Ξ May 25th, 2010 | → 5 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, CAHORS, International Terroirs, Technology, Wine News, Young Winemakers |
It sometimes happens in life that you meet a person of such spiritual dedication that you think things differently, your world-view nudged in a new direction. Such was my encounter with Laurent Rigal, son of Franck Rigal, family winemakers for Château de Grezels and Prieuré de Cenac in Parnac, AOC Cahors. On the first night of Malbec Days here in Cahors, what was called the Pré-ouverture, a kind of sneak preview, I tasted only a small number of wines, a few of which immediately caught my attention, this despite the tremendous heat inside the venue (I was told air conditioning was too expensive to install, coming in at around €10,000). Of those wines, one stuck in my imagination, ‘La Vierge’, from the Prieuré de Cenac vineyard. By virtue of a personal meander appropriate to this region dominated, as it is, by the Lot River, and the generous assistance of Jean-Marie Sigaud, I was to meet father and son the following day. A winemaker discussing their work often presents two faces, one public, a visage of commercial, more formal utterances, and the other, private, far rarer. I was fortunate to listen to the latter.
The vineyard for La Vierge is situated within 39 hectares of gently sloping hills high above the Lot River. At the top of the very highest hill is a special terroir in that it contains a 50% concentration of the most desirable soil admixture in AOC Cahors, clays, principally red, and 50% limestone. Iron, a red clay element, gives minerality and adds balance and complex aromas in the wine. The vineyard was planted on Laurent’s birthday 30 years ago, in 1979, from which the first harvest was taken in 1983. That was a very good year owing to the modest yield. The vineyard for La Vierge sees no chemicals and is all hand-picked. It is, most importantly for Laurent, biodynamic, his passion.
He began working this vineyard 7 years ago after finishing school in Bordeaux. There he learned the principles of terroir, biodynamics, the influence of the ocean on weather, and especially a respect for the land and its biodiversity. For it is biodiversity that informs the success of the grape harvest. And it is the responsibility of the winemaker to give back to the land what he takes away. All of these principles represented the broader change taking place in the entirety of the AOC.
When purchased this vineyard was already planted to the vine, but owing to its great age it was replanted with new vines, so low had the yields become. (Currently around 8,000-10,000 bottles come from the site.) It was formerly owned by a monk. The monk grew a large variety of cereals and vegetables during and after the Second World War, as well as maintaining a vineyard. Many monks sustained the local appetites and economies during this difficult time all throughout France.
Of the vintages from Prieuré de Cenac, Laurent has been responsible for 6, from 2003 forward. Of the difference between his first vintage and most recent he explains:
Laurent Rigal For the first vintage I was very excited. And very stressed! My father and grandfather set very high quality standards I had to meet. My first vintage was very hard work. I tried to make it perfect. But I felt I worked for nothing because it was a passion that drove me. Then I worked every day from early morning to mid-night, as late as two in the morning. Now I work more efficiently because working too hard on the vine and wine brings a negativity to the wine. I give the whole process more liberty and approach the harvest and vinification with greater respect, letting it develop on its own. Before I was pumping-over [remontage] 6 times a day; now I keep it at 2. It is better.
On the property there stands the monastery that, as Franck Rigal explains, the family hopes to renovate into a rooms for visitors, perhaps room enough for six. This he tells me as he drives our small car onto the steep slope to the vineyard hilltop. There is no road, but it is wide enough(!) Under brilliant sun, expansive sight lines in all directions above the broad and gentle slopes, we stop and I take in what they call mamelom, the ‘tit’ of La Vierge. But there is more to this name than a mere description. For Le Vierge means ‘virgin’, and the monk had cleared a place of quiet contemplation in the trees just a stone’s throw away. A spiritual topography begins to come into focus.
Laurent Rigal I will show you his place of quiet repose in a moment. But I want to say that here there is energy, a strong cosmic force and a telluric force. There is a concentration at La Vierge, and all around the statue is a reseau [network] that helps keep the vines in good health. There is another concentration of energy in the prieuré which serves the entire vineyard. This is very important for biodynamic viticulture because we use this energy to develop good health, to infuse the earth and the vine with life. The winemaker must learn to develop this force in the plant, the vine, and to so help reduce the quantity of chemicals.
We have three products in biodynamics: We use cow manure, and we prepare it according to Maria Thun – she is the person who developed biodynamie in France and Germany – we also produce mineral sprays for application on the vines. Two products are for developing the telluric force and one is to develop the cosmic force, to attract the light onto the vine. It is very important that you develop and focus the energy of the universe, the light. But this is rare. It is not easy to do.
So it is that the mamelom, the name of the hill, La Vierge, that of the vineyard, are descriptive elements of a kind of immaculate nursing (if I may put it that way) with the cosmos.
We then, midst a riot of bird-song, walked down the mamelom to Laurent’s place of contemplation and one of the vineyard’s power points. It was here that I took the picture of Laurent and his father, Franck. The picture of Laurent above shows him sitting at the precise power site initially discovered by the monk.
Laurent Rigal I was up this morning at 3 o’clock preparing and spraying, according to the calendar, the constellations, preparations for this vineyard! So I am a little tired today. In biodynamics there are four days: A fruit day, a leaf day, a root day, and a seed day. Today was a fruit day.
Here, at this quiet place, there is a concentration of telluric and cosmic force. Some people who visit this place feel this energy coursing through their fingers. And when you sit down, not to pray but to think, and if you are energy-friendly, then you may receive the energy.
And of the wine made here, the aromas and the taste of La Vierge, you can say the moon and the sun are in harmony. The wine is the expression of this union. We will be bringing a horse and cow to the vineyard soon; they bring good astral properties. This is a very special terroir for biodynamie. You have iron and orange clay.
Next I will show you the cave of the prieuré, but just for you. It was built by the monk. I do not often talk about these things, but you have an ambience. I can see it in the eyes when people do not want to listen.
In moments we are in the cave, the property’s second power point located beneath the main structure, the house to be renovated for guests in the fullness of time. Though I am a bit uncomfortable in doing so, I must stress that Laurent did give me permission to post the accompanying photo.
Laurent Rigal This was built by the monk, and it is in the form of the cross of Christ. I put my biodynamic preparations down here to bring into them the energy of the cave and the cross. Here I make the two products, preparations, described by Maria Thun. This one I put on the earth for an energy of concentration and recuperation…. This is a special place for me.
We head back to Cahors, the bridge where Laurent still faced the balance of the day pouring his wines. I was again to see him in the evening when, now nearly sleep-walking, he poured wines into the night, still cheerful, composed, radiating a great inner peace. I shall treasure my time with the gentleman and his father, among the finest moments of my time in the Cahors region.