Southern France’s Montagne d’Alaric dominates the Aude Valley between Narbonne and Carcassonne. Just 600 meters high and more of an undulating hill than a mountain; it lies in the northern part of Languedoc in the Corbières region just below Minervois. Mark and I recently took a trip to this area for wine exploration. One of the wineries we found is Château La Baronne.
La Baronne was purchased by André and Suzette Lignères in 1957. Today, their son Jean, with his wife Anne, run the 90 hectare (220 acre) estate. Organic since 2000 and biodynamic since 2014, they produce red and white wines, a rosé, and a skin fermented orange wine. Minimal sulfites are used and two of their wines are ‘sans souffre’ (sulfite free).
Respecting The Rhythm of Life
One of my questions was why they choose to farm organically and why they became Demeter certified (biodynamic). Jean’s entire family- parents, siblings and Jean himself- are physicians who understand the consequences of chemicals. They asked themselves how they could take care of something that’s alive if they doused it with chemicals. And in the absence of them, how they could help a grapevine cross the seasons and years thriving with life?
The answer is not easy but Biodynamic principles helped answer these questions. After utilizing them in specific vineyards, quick results were seen. They don’t know why various remedies and principles work; there are no scientific answers. But what they do know is their vineyards thrive.
Of course we asked about the warming climate and access to water.
“Even in very dry years, we don’t have problems with the vines experiencing extreme hydric stress. At least not so far. We believe this is because they are strong. Perhaps due to the use of biodynamics, but we may never know.” Anne Lignères
The Ebb and Flow of Vinification
Some things in life require time and patience. Like learning to meditate, a practice during which I’m constantly reeling my thoughts back in, trying to quiet and center my brain. And others require swiftness. The same applies to winemaking.
While some producers prefer long, slow maceration, La Baronne chooses a quicker process for their natural wines because they don’t want problems to surface. Maceration typically lasts between 10 to 12 days. For all other wines it’s about 25 days. But some have taken as long as 40 days. Maceration occurs in stainless tanks and also amphorae.
When alcoholic fermentation finishes- note they use indigenous yeasts only- the wine is racked. Depending on which wine, they age in closed stainless steel tanks, concrete tanks, amphora, foudres (large barrels) and Bordeaux barrels (225 liters). Red wines undergo malolactic fermentation before bottling.
This vinification process works well for La Baronne when their grapes are balanced. However, the fermentation process can be complicated if vines experience stress during the spring. For example, bad blossoming because of harsh weather (low temperatures, frost, rains, and extreme hydric stress (like in 2016).
Typical for the southern Languedoc area, there is an emphasis on Carignan, much of it old vines. Other varieties are plentiful too including Mourvédre, Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache Noir, Lledoner Pelut, Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Roussillon, Marsanne, Bourboulenc, Vermentino, Clairette, Terret, and Muscat. La Baronne works with several of these varieties.
Exploring La Baronne Wines
Another item was the slight reductive nature of many of the wines. This is a La Baronne strategy that preserves them without, or with miniscule use of sulfites. It imparts the flavors and freshness of the wine. Because of this, they can withstand oxidation. Reduction is something that dissipates while oxidation does not. One could also say it lets subtle terroir differences show.
As we tasted, I noticed the glow in Anne’s eyes, tired yet excited to share information about their operation and wines. She talked passionately about their choice to farm without chemicals and to experiment, then finally convert to utilizing biodynamic principles. She shared that many people ask why it works but they don’t have an answer. They just know that their vineyards are healthier, and their wines are fresher and more vibrant than ever.
Indigenous, naturally occurring yeasts are used for fermentation. All wines are unfined and unfiltered.
Below we share wine details and tasting notes on a few.
Las Vals Roussanne 2017 – Vin de France | 13.5% abv | 21.5€
Total production: 4,000 bottles per year
Soil: Limestone, clay, sandstone
Vinification: 10-12 day maceration on skins in terracotta amphorae, then racked to previously used barrels for six months before bottling.
Aromas of apricot, quince, yellow blossoms, and wet stones; less ripe apricot and white peach on the very alive and rich palate yet the fruit has a thin layer of citrusy vanilla cream on top.
Le Grenache Gris de Jean 2016 – Vin de France | 12.5% abv | 19.5€
Soil: Limestone gravels
Vinification: Six month maceration on skins; fermented in small stainless tanks; aged in amphorae for twelve months; ‘sans sulfites ajoutés’ (no sulfites added).
A complex nose of walnuts and almonds with peach, spices, and anise. The palate has an inviting savory bitterness, inviting because I think it would pair nicely with a variety of foods. This is a super drinkable wine, commonly referred to as ‘orange wine’.
Les Chemins de Traverse 2017 (Cinsault, Grenache) – Corbières AOP |13% abv | 17.5€
Soil: Clay Limestone Gravels and Blue Marl
Vinification: 25 day maceration; fermented in small stainless tanks; aged for twelve months in amphorae; ‘sans sulfites ajoutés’ (no sulfites added).
Las Vals Mourvèdre 2016 – IGP Aude-Hauterive | 14.5% abv | 23€
Soil: Limestone, clay, gravely sandstone
Vinification: 25 to 30 day maceration; aged in barrels for twelve months.
This is one of the most elegant mourvèdre we’ve tasted to date, having fine and balanced tannins. They don’t punch down or pump over. They de-stem, fill the stainless tanks then let the must and liquid sit. Temperatures are monitored and juice is poured over the cap to keep it moist during fermentation. This happens over the course of a few days. Anne likened the process to steeping a tea infusion- you don’t bother it, it does its own thing. This is a very gentle process that doesn’t extract too much bitterness or an abundance of tannins. After fermentation completes the wine is put into eight and nine year old barrels.
Carignan 2017 – Vin de France |12% abv | 18€
- Total production: 8,000 bottles
- Soil: calcareous clay gravels, marl
- Vinification: 10 to 12 day maceration; fermented then aged in amphorae for twelve months.
Pièce de Roche 2014 (Carignan) | 12.5% abv | 34€
Soil: Alluvium and Fine Calcareous Clay Gravels
Vinification: 25 to 30 day maceration; fermented in stainless tanks then racked to a combination of barrels and amphorae; aged for twelve months.
Mixed red berries, notes of cinnamon, provincial herbs, and tobacco aromas are fairly intense. Then, slight pine and cocoa on the round palate. And the medium acid and tannins are perfectly balanced and finessed. The wine is sassy yet soft and elegant with length that goes on. They definitely have the natural and biodynamic thing down! Their efforts are certainly seen in this wine, a delight to drink.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a rainy spring day than getting to know Château La Baronne. We didn’t taste an off wine. On the contrary everything was quite exceptional. We will certainly make another trip to La Baronne and highly recommend them to anyone visiting this area.