The first time I tasted Domaine Leon Barral’s Faugères—before I knew much about Didier Barral, who named the domaine for his grandfather—I experienced a coup de foudre. It wasn’t really because of the wine’s succulent notes of mixed red and black fruit, spices, and leather. It wasn’t even that it was somehow simultaneously rustic and graceful, dark and light on its feet. Instead, I fell in love with Barral’s Faugères because of the raw, primal feeling the wine gave me: specifically, the desire to go hunting with my uncle in the backwoods of Maine and sip this soulful red by a campfire, far away from city lights and social media. Some time after, I discovered that Didier is our last producer to work off the grid, with no cell phone, no email, and no computer. He gardens and raises cows and pigs on his property an hour west of Montpellier. The animals fertilize the soils, trim competing vegetation, and eventually feed Didier and his family. Most importantly, he farms biodynamically, with a zealous devotion to biodiversity, creating an ideal habitat for his vines and all the life around them. Incredibly, the wine had communicated a love of nature on its own, before I knew any of this. I therefore recommend that you open a bottle of the 2016 Faugères in the outdoors. Take it on your next camping trip or fishing excursion, or at the very least, open it in your backyard and leave your phone inside.
Didier Barral represents the 13th generation to grow grapes in the tiny hamlet of Lenthéric, deep in the heart of the Languedoc. Domaine Léon Barral is a beacon of revolutionary winegrowing: shortly after founding the domaine, Didier decided that biodynamic practices were best for his 30 hectares of vineyards. His vines are very old—some up to 90 years of age—keeping yields naturally low. Once in the cellar, Didier’s harvest is cared for with the same zeal, though he would consider the wine all but finished once it leaves the vineyard. This level of artisanship was once nearly extinct, had it not been for Didier and the profound influence he has over viticulteurs who now see how his work ethic and ideology translates to results.
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.
For the wines that I buy I insist that the winemaker leave them whole, intact. I go into the cellars now and select specific barrels or cuvées, and I request that they be bottled without stripping them with filters or other devices. This means that many of our wines will arrive with a smudge of sediment and will throw a more important deposit as time goes by, It also means the wine will taste better.
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