With the 2012 vintage, the year that Ecocert began to require organic practices in the cellar as well as in the vineyard, Domaine de Montvac yielded half of its normal harvest. The fact that Cécile Dusserre works annually with the same team of harvesters who know the property and her preferences well was no match for the weather, where January was very cold, and the preceding months were mild. The frigid temperatures at the beginning of the year ended up arresting the sap's descension through the trunks, which caused most all of her 1.1ha of 90-year-old Grenache vines to explode, and forced Cécile to tear them up from the ground. And though the Mistral generally helps keep the vines free of disease, in this particular vintage, the winds appeared during flowering and blew a lot of flowers from the vines, meaning that there likely won't be a 2012 "Variation", which is made from 100% old-vine Grenache in only the best of vintages, but luckily we're stocked with reserves of the wine's last great vintage–2010.
In spite of the difficulties that seem to have prevailed across France with the 2012 vintage, Cécile, a third generation winemaker who retains the elegance of her classical dance training, remains optimistic. "It's a lot easier to work organically here," she said. "There's no humidity, little rain, and when it does rain the Mistral dries it up, so there's less disease." Long practicing organic but certified by Ecocert in 2013, Cécile said that of all the A.O.C.s in Côtes du Rhône, Vacqueyras has the highest percentage of organic producers. And though Ecocert does not limit their certified wineries to the use natural yeast, Cécile opts not to inoculate her wines.
Working with the gentlest of methods, Cécile hand-harvests and as of three years ago, de-stems all of her fruit. Disavowing "violent punchdowns" or piage, she conducts only pump-overs to concentrate the wine's aromatics. In the cellar, everything moves about via gravity flow, and here she employs only old oak or one-year-old foudres because, she said, "I prefer when the wine is more expressive with natural aromas. If oak is more present, we lose the typicity of the grapes. I think it's important to preserve the first aromas," she added, "if oak is more present then the wine is the same in South America, France and California."
For the first three weeks during her wines' primary fermentation Cécile tastes two times a day, first at noon and again the evening, when she determines her next step. Charting her every observance and act on graphs, Cécile laughed and said that her moods are directly correlated to how the wines are tasting. In France, she added, just as in the U.S., consumers are looking for more elegant, approachable wines, that are not the super-structured wines of the past. To read more of how her recent wines are showing, stay tuned for next week's post, complete with tasting notes.