Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve, run by Matthieu Cosse and Catherine Maisonneuve, is to the wine region of Cahors what Monet is to the art world; classic and timeless. It is the subtlety and the nuance of these wines that has seen them become revered across the globe; these are elegant bottles that don’t adhere to any trend. The only movement they are inherently linked to is that of biodynamic farming. Without their meticulous approach in the vineyards, the quality of their wines would not be the same.
It is this self-proclaimed perfectionist approach that has helped to elevate the southwestern French wine region of Cahors to another level. This partnership creates a dialogue not only on great wine, but also on agriculture and long-term sustainability in the face of climate change.
LITTLEWINE spoke to Matthieu Cosse for this article.
“Tasting grands vins was a revelation for me, and wine became an absolute passion. I said to myself, I’m going to become a winemaker, so this career began very early for me.”
Matthieu met Catherine while studying viticulture, and they discovered a joint passion in discovering the great wines and terroirs of the world. Matthieu grew up in Southwest France, and Catherine in Paris, and together they decided that Cahors had an exciting yet untapped potential.
“We are two very passionate people who came together for the sake of a project: to create the best possible wines that we can from the terroir of Cahors. We quickly understood the potential of the this wine region, but there wasn’t necessarily a coherence between the potential of the terroir and the wines we were tasting. After all, it’s not for no reason that this is a historic terroir for wine — that didn’t happen by chance. This was a serious motivation for us, and so we decided to explore the region further, and in 1999 the opportunity arose for us to begin making wines here.”
They approached their first wines with a strong bond and their perfectionist attitude, dedicated to creating the very best cuvées they could.
“People came to taste the wines, and told us that they were interesting, and even a revelation of sorts. Those words encouraged us and permitted us to develop our ideas further and to purchase our domaine a couple of years later.”
Being located in Cahors, most of their vineyards are planted to the region’s renowned grape variety, Malbec (also known as Côt), and they also have some Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Gamay. Their 15 hectares of vines are planted on soils with varying amounts of clay, limestone and gravel.
Very early on in their journey, they discovered the realm of biodynamics.
“We met many people and tasted many bottles, and we quickly realised that biodynamic wines had something in common. They had a certain expression — in particular a certain balance — that intrigued us. They had this notion of digestibility, an additional depth of complexity, and possessed an energy and verticality. We felt a certain sensitivity from these wines, so we decided to move in that direction.”
“Plus… putting chemicals in the vines… that just didn’t come naturally to us, so we rejected that idea. It had always made us feel uncomfortable. It was a very natural and simple journey for us, and our passion for biodynamics grew. It was a point of convergence — all of the conditions came together to allow us to go further in our quest to find the ultimate expression of our terroir, which comes from a balance in the vineyard, the grapes and the wine. In doing so, it puts viticulture and people in a natural milieu; you are respecting nature and doing something that feels good for nature. Nature is happier when you work like that, and the results were very different — we quickly realised that.”
Before working biodynamically, their vineyards had been treated conventionally for around 25 years, and they noticed results almost immediately after they began converting.
“At first, we noticed a change in how the vegetation of the vines grew. Then, it was a progressive evolution, but already in those first years the taste of the fruit was different. With time, the vines also became more resistant to disease, and in the wine, the quality of the tannins and the freshness of the aromas improved. We had more finesse, and it simply became obvious to us that biodynamics plays its role in this. Then, when it comes to the wine, ageing is also very important in order to fully reveal your terroir. It’s all these elements coming together.”
"You could consider it this way — you are recuperating a sick vineyard — land that hasn’t been well cared for. It’s a transition. You work to regenerate your soils and vines, and they respond by getting healthier. Thus, they get sick less and less."
He emphasises that they have a very pragmatic approach to biodynamics, and that there is no ‘one rule fits all.’ Rather, the key to farming in a healthy manner is to take into account every element of your work: your location, the conditions of the vintage, and soil health.
“These days, with climate change, it is important to act according to the weather, adapting to heat and light. We have alive soils — soils that are well-fed with lots of bacteria and microorganisms — and that’s the first step in order to be able to deal with climatic issues such as drought. It has a very positive effect in giving us functioning soils. That’s why I feel that biodynamics is one of the key tools we have to conserve our future; for viticulture, but also for agriculture as a whole. The biodynamic approach must be pragmatic; efficient and well thought through. Then, it helps us to overcome these hurdles.”
He also stresses that it’s a world of farming that’s accessible to all:
“Everybody can farm in this way; everyone can work with plants, harvest plants, and understand them. It’s just a question of learning, embracing this understanding, and observation. Those elements are universal.”
Although he uses the plants originally described in biodynamic teachings, such as comfrey, stinging nettle, horsetail, yarrow, wicker and oak, he says it doesn’t and shouldn’t stop there:
“One of the big keys to biodynamics is understanding that the plant world is so big, and that there are so many things to still discover and to experiment with. There are so many benefits that we don’t know yet. Plus, one of the most important things to remember is that we can’t just use recipes. You must adapt biodynamics to a specific terroir, and to the place in which you’re working. This is crucial. You can’t have the same approach in Provence that you have in the Loire, for example, or for any vineyards abroad. The climate is different, the soils are different… you must take into account your microclimate; that’s the first step. But you also can’t stop there. It’s about practice and performance — how you progress, how you use your brain. Above all, observation and reflection are fundamental, and you must also be open to experimentation.”
For this duo, there’s no way to discuss their winemaking without discussing their farming.
“We are the interpreters of a specific terroir — the terroir we have adapted our work to. We understand the impact our soils, slopes, terraces, etc. all have on our wine. Then, aside from that, it’s about precision in viticulture. That gives us the quality of our grapes — they are balanced and at the perfect point of maturity, and that’s what makes the difference. For wine, the most important thing is emotion, but also balance and a freshness of aromas.”
When it comes to winemaking, everything revolves around respecting and protecting this quality of fruit. While many other winemakers in the region create very extracted wines, their approach is the opposite: this is all about a lightness of touch. To achieve this, they barely touch their grapes (known as non-foulée in French, i.e. the skins aren’t purposefully broken and the berries are hence largely in tact), to avoid too much extraction.
“We respect the integrity of the berries. In a sense, we work with Malbec, but with colour and tannins like Pinot Noir.”
Sometimes, they will add a small number of whole bunches to their fermentations, depending on the vintage, but never so that it dominates.
“Listen to the grapes and to the wine, and then react. We carry our perfectionist attitude into every element of winemaking and observe the wines as they age. That lets you discover the identities of your wines and your terroirs. We have regularity from one vintage to the next, and every year the grapes are healthy, yet we still always find that the vintage expresses itself in the wines. It’s fascinating — you taste a wine from one vintage, and you find everything that happened in that vintage in the bottle.”
It's this passion for their primary material — their fruit — which dominates their thinking in the cellar.
“All the work of a winemaker should revolve around respecting their grapes. Then, when you achieve perfectly mature grapes, you just need to accompany them to let the fruit remain true to its natural expression. Then, adapt to the vintage and take the time needed to find the identity of the wine. We only release the wines once we feel they are showing their identity and their terroir. It’s about balance and finesse of expression, and the tannin quality, particularly in great red wines. It’s the texture of the tannins that’s important, and that comes from balance in the fruit, which in turn comes from a very respectful form of viticulture — by listening to your vines.”
Their wines are the perfect blend of simplicity and complexity; through a simple approach that is centred on respecting their fruit, their wines brim with complex aromas and flavours that come directly from the land which they farm so meticulously. Thanks to them, we are able to peek into this beautiful part of the world in a transparent and deeply inspiring way. We raise a glass to you, Matthieu and Catherine, for allowing us this opportunity.