharp on the passenger side.

We all head back to the cellar, with Paul collecting the 35 cases from Montner first. We de-van the lot and take a break.

Later we process the two lots in the cellar with a finer level of detail than we’d anticipated.

We tip the Macabeu box by box into the de-stemmer, a horizontal machine that drops the fruit into a crate below while spitting out stems at the far end into another crate. We pick through the crates of de-stemmed and crushed fruit by hand to remove as many bits of stem as possible to ensure the cleanest conditions possible for the ferment. Then we load each crate into the small vertical press. We arrange a mat tailored to the dimensions of the press between layers of fruit and carefully pack around the sides with stems as well as alternate clumps of stems at 12 o’clock, then 3, then 6, then 9 on each layer. It’s a very manual process with obsessive attention to detail. The aim is to allow the press to work very slowly, cleanly and completely without berries getting stuck in the sides of the press or clumping together, as well as to gently oxidize the juice as well as obtain some phenolic matter from the stems that will lend structure and complexity to the wine. Paul tastes the juice every few minutes at the outset to assess its purity, sweetness, length of finish and changes the pressure of the press accordingly. There’s no template whatsoever, every process is adjusted to the condition of the fruit in hand. The juice is moved by very gentle pump into an old barrel that contains Carignan Blanc juice picked 4 days ago and that has just started to ferment. Paul had been thinking to make a pure Carignan Blanc but he ends up putting in the Macabeu we just picked because there’s no other small container into which he can put it – and that’s the pragmatic side of harvest; sometimes it’s just about logistics. So now we have a nice blend – which may yet go into the L’Annee blend depending on how it turns out, or it may turn out to be another micro-cuvee. Harvest is a moving target…

It takes about an hour to process the 35 boxes of Macabeu.

At around 13h30 we take a lunch break and smash down a bottle of Beaujolais Villages 2017 from Domaine Chapel, pure class and pleasure from this excellent new producer, son of legendary chef, Alain Chapel, who produced his first vintage 2016 at Lapierre.

Later, and after the traditional siesta, we process the Grenache Noir. We do this the same way. Through the de-stemmer/crusher, then hand pick out bits of stem. Then it gets interesting. The fruit is added to a stainless steel vat of Syrah picked 4 days earlier from the Frezas vineyard in the Corbières hills, planted in 1985 on soils of clay limestone with some schist and blue marne. It’s just started to ferment and the temperature is rising so the addition of Grenache will temporarily cool the must, stopping the fermentation, and introduce a new yeast population. Fermentation will spontaneously re-start later, and probably a more complex wine result. Pretty cool. And that’s just the entry level wine L’Annee. Paul will treat almost every tank and barrel with such attention and sense of play.

We clean up the winery, take out stems to dump temporarily in the nearest of Paul’s vineyards. And prepare for another early start.

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