When driving through the rolling hills of Gascony, it’s somewhat like stepping back in time to another century. Old stone houses are surrounded by vineyards, crops, cows and woods on all sides. This is a rare part of France where the landscape is still one of polyculture.
However, while it may look idyllic, it has historically also been a very poor area of France. Here, Domaine Jeandaugé, home to 28 hectares of vines tended by Sébastien Fezas, has been in the Fezas family since the 1800s. Sébastien’s father made bulk wine to sell to négociants, earning just 60 cents per litre.
These days, Sébastien Fezas is doing the opposite. Dedicated to biodynamic and regenerative farming, and bravely going against the grain to create his no-addition cuvées, he is showing another dimension of what is possible with the soil, vines and fruit of Domaine Jeandaugé. He may only be at the beginning of his journey, but the results are already spectacular.
LITTLEWINE travelled to visit him in June 2022 to hear more.
People: Sébastien Fezas
Place: Courrensan, Gers, France
Varieties: Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Chardonnay, Tannat, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc (the latter he does not make himself - he sells the grapes)
Farming: Biodynamic with regenerative methods
Hectares: 28 hectares
Did You Know? Sébastien has also installed Warré beehives — not to make honey — but simply for biodiversity. A friend also brings his sheep to graze through the vineyards during the winter. They act as nature’s lawn mowers and fertilise the soil at the same time. Additionally, Sébastien has been working with Symbiosphere since hearing a broadcast with them on the France Culture radio. They have installed 20 bird and bat boxes throughout his vineyards to further promote local biodiversity and the team comes to inspect them and monitor which species are present.
When entering Sébastien’s cellar, the stark contrast between the past, the present and the future is seen simply by the size of the family’s historical concrete tanks (the smallest of which is 180 hectolitres!) On the other side of these, you find Sébastien’s much smaller concrete vessels, old oak barrels and amphorae. It is like chalk and cheese — from bulk wine to artisan and experimental wine. As Sébastien jokes, ‘it’s a bit complicated to make small vinifications in that big tank!”
In these smaller vessels you find Sébastien’s wines ageing. His Partie Fine white wine is a blend of Colombard (around 80%) and Ugni Blanc. Directly pressed, he then experiments with ageing some parts in concrete, some in amphora (bought from an artisan potter in Spain) and some in barrel.
“I would also like to make Colombard on its own, but Ugni Blanc brings a nice freshness and tension to the blend, which helps in warmer vintages especially.”
Since 2020, he has felt confident enough to make all of his wines without any added sulfites. He is also experimenting with more skin contact vinifications for Colombard and Gros Manseng, including a delicious seven-month macerated Colombard, which will be released as a collaboration wine with Lise & Bertrand Jousset from the Loire.
He also makes a rosé (2021 was the first year he made another one, given how long it took him to sell the 2017!) from Tannat, with a splash of Syrah, a variety which Sébastien planted himself in 2012. The majority of the Syrah, however, is reserved for his incredible red wine, ‘Franche Lippée,’ which is a whole bunch semi-carbonic fermentation that reminds us of Dard & Ribo. He destems a very small portion of grapes to put at the bottom of the tank, after which the whole bunches crush these grapes to produce juice, which in turn creates a natural CO2-rich environment for a carbonic-style fermentation. The grapes then macerate for around 15 days, after which the wine is aged in concrete and a small portion in old barrels.
Inspired by his initial white wine experiment, he continues to make an oxidative style of Chardonnay, which is aged in barrels on the lees for 1.5 years, without being topped up, so some flor develops. It reminds us of an oxidative Jura style; nutty and saline. He says,