Yesterday, I had the pleasure to receive Robert Cripps, owner of Domaine du Poujol, an English man living with his American wife, Kim, in the Languedoc for the past 18 years, which, as he likes to joke about it, makes them one of the first expatriate small owners of a Languedoc winery.
Robert is a self-taught winemaker, who trained and learned how to make wine in the cellar of a winery in California, where he met his wife Kim. Curious and creative with an artist attitude and adroit with his hands, he rapidly discovered his love for winemaking and the need for crafting wine. He also created his own wine labels. They both very handy and like to be in control of their Domaine.
It all began after a year of rain and part-time work in Burgundy, when Robert and Kim started looking for a place under the sun and found “Domaine du Poujol” in the Languedoc region, about 20 km/12 miles northwest of Montpellier, and situated between Pic St Loup, Montpeyroux and St Georges d'Orques.
Family owned, Domaine du Poujol is producing Appellation Contrôlée Coteaux du Languedoc and Vin de Pays wines from grapes grown, bottled and vinified at the domaine. The wines are well structured, elegant, and ideal for immediate drinking yet with good ageing potential.
The Domaine possesses 18 hectares of vines planted with various mostly indigenous and a few international grape varieties: Syrah, Grenache, Carignan Noir, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for the red and rosé wines, Vermentino (Rolle), Roussanne and Carignan Blanc for the white wines.
Robert and Kim do pretty much everything themselves from the vineyards to the cellar. Helped by Kim, Robert has multiple hats: owner, oenologist and winemaker. Their philosophy is to produce elegant, well-balanced wines that express the uniqueness and the character of the terroir: a unique combination of soils, topography, microclimate, exposure and environment.
They are not organic or biodynamic, but apply the technique of “Lutte Raisonnée” (comparable to Sustainable culture), which is somehow a compromise between the two previous methods with more flexibility and the possibility to moderately use some chemicals and pesticides but less often and less aggressively than conventional producers and only if really needed. Conscientiously practiced, this method resembles quite a lot to organic culture in many ways, except for the use, even if minimal, of chemicals. And compared to Organic culture or Biodynamic culture, the producers using the Lutte Raisonnée method (or concept) are not subject to any system of checks from certified organizations or any previously agreed limits to what is permissible to do in his vineyards.
Robert is quite old school and traditional, instead of trusting multiple analyses and other statistic numbers, he prefers to walk in his vineyards, listen his guts feeling and be guided by his taste buds especially during harvest time. As he told me today:” I pick randomly some grapes in different parcels to taste them and assess the level of ripeness of the fruit and tannins: if the tannins are too ripe, it is already too late because the grape should have been harvested a few days earlier; if the tannins remain a bit crisp and the fruit is ripe with good acidity, then it is time to harvest.”
Yet, harvest are also operated differently, he never harvests an entire parcel at the same time, he picks and chooses rows or portions of rows here and there to only pick gradually the grapes with the most ideal ripeness. He makes his vines selection depending on the soil, the exposure and the microclimate.
After being hand-harvested, the grapes are usually fermented in concrete vat lined with epoxy (much less expensive than the stainless steel tanks, less variation of temperature and more air interaction) or in 10 years old “demi-muid”, a large oak barrel of 600 liters. Some of its demi-Muid comes from Francois Chidaine, a great producer of Montlouis in the Loire Valley. The wines are naturally crafted with minimal intervention, minimal use of sulfur and bottled with no fining or filtering.
Usually labeled under “Appellation Contrôlée Côteaux du Languedoc” and “Vin de Pays” wines from grapes grown, bottled and vinified at the domaine; the Cripps produce excellent, earthy, terroir driven wines that are fresh, textured and structured, a touch rustic yet somewhat quite elegant, with good acidity, crispy tannins and integrated alcohol, which is rather unusual for Languedoc wines. They are usually ideal for immediate drinking about 6-8 months after bottling yet possess very good ageing potential.
2008 Domaine du Poujol "Pico" white Vin de Pays de l'Hérault Languedoc France
Suggested retail price $14-$17
Imported by Kermit Lynch
A blend of predominantly Vermentino, also known as Rolle (45-50%) and Carignan Blanc (35%) with a twist of Roussane (5-10%) crafted in concrete vats, this pale straw color wine offers aromas of white fruit, fresh nuts, earth and minerals. The medium bodied palate is fairly well rounded, clean, rich yet crisp, balanced and food friendly, with a long mineral finish where linger white fruit and nutty notes. Quite lovely overall!
2007 Domaine du Poujol “Proteus” red Vin de Pays de l'Hérault Languedoc France
Suggested retail price $14-$17
Imported by Kermit Lynch
“Proteus” is predominately a blend of Merlot (50%) and Cinsault (30%) completed with a blend of all the other grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, etc..) that they do not use for their other wines (that doesn’t mean that the grapes are bad or that the quality of this wine is low, it just mean that after careful harvest and sorting for the other wines, the remaining grapes go into this wine).
Here again, produced in concrete vats, the resulting wine is quite well crafted with dark ruby color and good intensity. The nose is fresh, earthy and mineral with ripe red wild berry fruit, earth, hints of garrigues and rustic leather, spicy notes. The palate is also crisp with vivid acidity, bright red fruit, earth, mineral and a lingering finish with slight tannic touches. A food friendly wine for everyday drinking, touch rustic but balanced and pleasing!
2005 Domaine du Poujol “Podio Alto” red Côteaux du Languedoc France
Suggested retail price $23-$26
Imported by Kermit Lynch
Grapes for the “Podio Alto” are grown in six, predominantly south facing, rocky limestone based hillside vineyards, situated at 100-200m above sea level. The Grenache vines are 25 years old, the Mourvèdre was planted in 2001 and the Syrah in 1985 and 1997.
The flagship of this winery, “Podio Alto” is a blend of 35-40% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre, 20-25% Grenache and 10-15% Cinsault that was aged in old demi-Muid oak barrel of 600 liters for 12 months and was bottled, like all their wines, with no fining and no filtering.
Behind its deep garnet color, the expressive 2005 Podio Alto shows intense aromas of dark red fruit, plums, leather, garrigues, earth and liquorice. The palate has had time to settle down and open up. It offers a soft, integrated, rich and generous profile with great structure and enhancing acidity despite the ripeness of the fruit. Supple tannins support the ripe dark fruit character that lingers through to the finish. The touch of oak, which is barely noticeable, adds complexity to this wine. Here again, the rustic touch is enjoyable, makes this wine even more food friendly and represents the undeniable proof of the nature oriented way of producing wine from the Cripps. Enjoy over grilled meat like Beef and Lamb, but also country dishes like rabbit, venison or wild boar.
LeDom du Vin
Info mainly taken from my discussion with Robert Cripps while tasting his wines at the store
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