This post by Annette Peters refers to a wine she discovered for World Class Wines a bit under two years ago, called “Les Ruffes” by the producer La Sauvageonne. To our great delight, that wine was featured in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list last year (link here), even though it was only available in two places: Minnesota, and an obscure retailer on the east coast that self-imported the wine.
This is a wine with huge bang for the buck, but gets lost in obscurity without a little background on the place and the people.
SAUVAGEONNE – My recent visit in the Terrasses de Larzac
WHERE IS TERRASSES de LARZAC?
The area is part of the historic Diocese of Lodève. Since the days of Roman Gaul, it has benefited from its position close to a major traffic route, an artery known as the Cessero to Segodunum Way (St Thibéry to Rodez), linking the highlands of the Massif Central and the Mediterranean coastlands. Grape growers have always lived around here.
WHAT IS IT LIKE?
A rugged terroir at the edge of the massif central. Three different soils; 1)”ruffes” on the low hills which is scrabble of schist and volcanic rock, 2) sandstone, gravel and schist, and 3) the hills which a rugged rocky schist as you see to the left.
WHY IS IT GOOD TO GROW GRAPES HERE?
When Gavin Chrisfeld had the opportunity to pick out vineyards anywhere in southern France here he settled here because, “the soils here are like nowhere else” says Gavin. “The vines cover 32 hectares on a band of schist at an altitude of between 150 to 400m. A variety of well-exposed sites and the prevailing north westerly winds ensure that our vines reach perfect maturity with little risk of disease.”
Now ask him how easy it is to farm here! The rocky terrasses tear up tractors as fast as they do your boots. There will be no traipsing about in sandals here! Windblown, garrigue-y and remote it is in indeed a destination and not likely to get passers-by stopping for a swig.
How does all this affect the wines?
The vines work hard to here to penetrated the rocky domes and the prevailing winds keep air circulating in the vineyards and it’s easy for Gavin to work without any pesticides, mildicides etc. It’s cold at night here and hot during the day so grapes get ripe but acids stay in that very “fresh” range. The wines are strong and rugged like the terroir, with phenolic ripeness that gives texture to the tannins while remaining amazingly fine. Vines here were planted 30 years ago, but the yields have lowered in the last decade, they are as low as 15 hl/Ha in some years.
Wines here at Sauvageonne are dark dense and powerful and due to the Syrah are on the reductive side in their youth. They are natural wines however, not “built to last” but just will because the raw material is so “knitted” together. The Ruffes, which is the lightest of the lot, still offers lots of bing cherry flavor with a textural component that is typically in wines at a higher price.
We import only Les Ruffes from this producer so far (Thanks weak dollar!). It’s comprised of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault. This is 100% stainless steel tank. I tasted the 2008, bottled just 4 days ago, and showing a little bottle sickness on the nose (a reductive mercaptin note) but the dark intense fruit and big fleshy feel tell you what will be; a helluva red wine for a modest price!