The horse and the ‘Foudre end’, magnificently displayed in what was once just the Tasting Room but now hastily performing both its original function and that of the office as well, sums up the Estates history. The title ‘Domaine Des Carabiniers’ comes from the fact that the original winery was converted from stables that were the home of the ‘Carabinieri’, the Papal Guards of the 14th c when Avignon, just down the road, was the home of the ‘French Pope’ for nearly 100 years. The Family adopted the horse as their symbol and the rest is history.
Arriving from Piedmont in the 1920’s the Leperchois Family, from a wine making background, worked in the local wine industry and bought 3 hectares in 1930 and provided the local cooperative with excellent fruit until in 1974 the 3rd generation ‘Christian’ took over and started to bottle his own ‘Cotes du Rhone’. During his early tenure the winery and cellars were created, and the estate was extended to 9 ha. By 1980 he was creating Tavel and Lirac and had added another 11 ha, in the 1990’s another 10 ha was added and the pre-occupation with Bio began with the gaining of ‘Ecocert’ and Bio certification was obtained. In the 2000’s son, Fabien and daughter, Magali were brought in and the estate was extended to its current 50 ha’s.

The reason for the hastily combined office and tasting room became apparent when we arrived, two large lorries containing the last four new stainless-steel fermentation and storage tanks were parked outside the building. Fabien and Magali are extending the facilities of the winery and administration to double its original size, creating new offices, customer welcoming facilities and most important of all, while incorporating the original concrete vats, extending the S/S vat capacity to cope with it’s much larger production. We witnessed the virtually manual moving of these huge tanks into position.

This picture demonstrates very well both old and the new aspects of the Winery. The concrete Vats on the left go back to when the winery was created, ideal for fermentation with very stable temperatures. The stainless-steel tanks on the right are some of the ones being used in the new extension and some of them are already in use for the 2020 vintage as you will see later on. The oak barrels are a new introduction into the winery to add even more complexity into the red wines which up until recently relied entirely on time on lees to get that lovely mouth feel and spicy notes.

You will also see above the Amphora that Fabien is experimenting with and to the left an Egg vat or Fermenter. Both these egg-shaped vessels are reported to create a vortex when fermenting that keeps the lees in suspension and therefore avoids the need for lees stirring that can happen daily or every two days. The end result would be very ‘leesy’ wine with lots of flavour and good mouthfeel, Fabien is experimenting with them to see how they work, especially important for him as he uses maturing on the lees a lot rather than oak ageing.

The Biodynamic element of the winery is an important component, many of the Rudolf Steiner methods are observed including using ‘cow horn’ fertiliser, also known as ‘biodynamic preparation 500’. Six kinds of plants: stinging nettle, yarrow, chamomile, dandelion, valerian, and oak bark are composted with cow manure into a cow horn. The horn is then buried into the ground in either spring or autumn. Dug up six months later the result is the natural fertiliser as in the vial above right.

As you can see, in the picture on the left, yes, it’s a bicycle made from wine bottles outside the winery, every wine maker needs a sense of humour!!

They also need a serious amount of concentration, as shown by the picture on the right, two men from the Vat suppliers and two of the winery workers erecting these enormous tanks using a pulley and a cherry picker. These were the last four of what must be forty tanks! If anyone is interested in seeing the video of the whole operation do drop me a line.

Going back to the Biodynamic aspect of the winery, something very important to Magali and Fabien, have a look at the ‘Lirac’ vineyards in the picture to the left. You will see that all the natural vegetation is left to grow after the harvest until the early summer when it dries out, little rain! As this soil is a mix of riverbed sand and pebbles it gets very dry so they have permission from their Bio authority to plough it back using the plants as fertilizer and relieving some of the stress on the vines, as the weeds are no longer absorbing any moisture, what little there is can be used by the vines!

Having had the tour of the Winery, Richard the very knowledgeable Export Manager then did a tasting of all six of the wines currently in the portfolio. The current vintage available is the 2019 and a full set of tasting notes for the wines we tasted in the tasting room is available below.

Having finished maneuvering the last of the tanks into place Fabien then very kindly took us on a tasting straight from the Vats of the 2020 wines including some new ones that are not yet available but will be next year. We started with the new innovation a delightful low alcohol Rose (10.5°) ‘Sans Sulphite’. Fabien achieves this in a very interesting manner. He believes that there is very little ‘natural’ sulphite, it is only added to stabilise against oxygenation.

In the natural fermentation process carbon dioxide is produced, so he captures that into the tanks that the fermented wine is going to be matured in. All his tanks have secure ‘floating caps that ensure however great or small the amount of liquid is in the tank it is sealed from oxygen. When the wine is ready to be moved into a new tank it is first filled with CO2, so no oxygen contact; any gas absorbed into the wine is CO2 so no deterioration. When he wants to bottle the wine, he pumps in nitrogen which is heavier than CO2, so it forces the CO2 out of the top of the vat, any nitrogen left in the wine after bottling doesn’t really matter as it is inert, so you get great fresh wine with no sulphites! The rose is only 10.5°, so you can indulge at that summer BBQ with lots of it chilled to combat the hot weather and not be absolutely slaughtered.

In fact, Fabien has invited us to do just that in the summer to prover his point. Having now tasted five of the six 2020 wines all of which are in CO2 ‘blanketed’, it is true that they display their characteristics but because the CO2 is in them, they are tighter and less supple than they will be when they are bottled. We were nevertheless much impressed with the 2020’s.

Thanks to Fabien, Magali and Richard for a fascinating afternoon and a very warm welcome.
At this point I should say that all of this visit was conducted a metre apart, we all wore masks, except for when we were tasting as above!!

Tasting notes for the Current range of Domaine des Carboniers.

Some general and common factors are as follows.
All the fruit is harvested at night, usually in the early hours of the morning, this prevents unnecessary oxidation and contributes to the lack of necessity for the addition of sulphites, see above.

The finer more minerally wines which are classified as Lirac come from the higher vineyards with sand and pebbles, and the Cotes du Rhone are from the lower estates principally with alluvial soil.

Since they want to create an elegant minerally style of wine the fruit is generally picked earlier than other local vineyards thus getting reduced sugar and therefore reduced alcohol, the exception is the Lirac with 13.5° and the rest are at most 13°

The wines are all certified Biodynamic by : ECOCERT, DEMETER, NOP and BIOSUISSE.

LIRAC BLANC ‘LUNAR APOGE’ 2019 (Grenache Blanc 50%–Viognier 25%–Roussanne 25%) 13°
This wine is from vines planted on average 35-years ago probably by Christian Leperchois in higher land with sand and pebbles. It is fermented at 17c using its natural yeasts and, after racking off the fermentation vat, remains on its lees regularly stirred to extract aromas for an extended period.
Light gold in colour and showing good legs, the aromas are of white stone-fruit, greengage, with floral white petal notes.
The palate has firm, smooth mouthfeel (glycerol see legs) the floral notes carry through and there are elements of white apricot and peach especially on the middle palate, vivacious acidity but not aggressive. The finish is clean and smooth and long lasting.

TAVEL ROSE ‘LUNAR APOGE’ 2019 (Grenache 50%, Cinsault 20%, Clairette 15%, Syrah 15%) 13°
The 4 ha this is grown on is some of the earliest land acquired by the family, the soil is a very special flaked limestone schist called ‘Lauze’, well drained but tempers the heat and cold. Again, very old average age of vines at 50 years, Subject to a very long maceration 24-36 hours for maximum extraction of aromas. Natural yeast at 18c fermentation temp. long stay on lees extracting glycerol and aromas.
Cherry in colour, not as dark as many Tavel’s which sets the tone for the wine, orange hues lend it depth. The aromas are soft fruit, mainly redcurrant, some raspberry with elegant hints of mandarin or Kumquat all of which we find on the palate in a more concentrated form. The mouthfeel is what the colour hinted at, lighter than a good many of its peers but beautiful elegance and style, firm glycerol fed palate feel but a perfectly balanced acidity that makes it fresh and vivacious with being too aggressive! The finish reflects the aromas with a real feel of orange peel on the top back palate. It lingers well and leaves a beautifully clean, pleasant aftertaste. Just superb, if a bit different, had a bottle with a magnificent Lobster Thermador and it was just perfect.

PAY’S D’OC RED SYRAH LUNAR APOGE 2019 (Syrah 100%) 12.5°
As with all the wines, natural yeast so requiring temperature-controlled fermentation and lots of time on lees.
A very surprising wine at 12.5°; for its vintage remarkably mature, as the colour on the meniscus shows hints of brown, not hugely deep colour, but don’t make assumptions! The persistence of the legs shows the value of the time on lees.
Aromas are concentrated and of fresh blackcurrant with that lovely bittersweet note that disappears with cassis, nice hints of ‘butchers shop’ and forest floor. Not as concentrated on the palate as the nose, fresh blackcurrant again and very forward soft tannins, middle palate has nice dry feel not at all blousy, especially as the glass warms up. Really integrated acidity and a fresh clean feel to the finish but nevertheless not short. I really can see this working with half an hour in the fridge on hot days in the summer!!

COTES DU RHONE ROUGE LUNAR APOGE 2019 (Grenache 50%, Syrah 25%, Mourvèdre 15%, Cinsault 10%). 13°
The soil the grapes are grown in is a new piece of info for me, ‘colluvium’, this is soil washed down millions of years ago from the hillside’s and deposited on top of riverbed sand, thus you get the topsoil fertility and the great drainage from the sand.
Again, great legs, the colour is lighter than one might expect but don’t be fooled the aromas and palate are surprisingly concentrated. Main aroma on the nose is black/red plum, violet background and good minerality, on the palate there is a definite spicy character which must be from the lees exposure as once again no oak element is introduced. The mouthfeel is good hardly surprising with those legs, concentrated blackcurrant emerges, and the firm tannins soften up in the glass, a keeper that will reward your patience. The finish is dry and minerally in tone, some may prefer it a bit richer, decanted for an hour, delicious!!

COTES DU RHONE ROUGE SANS SULPHITE 2019 (Grenache 50%, Syrah 50%). 13°
This is the first of the wines that are declared within the constraints of the vineyard’s Biodynamic restraints ‘without sulphites’. Like the CDR above, and the Lirac to follow, these are fermented at much higher temperatures in this case 28°c to assist the natural yeasts that promote the fermentation. In all of the Estates wines there is an awareness of avoiding the addition of sulphites, but small amounts are sometimes necessary in the reds, here however none at all are added, the result is that this is the only one of the wines that is not at as forward as the rest. Given this wine in a blind tasting I would recognise the vintage from the residual violet on the meniscus and the firmness still in the tannins. Maybe that has something to do with the blend or maybe the quality of the fruit itself is a higher selection than the previous reds.
The colour is really deep, no doubt due to the longer extraction, aromas of fresh black plum and blackcurrant show the concentration that was first displayed by the colour. There is also a strong note of Parma Violet sweets, most of you are probably too young to remember but there was an intensity to them that is reflected in this wine. On the palate the concentration of fruit continues with ripe fresh blackcurrant and those lovely spicy notes that come from time spent on lees, here the tannins are totally in keeping with the vintage and are profound but still apparent.
The finish is really lingering but still a bit young for me, very much the style enjoyed here in France, the Parma Violets are there again on the finish and a lovely minerality. Another wine that I would recommend you to put a few away and keep them safe for a while, as I really believe that this will meld together well and be a very special CDR with some more bottle age, we are certainly putting a few away to let them develop.

LIRAC ROUGE LUNAR APOGE 2018 (Grenache 50%, Mourvèdre 25% and Syrah 25%). 13°
A really deep colour again with hints of purple colour on the meniscus, this is the only wine tasted of the 2018 vintage.
It has a high temperature fermentation at 32°c and for a longer period followed by a further long maceration under the cap formed by the skins and lifted to the top by the CO2 generated in the process. Fabien leaves this wine under the cap for a further 15 days to extract the tannins and anthocyanins (colour factors) that he is looking for in the finished wine. After racking he then allows a further period of up to a month or more on the fine lees for aromas and structure in the wine. Having heard all this you can see why this wine is so complex without any time spent in oak, I will be fascinated to see what it is like when he bottles the experimental 2020 from the barriques shown above.
The first impression is the depth of colour and the remaining hints of purple, the legs are really even and lingering showing the amount of glycerol there! Interestingly when we tasted at the cellar Richard opened and poured and the herbal (Garrigue) notes and the minerality overcame the fruit aromas on the nose, we have since tasted a bottle with friends over dinner that I decanted an hour before and first impressions were totally different. The Garrigue and minerality was still there but the time in decanter had allowed the fruit to show in an equal balance, the forest floor notes were still there but, in the background, red fruits came through much more. The Syrah also shows well on the nose, and I learned a new French descriptive! With Syrah we look for a particular note that gives it away, what we call ‘butchers shop’ (hints of dried blood), in French it is ‘juteux’ (juicy) and that refers to rare meat juices! Either way the Syrah elements seem to dominate the fruit with lovely fresh blackcurrant bittersweet flavours and spicy top palate notes, hints of cinnamon and orange peel, a delightful mouthfeel, smooth and complex with so many facets of flavour. The finish is long and rich and round and particularly good with red meats, sits beautifully with boar from personal experience.

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