Wine. You drink it; I drink it. In fact, I’m drinking it right now. It’s a wonderful elixir, joie de vivre distilled into red, white and, if you’re that way inclined, rosé. We fixate on the vintages, the provenance, everything down to the imagined blackberries wafting onto the palate. What most of us think less about though is just how the wine’s made.
That’s changing of course: organic wines are coming to the forefront of every Whole Foods, and every hangover is put down to an excess of sulphites as much as overindulgence. Yet while farm-to-table has become a mainstay of every seasonal, locally produced, painstakingly sourced, desperate-for-attention restaurant, it’s not the same with grapes. Purely natural wines are few and far-between, and the reasons seem relatively grounded in realism.
“For the last 40-50 years,” explains winemaker Denis Feigel, “I have often heard, ‘With our neighbours spraying synthetic pesticides and fertiliser, true organic wines do not exist.’ Of course, with such an idea and vision on things, no one would have ever gone into organic agriculture if that was the case!”
Indeed, as founder and head of wine production for Domaine des Prés Lasses, Denis should know; he’d be out of a job if organic wine were impossible. And yet the region of Faugeres in which the winemaker is nestled, is responsible for 65 per cent of all organic wine production. The question is, what does that actually mean? “There’s no weeding,” says Denis. “There’s no insecticides and every method we – and importantly our neighbours – use is green. It leaves us with a clean environment with greater biodiversity and a healthier terroir.”
Terroir as ever is at the core of winemaking at Domaine des Prés Lasses and in the case of Faugeres that means a soil uniformly consisting of schistes, and frequent changes in altitude with small hills 150-350 metres high. For a lot of plants, it’s hell on Earth; for wine grapes, it’s perfect – and that’s precisely what the winemaker wants to reflect in the liquid itself.
“It’s not always easy and there’s a lot to consider in how you reflect terroir. Our idea is that the winemaker’s own impact should be as limited as possible. That way, the terroir is allowed to flourish more freely in the finished wine. It’s a balance of course, but we find that the more naturally you make your wine, the more faithfully you recreate your unique terroir.”
Of course, that kind of outlook doesn’t mean good, otherwise cooking wouldn’t be a thing. But at the same time, it’s a common misconception that natural and organic wines are inferior. Having sampled what Domaine des Prés Lasses, I can confirm that they are very, very good.
The Domaine des Prés Lasses Chemin de Ronde ticks off every sort of flavour an oenophile might want. As aromatic as a spring meadow with floral, fruity and spicy notes, the entire wine is underpinned by the minerality that is the Faugeres signature flourish. There’s not a hint of sulphur in any part of the wine, part of the reason why it also ages magnificently.
If you want a masterclass in just how exceptional the Chemin de Ronde is, look no further than world-renowned British wine critic Jancis Robinson OBE, who gave the wine a particularly glowing review. She’s in charge of the Queen’s cellars, so you’d hope she knows her stuff. Then again, it’s easy to buy into a fine wine that a critic has recommended, if only because it’s evidently a lovely drink. So why does the fact that it’s naturally made actually matter?
“As the consumption of wine is not vital, the way we cultivate the vine must be exemplary,” says Denis. “If we don’t care for the soil and give the plants the right nutrients to grow, if we over mechanise and divert nature too much, the compacted clay of the soil will slip away with each rainfall. Finally, though, we are seeing more and more producers adopting a similar approach to ours, building on the trial and error we and others have gone through and the way we’ve developed best practices. Having the occasional stellar review helps too, of course; you imitate success.”
Not every natural, organic wine is the saviour of your cellar. There’s no blanket statement that one way of making wine produces something better than another, with exceptions everywhere. But as Domaine des Prés Lasses are proving, you can love your wine, love the environment and bring both together in a single glass. Sante!
More details at Domaine des Prés Lasses.