We are in the north-east of the Minervois, on the slopes of the Black Mountain, in an ancient village called in Roman times Cella Vinaria – Wine Cellar. The place is vocated for the cultivation of vine: the strong sun is mitigated by sea winds and produces extremely elegant oenological results.
We are welcomed by Jean-Christophe Piccinini, heir and son of that Maurice Piccinini who struggled to improve the reputation and the wines produced in La Livinière.
Jean-Christophe is hasty, rude and seems he does not like visitors.
He talks quickly about the characteristics of his wines, he says he has little time, as he was working when we called him. Before arriving, I took some information about the company and, therefore, I immediately asked him about his father as a myth and benefactor. Jean-Christophe’s expression becomes gentle and softer.
An Italian heart beats behind his roughness personality.
He remembers his father Maurice as a hard worker, a boy who had been forced to give up his studies and to work in the fields with an old aunt in La Livinière. Maurice has learnt all by himself and, above all, that life is not comfortable as you wish.
Jean-Christophe takes a cutter resting on the table and simulates a cut on his hand:
only if you hurt yourself you can learn how to live
Maurice began a passionate career as winemaker and soon became the President of La Livinière Cooperative, as well as a consultant and reference point for all the local winemakers. His biggest ambition was the recognition of the Cru La Livinière, finally achieved thanks to the help of a group of people who really believed in this joint project.
10th September 1998: the AOC Cru La Livinière was born. This name gave the just reward and recognition to the beauty of this wine, to the beauty of these places, to their best expression.
On the basis of his father’s hard lesson, Jean Christophe has realized the dream of opening his own Cellar – Domaine Piccinini – in 1991, on the ramparts of the old castle. At this point, Jean-Christophe realizes that he has gone beyond his emotional standards; we greet him with his wine under our arms. At the parking we see him coming towards us again driving a white Renault truck.
Come with me, I’ll take you to see my vineyards. You have come from far away and you are truly passionate, it’s time I take you with me.
I was touched by his deed. Jean-Christophe belongs to the human categories I prefer: rude, grumpy but when he does something is because he listens to his heart. He understood that wine was the only real purpose of the holiday. I wanted to stop time in that moment of humanity. We left and enter the Mediterranean scrub. The silence and the cicadas, the shrubs, the rocks and the poetry of a landscape in celebration and in its full expression.
Jean-Christophe invites me to take a grape, to squeeze it until the grapeseed comes out.
“Chew it,” he says, “if the seed breaks into few pieces, then the grape is ready, if it breaks into many pieces, it’s still unripe
The grapes were ready, the grape was sweet and produced intense aromas. He tastes a grape too and confirms happily. We were having an authentic experience; we stayed often in silence to better enjoy the wonder of the landscape around us.
Some figures: Domaine Piccinini stretches over 40 hectares within La Livinière appellation; his vines are up to 60 years old. Jean-Christphe produces around 120,000 bottles, of which 84,000 of red, 24,000 of white and 12,000 of rosé. He explains that AOP red wines come from grapes that are destemmed and vinified at full maturity. The reds belong to the appellation Minervois and La Livinière, the latter being labelled as Helius Petri, the name of the Roman architect who built La Livinière. The reds Clos l’Angely and Cuvée Line and Laëtitia come from selections of old vines and make long macerations and aging in new barrels.
We had the privilege to be in the company of a someone who is one with his passion for this enchanted land; Jean-Christophe believes in innovation and his experimental vinification methods and unique cuvées testify his belief.
The journey continues…
…and we met another independent vigneron, a pioneer of the wine business who is already passing down his activity to his sons. Jean-Luc Dressayre was an agronomist, then he converted to oenology; he welcomes us in front of his estate-house. When I ask him what made him change his activity, he simply replies “I like wine”. In 2004 he bought ten hectares to plant the typical fruits of the Minervois: Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
Here the soil, calcareous clay and sandstone, explodes in quality and quantity. We are in Mas Paumarhel estate; its name sounds exotic and Catalan, but it is nothing but the synthesis of the names of the three daughters of Jean-Luc: Pauline, Marion and Helène. Romantic, paternal and beautiful.
In rural France, far away from mass tourism, marketing and public image does not matter.
The wine range is wide and our journey is still long; therefore it is worth focusing on their workhorse: Mourel Rouge AOP Cru La Livinière 2016, the company’s most representative wine. The 2014 vintage was elected vintage ambassador. The protagonists are Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache. Garnet and shiny, nose that recalls cherry, mouth tasting of liquorice.
Sweet, enveloping, voluptuous.
Long balsamic persistence: I found the territory in that glass. It will probably give the maximum in 4 or 5 years, but also drinking it now is a beautiful journey.
I promise that I won’t hold you back much longer, but the intensity of human contact and the novelty of these wines is exciting.
Ostal means home in the Occitan language: it is a word that expresses above all the concept of a familiar place.
Have I already told you how welcoming and friendly this land is??
A bit of history: this place is owned by the Cazes family, coming from Medòc. Jean-Michel Cazes, owner of the Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac, spent some time in the Languedoc, being already aware of the enormous potential of the region’s terroir. He discovered La Livinière, where he acquired a domain of 150 hectares in 2002.
The company quickly became a real oenological innovation project: following a massive uprooting, the best local varieties were replanted and a new soil drainage system was developed, with the aim of expressing the vines’ maximum potential. Grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan.
Some tasting notes
Domain de l’Ostal Grand Vin Minervois La Livinière 2015: A Mediterranean expression composed of 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache. Intense ruby and brilliant darkness. Classic bouquet of red fruits and violets, soft and warm. Vanilla also stands out among sumptuous tannins. Excellent aging potential. Then the label: an eclipse, as powerful as the first sip from this bottle. A formidable Syrah and an impressive Grenache give a glimpse of their rays.
L’Ostal Rosè IGP Pays d’Oc: the pale compromise of the previous one, composed of 50% Syrah and 50% Grenache. Clean, clear, delicate. Complex mouth in a mix of rose and pomegranate, very fresh palate. Chic and diplomatic.
Very last effort:
I wanted to make wines that could speak, crystallize friendships and create magical moments around a table
We are at the very last stage of the journey, introduced by the words of John Bojanowski, owner and founder of Clos du Gravillas, a winery in St. Jean de Minervois, a small village near Minerve, where the region’s most famous Muscat is produced. John comes from Kentucky and has built his corner of paradise among Languedoc’s white limestones with his wife Nicole, who comes from Narbonne. The white still inspires the labels of their wines with the image of a moon slice.
Their products are all intense, mineral, vigorous.
Perhaps, the reason of such perfection lies in the contagious happiness that this place inspires. And in biodiversity, fresh from the sea and from the Black Mountain, organic farming.
Let’s move on to their wines: Clos du Gravillas produces 11 wines from vines covering 8 and a half hectares, 270 meters above sea level.
The Orange wine À fleur de peau 2015, made with 100% Muscat, is special; this experimental wine is obtained through macerating grapes with the same method used for red wine. I also loved the 2012 Muscat, defined by John as “sweet as a song by Jacques Brel“, and I couldn’t find a better definition indeed. Very intense is Lo Vièhl Carignan, obtained from 100% Carignan grapes from a 100 years old vine saved by John, convinced that certain old vines often give the best after years.
It is pure, ample, balanced and sinuous. I will not talk about wine and food pairing; Lo Vièhl Carignan is one of those wines that impressively speaks if you have it alone.
Then, Sur la Lune 2012 – Carignan 50%, Syrah 50%, a tribute to the soil of Cazelles, a tribute to the lunar whiteness.
We find the vital explosion of terroir in the Sous les Cailloux des Grillons, a concentrate of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Counoise, Terret and Mourvèdre. Very lively, easy to drink, perfect for a Summer sunset in the garden or nostalgic Winter evenings. There would be other wines, but only these left me an impression.
Our trip to family estates ends here, with the promise to return to these lands and listen to the ancient soul of places and producers. That’s enough: the persistence is long-lasting and intense and our soul remembers these sensations for a long time since the experience.