Tuesday, April 6, 2010
When a family chooses to work together much is possible. A father who encourages and offers responsibility to his sons, an elder brother who admires and follows his more experienced younger brother. And yes, Mom who holds up the rear coping on all that tiresome administrative paper work! But then again, this was her property, her dowry. She inherited it when she was only eighteen and her husband joined her to manage it till their sons were of age.
When a team such as this unites, what can stop them? The Coston family is now into its fifth generation of wine makers. They've owned their village home and cellar in Puéchabon along with various parcels of vineyards in the surrounding hills and plateaus for nearly forever. And now they are expanding and exploring new options.
The sons, Philippe 35 the man in the cellar, Jean-Marie 39 main marketing man and cellar assistant, joined their father -- the primary person managing the vines -- in 1998. Quickly the choice to cultivate organically became both desired and obvious. Living and breathing phyto-chemicals one more year was out of the question.
Strong arms and youth have led them to renovate, replace and improve. The cellar is filled with small stainless steel tanks permitting the individual vinification of each parcel and each grape varietal. The top cuvée red is aged in new oak, about a third of which is renewed yearly. The tasting room is beautifully and simply renovated, with a majestic stone well right there (should you prefer water to wine), an ancient iron wheel with spokes its protective door.
The vines range from fifteen years' old to sixty (the vieille vigne Carignan). And shortly, there will be eight new hectares (18 acres) planted in the red varietals so cherished in these parts: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and a handful of Cabernet Franc.
I came to visit, to taste, to see. But to see the vineyards you have to hop into a jeep and head off to the hills. The Coston family has purchased land high up on the plateaus of their region. After passing by a château, neighboring vineyards and abandoned olive orchards, we headed up a rutted and rough dirt road, through the scrub oak and herb encrusted limestone range (perfect for hiking and mountain biking!). Till... we arrived.
For the serious oenophiles amongst you, it is possible that this road, and the land that lines it has a familiar look to it... Anyone remember Mondovino? Well, when Robert Mondavi and his family were unable to purchase this parcel of land in the Languedoc, it went back on the block. Or actually, when he attempted to purchase it, the French agricultural governmental agency that tries to keep good land in the hands of those who will till it and cultivate it opened up the sale to local vintners and through a strenuous list of criteria selected the Coston family as the beneficiaries of the right to purchase. Thus, though they couldn't put the funds forth that Mondavi might have, they were able -- after ten years of haggling and persistence -- to obtain this land.
They have now done to a portion of it what Mondavi would have done to all of it. They have removed the Garrigue and chewed up the massive limestones to render the area plantable. It is somewhere between a lunar landscape and the top of a barren mountain. Gone are the wild oak, the rosemary, the thyme. And with the passage of the massive stone crusher, what was monumental stones has become shale.
The view is fantastic, the site extremely promising, and the possibilities tantalizing. Down below are the vineyards of the Grange des Pères, long a favorite of the region.
With this land the family will not quite double their production. Plans to expand the cellar are already necessary. Perhaps it is a good thing that grape vines require a minimum of three years before they become productive.
Meantime, the next generation -- currently 5 1/2 and 3 months -- will grow and who knows? Happiness and success is contagious after all.
But yes, it is a winery, right? And I am looking to bring their wines to the US -- currently to Portland, OR and to Chicago this summer. This was the (ostensible) reason for my visit (and for my brief moment of being lost as I manoeuvred around Montpellier).
After tasting all five of their wines I chose two of their range to bring with me to the States this year: their white which I found rich in orchard fruit and yellow flowers, long in the mouth, aromatic and pleasantly different. It is made with Roussanne (think Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a concentrated and rich grape that ages well) and Grenache Blanche. I tasted the 2006 and was quite wowed.
My favorite of their three reds (a vin de pays, their classic and their top cuvée aged in wood) was their classic. Called Les Terrasses du Larzac it is their coeur de gamme. It was simply (and most carefully) vinified in stainless steel tanks, no wood. The pleasing result is deep fruit flavors of black cherries and exotic spices. Mmmmm