Biodynamic agriculture may seem like voodoo medicine to some, but few are more convinced of its worth than the three Ravaille brothers, who farm the limestone slopes around Pic Saint Loup in the Languedoc. Since beginning the conversion to biodynamics in 1999, the Ravailles have been quick to sing the praises of this philosophy—homeopathic remedies for vines, if you will. According to cellar master Pierre Ravaille, biodynamics brought noticeable improvements to vineyard health and overall quality within years. Here is a red to support that claim, a blend of mainly Syrah and Grenache from high altitude on poor, thin, rocky soil. Its mystical perfume evokes wild blackberries, smoke, spice, and olive brine in a chewy, mineral-driven expression of this underrated southern French terroir. Drinkable now, it is also a great bargain cellar candidate, and an excellent ambassador for biodynamic viticulture.
Ermitage du Pic St-Loup dates back to the Middle Ages, as the former home of the bishops of Maguelone. The limestone peak or “pic” perched above the vineyards was named for the legendary Saint Thieri Loup. In 1992, the Ravaille brothers joined forces to plant a vineyard here in what has traditionally been land dominated by sheep farming and cheese production. The Ravaille family has been in the Languedoc for over a thousand years, long enough to have known Saint Loup personally. These brothers have been on a noble quest of their own to create serious wine that expresses the complexity of their terroir. The three fish on the label’s emblem therefore not only evoke the story of Saint Loup, but also their fraternal collaboration.
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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