When it comes to sustainable agriculture and natural winemaking, Didier Barral’s often extreme, consistently brilliant methods have established him as a maverick in the field. His primary concern is establishing each of his vineyards as a self-sustaining ecosystem. By way of his creative thinking and intimate knowledge of the land, he fosters an environment rich in biodiversity where insect, plant, and microbial life benefit the soil to create a favorable habitat for his vines to prosper. On a recent visit, we found Didier planting fruit trees to line his parcels, providing a hospitable environment for bats—the creatures are essential to containing the ver de la grappe, a destructive vineyard pest. Another time, he demonstrated the importance of allowing a herd of cows to graze between the vineyard rows, as they return nutrients to the soil while limiting the growth of weeds that compete with the vines for resources. These unconventional practices only serve to spotlight the fine terroir of Faugères, where Didier creates three structured, sun-soaked reds. Valinière is his top cuvée, produced from Mourvèdre with some Syrah on north-facing schist hillsides. This distinctive schist marks the wine, giving it a dark streak of graphite to underscore the heady black fruit, spice, and licorice aromas. A rustic, powerful wine, it has the potential for long-term aging, while its remarkable elegance allows it to be appreciated already. In line with his rebellious viticultural practices, Didier does not filter or add sulfur to his wines. The inherent purity, depth, and aliveness of this bottling compellingly reflect this man’s renegade methodology and hands-on, do-it-yourself philosophy. Now it’s your turn to see why Didier Barral’s wines have a cult-like following, with a massive influence on winemakers and consumers alike throughout France and beyond. –Anthony Lynch
Ask wine drinkers around the world, and the word “Languedoc” is sure to elicit mixed reactions. On the one hand, the region is still strongly tied to its past as a producer of cheap, insipid bulk wine in the eyes of many consumers. On the other hand, it is the source of countless great values providing affordable everyday pleasure, with an increasing number of higher-end wines capable of rivaling the best from other parts of France.
While there’s no denying the Languedoc’s checkered history, the last two decades have seen a noticeable shift to fine wine, with an emphasis on terroir. Ambitious growers have sought out vineyard sites with poor, well draining soils in hilly zones, curbed back on irrigation and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and looked to balance traditional production methods with technological advancements to craft wines with elegance, balance, and a clear sense of place. Today, the overall quality and variety of wines being made in the Languedoc is as high as ever.
Shaped like a crescent hugging the Mediterranean coast, the region boasts an enormous variety of soil types and microclimates depending on elevation, exposition, and relative distance from the coastline and the cooler foothills farther inland. While the warm Mediterranean climate is conducive to the production of reds, there are world-class whites and rosés to be found as well, along with stunning dessert wines revered by connoisseurs for centuries.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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