Ξ June 1st, 2010 | → 3 Comments | ∇ CAHORS, Interviews, Technology, Wine History, Wine News, Young Winemakers |
Clos Troteligotte is an interesting property. Stylistically, it straddles the line between old and new Cahors, but is not part of a generational movement as such. It understands its future as one driven by an independence of spirit and a work ethic, the true patrimony of the South West. Clos Troteligotte builds upon this cultural continuity with refreshing innovation, a new perspective. I’ll explain.
Traditional Cahors AOC winemaking is difficult to grasp. Its long history has been punctuated by environmental disasters, changing international fortunes, the rise of powerful, politically astute regional rivals, the emergence of America as a winemaking power, its rechristening, if not rebirth, in the 1970s, and, most recently, Argentina’s successful marketing of the Malbec grape under Cahors’ very nose. Indeed, Cahors AOC identity today is an unsettled confluence of multiple histories and restarts. We can catch glimpses of the magnificence of the wines produced, more numerous examples in recent years, but I don’t believe the Cahors AOC has experienced sufficient continuity as a wine growing region for the rest of the world to clearly understand what it is she has done, certainly not what she now does. It was not until the 1990s, after all, that a thorough analysis of what Andrew Jefford has called the forgotten terroirs was even undertaken.
Now the Cahors AOC project becomes to expand and to deepen this new local knowledge of itself, of its terroirs and the best viticulture, for the sake of its growers, producers, and the thirsty public. For it remains true, as I was often reminded by locals themselves, that a substantial number of Cahors AOC vignerons still do not know the strengths and weaknesses of their own lands, whether their vineyards are in the right place, or where to look within the AOC at large for terroirs of great potential. This last point is important in that I strongly sense that others from outside the region are now shopping for AOC acreage. (I, myself, have more than once in the past few weeks wondered whether I might make a go of it here!) Of spectacular potential, this small AOC in the South West of France has only begun to shower the world with the soulful, expressive gifts of its terroirs. Like much of Portugal, I am convinced that the Cahors AOC is on the verge of far wider international recognition than now enjoyed. There is no downside to its fortunes.
Of Clos Troteligotte. Founded in 1987 by patriarch Christian Rybinski, it is a 10 hectare (1 of white grapes just coming in) family operation spearheaded by young son Emmanuel. They combine excellent red plateau soils, an appreciation of contemporary viticultural thinking, a relentless work ethic, internet savoir-faire, experimentation, and an abiding love of their patrimony into a range of bright wines, including a white and rosé. I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with Emmanuel. What follows is a blended narrative of the interview.
Troteligotte, Emmanuel explains, is the name of his grandfather’s house. It means a place where there are a lot of partridge (my effort to find an exact translation was unsuccessful). As we approached the property and drove a private dirt road through wooded land just east of the Villesèque commune, itself ten minutes west of Cahors off D653, sure enough partridge bolted in front of us. They did not fly, but ran. Emmanuel described his vineyard as atop the plateau, an iron-rich clay and limestone mix. Unobstructed sunshine is on the vines, the surrounding forest having been cleared for cereal grains and animal forage as well. Emmanuel’s father, Christian, though an agronomist, was an ingenue. He didn’t know a lot about wine when he initially planted the Clos Troteligotte’s vines in ‘87. His own father had been a farmer, had not known the vine. But Christian learned with each vintage and soon left the negociants behind with a focus on quality, a resolution made in 1998, the year of his first great effort.
In 2004 Emmanuel had returned from Australia. He had worked in Victorian Alps Winery, near the Victorian Alps in the state of Victoria. He had also put put in time in Napa as an assistant winemaker at Chateau Potelle in 2002. So, back in Villesèque in 2004, he began to make his multiple signature cuvées. Shortly was to come, with the help of his father, their first Charte de Qualité wine in 2004, the CQfd [see pic].
Diversity of wines is the key to the Clos’ success. Emmanuel has complete control over block, vine, and grape selection to do as he pleases. So why not explore the variety their current 40,000 bottle capacity allows? Eight thousand of Rosé, 4,000 of the white blend, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, and the balance of classic Cahors blends, Malbec, Merlot, and Tannat. The white blend is quite interesting, the result of an experiment with the three varieties none of which were planted in sufficient quantities to warrant a separate bottling. But next year he will plant more vines for two new whites, a Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc blend and a stand-alone Viognier.
Father and son do everything; they work the vineyards, the cellar, the barnyard, they do all the marketing, including hand-selling at markets, the labels. Control rests entirely in their hands. Their new website, too, was Emmanuel’s doing, though with the help of a friend who runs eure-k!, a new innovative web design collective, in this instance charged with creating a site which reflected Emmanuel’s electric personality. It took six months, but the results are certainly more energizing and visually arresting than any other Cahors AOC producer sites I’ve visited on the net. They also do tee-shirts, fliers offering discounts, all that modern marketing stuff (like talking to me). Though not yet on Facebook or Twitter (it takes time he does not have!), he does have a blog administered by his lovely wife, Emily. (Though not always a part of Emmanuel’s narrative, Emily is undeniably central to their success.) All of this raises his profile and that of the winery. From his work in Australia and California he learned the importance of wine tourism, something he hopes to increase to his property in the near future. Future plans call for the building of a new cellar for tastings and sales, educational talks; a showplace for local art, theater, music, and books; a comfortable place for cultural gatherings and conversation, what Emmanuel calls a Country or Rural Cultural Center. Under construction now, he hopes to open the doors in the Spring/Summer of 2012.
These kinds of initiatives, incidentally, are going on all over the Cahors AOC. Indeed, the local wine and tourism authorities have launched a five-year plan to completely revitalize the region. It is an exciting time to be a winemaker here! Yet Emmanuel’s advice may not be sought, at least in the beginning. Along with other young winemakers 30 and under, they have not yet earned the confidence of the older generation. For that distinction, a greater region recognition of one’s work is required.
Emmanuel is not particularly concerned with such matters. He really has no time to speak formally about the development of the appellation in any case. He has more than enough work to do, what with his winemaking, viticultural practice, marketing, house and out-building construction and family responsibilities. He is the father of three beautiful young children. Malbec Days, in fact, offered him an excellent opportunity to combine a number of tasks, including meeting local officials, exporters, wine writers, etc. all while pouring his wines.
We arrive at the vineyards, the house and future cellar under construction just beyond. His current cellar is simply too small for his ambitious plans. The vineyard is 9 hectares of Malbec and 1 of Merlot. The Merlot was put in his first cuvée, La Fourmi and in his bag-in-a-box wine. But no Merlot is used for his middle and high cuvées. Those wines are 100% Malbec. I should add that the white grapes are not grown on the same soil as the red. In the main vineyard heavy iron-rich stones, some appearing 100% pure, lie scattered about the ground and lurk just beneath the surface. Years ago such stones were smelted to make iron farm and martial instruments. Were it to rain the soil would turn red before my eyes.
Green harvest is the order of the day at the more progressive vineyards, as here. Emmanuel explains the maximum number of canes allowed, 4 to 5, along each cordon. Grape bunches are severely reduced to one per cane. Yields for the higher quality cuvées are around 30 hectoliters per hectare, the lowest yield is used for the CQfd. Contrast this to the easier drinking, less expensive La Fourmi, for which 45 to 50 hectoliters per hectare are harvested. As may be seen, grass and flowers are everywhere between the rows, but Clos Troteligotte is not yet biologique. La Lutte Raisonnée is practiced, essentially what we would call ’sustainable’. In two to three years they will complete the transition to biologique, or ‘organic’. Under the raisonnée regime a very small amount of ‘product’ is used, sulphur and copper, usually once a year. No insecticide is applied. But even this quantity, Emmanuel explains, has been reduced by half since 2000. As a result the vines have become more and more capable of resisting what diseases there are in this dry climate. During a typical growing season it is only the leaves, and not the grape bunches, which are occasionally attacked. Clean grapes help, of course, with the vinifications, all done with ‘wild’ yeast.
Because it is just Emmanuel and his father, the grapes are mechanically harvested. Small select parcels are harvested first, when it is coldest, between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. in the morning. The disease-free grape clusters, a feature of both climate and viticulture, do not really need hand harvesting. No post-harvest de-selecting is required. Besides, a hectare may be harvested in under two hours at an optimal temperature and have the grapes in the winery before the morning chill has fled. The whites, however, are hand harvested because of oxidative matters. Curiously, their vineyards are consistently ready for harvest a full week earlier than their closest neighbor, a vineyard property only one kilometer away. Perhaps it is the forest circling their lands that provide an extra bit of protection, perhaps a subtle microclimate subtends the difference.
We leave the red soils of the Malbec/Merlot vineyard (with a small amount of Tannat, 2 to 3 percent) to view the white clay, chalkier soils for Clos Troteligotte’s whites. The vineyard bordered the forest, but in the past few years the trees have been cleared to make room for more vines to come, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier, as mentioned above. The empty field is now planted with cereal grains while they prepare for the new vineyard.
I was next introduced to a small plantation of very young oaks, what they hope will become truffle trees in no fewer than 7 years. Asked about a vegetable garden, Emmanuel very proudly said they grew for the family. “We do everything!” They don’t use conventional paper diapers for their children. Instead, they use a hemp fabric, and for their tee-shirts, not to mention for the insulation of their home. His uncle has 40 hectares of cereals under cultivation. Complete with a windmill and grinding stone, grains for the family and their chickens and pigs are produced there. The pig manure is, bien sûr, returned to the fields. Like Emmanuel says, “We do everything!”
Heating of the family home, Emmanuel and Emily’s, is provided by a large stove. After firing it up for a couple of hours it provides heat all throughout the night, important when the temperature last winter plunged from an average of zero to minus 10. With the stove they bake their own bread. They harvest meats from their own livestock. Their family life and that of their farm supports and maintains long-standing Cahors country traditions. They remind me of rural folks living in Mendocino County or in western Montana. I couldn’t help thinking I had met these people before. I’m sure I have. And like their American counterparts, they are not making much money. Emmanuel laughs, “Not yet. Not yet. We work 7 days a week. We have one short holiday a year. Me and my wife. But I am on a good path. Next year I hope to take more time off… maybe pay someone to come with me into the vineyards. That would allow me to do something else.”
I was welcomed at their family house. Emily brought out a bowl of strawberries. Their apple-cheeked children eyed me with amusement, dressed as I was in unseasonable, unreasonable black and sporting multiple electronic devices. A friendly old dog, perhaps a Bernese, went back to the shade. Emmanuel introduced me and soon had his eldest son practicing his English numbers aloud. Their youngest offered me a bottle of liquid soap and a bubble wand. The ice water infused with citron tasted good.
Though I was to spend another 45 minutes with Emmanuel touring the winery proper and other sites, and listening to his extraordinary visions that I am certain will be realized, I feel it is best to end my post here. I had seen, tasted and heard much in my week in the Cahors region. But no experience was quite so perfect, so personally fulfilling for this weary stranger than my few precious minutes here with the Rybinski family.
For further reading, a supplemental link.