Our last stop in Cairanne before moving on to the other villages of southern Rhône is Font Crozes. An exposed and windswept vineyard, its original swooping slope, cascading down from the woodland at its brow, has now been fashioned into three broad terraces. Here in 2011 we planted Mourvèdre.
FONT CROZES (MOURVÈDRE): The gradient of the slope was just too uneven and mis-shapen to make the rows of vines manageable. So we created three broad terraces, which still undulated a little in their length, to make it easier on the hands (and legs) and to enable the occasional passage of a narrow tractor. Here we planted young Mourvèdre vines in a north south direction, running along the horizontal contours of the slope.
The soils in Font Crozes are similar to the nearly adjacent plots of Saint Andéol: thick seams of heavy limestone pebbles embedded in deep clay give way to more monotone sheets of saffre (compressed sandy limestone) as you walk southwards towards Saint Andéol. Such water-retentive soils suit Mourvèdre, which is said to like its feet wet and head in the sun, so the vines are constantly nourished from below as its grapes are ripened from above.
Font Crozes can be savage country, not only for its exposition to fierce sun, but more so when the winds whip up through the valley. But resistance to wind is another quality of Mourvèdre, whose sturdy canes grow ‘erect’ as the French say a little mischievously, literally standing up to the winds which dry the atmosphere around the vines and help diminish the humidity which can foster mildew and other maladies.
Probably originally from Spain where it is known as Monastrell, this variety also needs considerable sun, especially in the last stages of ripening, which usually take place in late September or early October for this late maturing variety. Again Font Crozes, with its high altitude, east – west aspect and maximum sun hours, make it ideal for Mourvèdre.
Under the AOP regulations we could have planted Grenache Noir; or even Syrah, although Syrah would have struggled to take hold in such a windy site; but we wanted Mourvèdre for the added dimension and complexity another formidable grape variety can bring.
As well as being suited to this site, Mourvèdre can make up to 20% or more of Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne and its thick-skinned grapes bring colour both literally and vividly to the nose and palate of a wine. Black fruits, garrigue and leafy laurel add a wild edge, whilst its tannins, tight in texture and long-lasting, give backbone, intensity and finesse. We have always favoured a proportion of Mourvèdre in our Boutinot Cairanne La Côte Sauvage and will continue to do so. Hence the decision to plant Mourvèdre in 2011 in this windy spot.
Currently the vineyard resembles new military recruits standing sentry straight in even rows, unlike Syrah or Grenache which tend to sprawl. Just a year old our young Mourvèdre plants are supported by sturdy canes but time will mature and stand alone, like those of our neighbours who’s vines are over 25 years old.
MOURVÈDRE and BOUTINOT CAIRANNE VILLAGES WINE: Mourvèdre forms this important backbone to our blends, adding structure, density and wild spicy notes to the final assemblage. Like Carignan (discussed in last weeks blog) it can counter the headiness of Grenache Noir and together with our Syrah, Mourvèdre gives an unmistakable breath of perfume to our La Côte Sauvage.
We are also curious as to its effect on another late ripening variety – Counoise. In November 2011 we co-fermented Mourvèdre with this very old and increasingly rare Rhône variety. You’ll see the results in the coming years, providing the wine has ‘decided’ it’s ready to be released.