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“To make wines like we do, we need ourselves - human beings - and time. Wines must be given the time that they need.”

Closeries des Moussis

When you think of Bordeaux, it’s likely you think of two things in particular: Châteaux, and garage winemakers. The latter is the term used to describe the smaller winemakers who emerged particularly on the Right Bank in the 90s, or earlier in the case of 'Le Pin.' These wines, however, quickly rose to iconic status and the garage terminology actually turned out to be a paradox: this was something far more glamorous and the wines have reached dizzying prices. 

However, there do exist actual garagiste winemakers: winemakers who do everything themselves - from farming, to winemaking, to bottling, in actual garages. One of the first duos to work in this manner in the region was Michel and Stéphanie Theron. They were leased an incredibly rare parcel of ancient vines by a kind neighbour who believed in their artisanal values and future as vignerons. Today, they believe it is important to pass it on, to allow other winemakers who don’t come from Château families to begin working in the region. This led them to meet Laurence Alias and Pascale Choime, and the Jaugueyron duo decided to part with their beloved parcel and to pass on the lease to this young couple in 2009, to help them to launch their dreams. 

Laurence & Pascale

Meet Laurence and Pascale 

Laurence, from the Gers, studied agricultural engineering at university. Pascale is from Cognac, where her family are grape growers. She studied oenology at wine school in Bordeaux, at the Lycée Agro-Viticole de Bordeaux-Blanquefort, and worked in their cellar as winemaker and teacher. The duo decided to take the plunge and start their own project when they had the chance to take on the little prephylloxera plot in 2009. 

Starting up on the Left Bank is no mean feat, and they decided to do it little by little to ensure that the domaine was financially stable - hence Pascale kept her cellar job at the school until just a couple of years ago, until eventually it became possible for Closerie des Moussis to be self-sustainable. 

1906 clay vessel

This really is a garage, and it’s home to not just barrels but also to amphorae and the most incredible vessel. We’ve never seen anything like it and openly gawp. We point, semi-speechless, asking what it is. Laurence’s eyes light up and she laughs. 

“Yes, it’s from a winemaker in Cognac. It’s an old clay vessel from 1906, fired at 1200°C, so it’s not very porous - it lets in less air than many amphorae.”

It’s an incredible piece of work that sadly, many other modern winemakers would have thrown away in favour of shiny new barrels. Not Laurence and Pascale thankfully, this is a gem here. 

The Vineyards 

They work across several different plots which they have en fermage - long term rents from the owners. Each parcel of vines creates its own cuvée. Laurence explains, 

“Every cuvée corresponds to one parcel. So even our classic cuvée, called Closerie des Moussis, comes from just one hectare of vines.”

This philosophy allows them to explore each vineyard’s potential. Their 0.4 hectare prephylloxera parcel becomes their Baragane cuvée, named after the wild leeks that grow among the vines, their one-hectare parcel in Senejac forms their Closerie des Moussis Haut-Médoc cuvée and a 0.2-hectare vineyard they took on in 2017 becomes the eponymous Margaux. The latest project will be a Moulis cuvée, from a new parcel of two hectares they have just taken on in 2020, which will be converted to biodynamics.

Natural cover crop

All of their vineyards are managed biodynamically, and they work the land with their own plough horse, Jumpa, to avoid compaction. 

We hop in the van with Laurence to head to see their prephylloxera parcel. From a distance, it might not look any different to its neighbours, but when you look close-up, you can see these vines speak of history. In the same way as grandparents and great-grandparents’ wrinkles speak of lifelong memories, these vines’ incredible trunks are testament to not just years gone by, but centuries gone by. In the modern world, Bordeaux vineyards are almost solely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carménère and Côt (Malbec), although this is changing with new initiatives brought in by the Bordeaux regional growers’ body (the CIVB for short) to work to introduce other varieties to broaden the options for growers in light of climate change. Here, however, this little parcel of just 0.4 hectares is home to a wealth of genetic diversity. Not only is it home to very old massal selections of the usual grape varieties (as opposed to modern clones), but it is also home to varieties that are very rare to find in vineyards here, such as Castets (which the CIVB is working to reintroduce) and Mancin Noir.

In their prephylloxera parcel

This parcel is believed to have been planted around 1870. As well as being home to this genetic minefield, it is also home to an old method of reproducing vines, known as “layering,” or marcottage in French. This is when a branch of a vine is fed into a hole in the ground and up on the other side. The vine actually does this itself in nature, so if a human being does it for the vine, it knows instinctively to create roots in the section that has been buried, and eventually it’s possible to cut away the original branch so that the one plant becomes two plants. Once phylloxera, a louse that devours the roots of the European grapevine species vitis vinifera, came over on boats from America in the 19th century, unfortunately almost all of the vineyards in Europe were killed. Thankfully, the varieties were saved by grafting them onto American vine rootstocks, but this meant that planting this species of vines on their own roots was no longer possible. This included this technique of layering, so it was almost lost forever. However, for some miraculous reason, phylloxera has never reached this parcel. Perhaps this is because it’s slightly further away from its neighbours, or because its soils are a little sandier, or just because the owner refused to believe that phylloxera would one day destroy it. Therefore, it still stands, shoulders tall. 

As it’s so old, it produces very little fruit, just like your grandparents are probably no longer at their peak fitness level. The average yield in the area is probably around 40 hectolitres per hectare, whereas this little parcel produces only the equivalent of 8-10 hectolitres per hectare. 

“She [the vineyard] always produces small yields, and she’s never been forced to produce more. Maybe that’s why she’s still standing and so healthy. Even though we don’t get much fruit from her, she’s always regular. Our little grandma…”

Grandma vines

Their plough horse, Jumpa

She smiles affectionately. It’s pouring with rain and mid-February, so the vines have no leaves yet, but the vineyard itself is bright green, almost fluorescently so, and flowers have already started to emerge. Laurence explains that they leave the grasses wild here; everything found in the vineyard, including the leeks, are wild.

Since 2009 they have worked organically, and since 2011 biodynamically. They make all of their preparations by hand themselves. Laurence tells us, 

“When you convert to organics, there are many evolutions that occur. The first thing you notice is that fermentations speed up - the wine begins fermenting straight away. Next, in the vineyard, you notice that the vines produce less leaves and become less vigorous. The vine regulates itself.”

With regards to biodynamics, the differences are a little more complex and subtle. She muses,

“After having started to work biodynamically, we’ve noticed something different in the soil. The texture and the scent of the earth changes. But we began in 2011 with biodynamics, and in 2012 with our horse - so which element comes from which part?”

She shrugs. It’s clearly a combination, but a powerful one that is regenerating the life in their vineyards, which had all been treated conventionally before. She adds, 

“Biodynamics is a pragmatic accelerator to bring back microorganisms into the soil and to improve biodiversity. When you begin working like this, it is just so obvious and clear to see.”

The Wines 

Laurence thinks that biodynamic agriculture, well-known for its positive effects on soil health, also has effects on the final wine. She explains,

“In 2014, we started to notice that the aromas were more direct. It’s not a question of complexity necessarily, but rather freshness and this sense of directness. We look for wines that are digestible - easy to drink - that make your mouth water and that have length.”

They have also noticed that the wines are naturally higher in acid and thus working with very low doses of sulphur is far less risky. 

“We became less afraid, as we really sensed that the wines were more stable.” 

The wines are fermented naturally and aged for a year and a half in 400 or 600L oak barrels, instead of the 225L barrels. This provides more of a reductive environment for them and means they have less direct contact with the oak. There is no new oak used (unless they need to buy a new barrel, in which case there'll be a small percentage). The wines are never chaptalized - nothing is added or taken away here, except for a very small amount of sulphur. 

They also have a négoce range of vin de France wines where they work with friends who also farm organically or biodynamically. This allows them to play around and experiment with varieties and methods that wouldn’t be permitted under Bordeaux AOC laws. This includes skin contact Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc, pét-nat, vin de soif style Merlot, and the latest experiment is a piquette, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. It is pressed after two days of being infused with water. 

For all their wines, there is just one key ingredient: time. 

“To make wines like we do, we need ourselves - human beings - and time. Wines must be given the time that they need.”

They are an inspiring duo who bring life, honesty and exuberant energy to the region. Their vin de France wines emanate joy and fun, and their Bordeaux wines show a serious side to natural Bordeaux. In the case of Baragane, well, the vineyard might not be a financial beacon, but when it comes to its place in history, it is priceless. They are its faithful guardians and the vineyard is lucky to have them & Jumpa. 

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