I could give you the key facts: 10 hectares of vineyards scattered in small plots near Gabian, just south of Faugères. I could tell you about the 7 different grape varieties (Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne, Rousanne, Picpoul, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah) and 7 distinct soils (amongst which there is limestone, schist and volcanic basalt…) that Emmanuel has in his arsenal of weapons… but that would not do due justice to Emmanuel, nor his wines, nor to my visit on a moody day in mid-August.
In my time visiting winemakers, and in the three years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had all kinds of different experiences. From Walter Massa (Colli Tortonesi, Italy) who particularly stands out because of his unique blend of originality and downright craziness to Massandra (in Crimea, when that was still Ukraine) for the lab coats and chocolate cake. Going to visit a winery gives an added insight that is simply not possible to obtain by popping a cork or exchanging pleasantries at wine fairs.
My visit with Manu was so distinctive that I have the feeling that I will continue to mull it over for the coming days and weeks.
Winemakers typically talk about their soil, their grapes, the age of their vines or their lengthy family tradition… Manu, however, talks about salinity. He’s not right next to the sea either so, at first, this sounds like a strange thing to focus on.
I probe a little further and learn that he strives to make a wine which gives pleasure “horizontally” (i.e. for the stomach) but also “vertically” (as well as going down to the stomach, a wine should also please the brain.) Apparently the perceived salinity is an understated factor in the brain’s enjoyment of the wine.
Written like this, it may seem a little pretentious but the fault for this lies with my conveyance of his words. It certainly was not at all at the time.
The reason why the visit was so distinctive is because it became patently obvious that Manu is an enigmatic Intellectual Winemaker. He has a very clear vision of how he wants his wine to turn out. He openly states that he does not want to make a simple “fruity wine” nor one which is “as weak as cat piss.” What he means by a horizontal and vertical wine is one which stimulates and pleasures both the brain cells and the taste buds. The wine needs to have multi-dimensional complexity.
He says that the salinity in his wines comes from the biodynamic treatments that he applies in the vineyards, just as much as the terroir. It manifests itself in the the very structure of the grape. In-depth analysis shows particularly high levels of potassium, magnesium and sodium. Higher than the grapes in the conventionally-farmed neighbouring vineyards. In the cellar, when making his wines, Manu actively seeks to maintain this saltiness.
We touched briefly upon how 2016 will be a very difficult vintage here in the Languedoc. It’s been so dry and hot that the vines are suffering (apparently turning in on themselves, instead of progressing through veraison.) Even during my visit, Manu gets a phone call telling him of a severe hail storm in parts of the Languedoc, particularly around Pic Saint Loup.
There’s been mildew too. Fortunately it is less prevalent here than in Champagne and Alsace but Manu has found that some of his Marsanne vines (which is not normally susceptible to such illnesses) has been particularly hit this year.
When you think you’ve escaped the cold and the wet, we move onto the hot…… in the form of wildfires.
Just last week, one of Manu’s 17 small plots was wiped out in a forest fire and two others smell so badly of smoke that it’s still unsure if any wine can be made from the remaining grapes. Time will tell.
In any case, while we cross our fingers for 2016, the 2015s are tasting really well right now. I sampled the full current range, as well as three wines (a Grenache 2015 from schist soils, a Grenache 2015 from limestone soils and a 100% Mourvèdre) directly from the barrel.
Domaine Turner-Pageot is a husband-wife team whose style is brave and unique. They are not afraid to macerate some of the Marsanne for 6 – 8 weeks, nor dabble with warm fermentations (30°C on occasions), nor vinify the Sauvignon Blanc (for La Rupture) in four different ways. In terms of their originality and personality, these wine stand head and shoulders above the others in the region.
Despite spending a couple of hours at the winery, I feel I’ve only just scratched the surface with Manu. He’s an acutely intelligent winemaker who has a very clear vision and knows his end goal. He is a thinker as well as a winemaker. The wines, accordingly, are singular and thought-provoking.
Visit: 17th August 2016