In life, sometimes there’s a series of sliding doors scenarios, when things seem to fall into place serendipitously; when life takes you on a path you weren’t expecting. Whether or not you believe in fate, there’s no denying that Pauline Broqua’s passion — combined with meeting likeminded people in the right place and at the right time — led her to where she’s destined to be. That place is Domaine de Buis, in the remote northern Aveyron.
Despite initially being a city girl, this remote part of southwest France captured her heart. Soon, she discovered that it was no longer cobbled streets and bars calling her name, but rather fauna, flora and the vines. In 2017, when a vigneron with a small domaine (and without successors) was planning his retirement, it was perfect timing. You guessed it — she hasn’t looked back, and Domaine des Buis is now Pauline’s life.
“At first, I wasn’t into wine, but rather partying, bars, cocktails and beer — after all, I was 20 years old at the time. But then, wine became an interest and a passion, and I became a sommelier.”
It was natural wine that captured Pauline’s attention, initially through the taste of the wines. Living in Toulouse, her local wine shop was Le Temps des Vendanges, owned by a man named Éric Cuestas, who is well-known for his efforts to spread the word and love of organically farmed and naturally made wines. She remembers,
“Eric presented all these wines to me, and I became a regular customer. Something just clicked – the taste of those wines really evoked emotions in me. I still remember tasting my first wines from Yvon Métras. The tastes I experienced were ones I recognised from growing up in my family’s village, where we used to buy wine from the local winemaker in large containers with my grandma. I rediscovered those tastes and aromas in the wines I was tasting from Le Temps des Vendanges. So, at the start, it was the taste more than the ethical approach that inspired me to start working with wine.”
She decided to learn more, and soon after jumped down the wine rabbit hole. She began studying for sommelier exams in 2011, and took a position in Le Temps des Vendanges, where she worked for three years. Next, she worked as a sommelier in restaurants. In 2015, she took a break from hospitality to go and visit winemakers and learn more about their methods. At the same time, she also decided to take a degree (a BTS) in viticulture and oenology to further improve her knowledge. She laughs,
“But… at that stage, I wasn’t at all planning to become a winemaker.”
We smile; we see where this is going. She continues,
“I started my BTS and did a stage [an internship] at Domaine Yoyo in Banyuls. Then, I worked at Domaine de la Ferme Saint-Martin, in Beaumes-de-Venise [in the southern Rhône]. That’s when I realised, I can’t go backwards… I wanted to become a winemaker and to find some vines.”
Pauline comments that it’s sort of ironic; her parents raised goats when she was growing up, and made goats cheese. They worked organically and sold their cheese at markets and to restaurants.
“But for me, I saw agriculture as being a ton of work, and a very hard life, so I hadn’t considered it for my career.”
This changed, however, when she experienced the life of a winemaker first-hand. It became set in stone when she travelled to Aveyron in southwest France, where she did another stage with Nicolas Carmarans, one of France’s natural wine pioneers. She says,
“Nicolas was very attached to his region, and to the history there. During my internship, he spoke to me a lot about terroir, and the historic importance of the region. That really touched me. Historically, there had been a big wine region here, but it that had almost disappeared due to people leaving the countryside to move to cities between the two world wars. Over 2000 hectares of vines were abandoned during that exodus.”
“Nicolas and I would go for walks in the forest, and we’d find very old traces of vines there. It was just incredible. The region is very isolated. At the time I was still based in Toulouse, where I led a very dynamic life. I worked night shifts, and at the beginning it was impossible to imagine my life here as it is so remote. But the more time I spent here, the more I became attached to the area. Eventually, I found myself wanting to return to Toulouse less and less...”
The wilderness of the area had captured her heart. This newfound love for a region coincided with her meeting a winemaker named Jean-Marc Viguier, who wished to retire in 2018. As his children didn’t wish to take over the domaine, the opportunity arose for Pauline — who was due to finish her BTS in 2017 — to take on his domaine.
“Everything just fell into place to enable me to come here. I began speaking with Jean-Marc and realised this would become a real possibility. There were many aspects I liked about his domaine; especially the fact that he had vineyards planted to Chenin Blanc. That really interested me.”
She explains that Chenin Blanc — although most famously planted in the Loire Valley — has been found in the northern segment of Aveyron for several centuries. This isn’t a variety that arrived by accident or chance; it’s here because it suits the region, and it has become a part of its terroir.
We ask her why it was Aveyron in particular that captured her attention. She says,
“It’s very preserved. It’s very wild, very hilly… there’s never been intensive viticulture here, nor intensive agriculture of any other kind for that matter… Only small breeders and farmers. It’s also not very touristy. There’s so much diversity; many species of birds, loads of animals, and when you want to have a respectful approach to life, this rich diversity is very important. It made me realise that it’s possible to work according to a very healthy kind of agriculture… to have a very high quality of soils, vines — and eventually wines.”
In 2017, to bridge the one-year period before she would take on Domaine des Buis, she took over a lease of a two-hectare vineyard from Nicolas Camarans.
“Nicolas was going to stop working with that vineyard, so I took over the lease from him. It had already been worked organically by Nicolas, and it allowed me to start working with my own vines before taking over Domaine des Buis.”
At Domaine de Buis, she began the conversion to organic viticulture in 2018. The vineyard she took over from Nicolas, although organically worked, hadn’t been certified, so she took the decision to apply for certification for all her vineyards.
Working organically is key to Pauline’s philosophy. She explains,
“The terroir is the patrimony and foundation of winemaking. When we convert to organics and hence stop herbicides and synthetics, it reveals the terroir, and the nuances of the vineyards. I believe this approach also needs to be respected in terms of vinification. If we use several technical methods and chemicals/additions in winemaking, then talking about terroir is no longer legitimate.”
Her vineyards are planted to Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and the lesser-known indigenous varieties of the region; Fer Servadou, Négret de Banhars and Mouyssaguès.
Two-thirds of her vines are Fer Servadou; the grape which Aveyron is particularly celebrated for. She explains that Cabernet Franc, meanwhile, although it was already present in the area (like Chenin Blanc), became more widespread when the INAO (the Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité, the organisation in charge of agricultural regulation) imposed appellation laws. These laws stipulate that wines bearing the appellation status (the name of the specific subregion, in Pauline's case Entraygues – Le Fel) must be based on Fer Servadou, and have proportions of Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon, with 'accessory' amounts permitted of Négret de Banhars and Mouyssaguès. Meanwhile, for IGP wines (covering a broader area), this also includes varieties such as Merlot. Pauline says,
“Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were not at all adapted to the climate here, so they were abandoned quickly. You still find some vines of these varieties here, but winemakers emphasised that it was a very bad idea, as these varieties are very difficult to work with in this area. The INAO had imposed varieties that weren’t at all adapted to the terroir.”
Working with their lesser-known indigenous varieties is important for Pauline, as it is crucial for preserving the history of the region. She says,
“In Patois, négret means black, so the name means ‘the black variety from Banhars.’ If you look at a map, Banhars is between where Nicolas’ vineyards are located and where mine are located; it’s just 6km from here; so it really is the indigenous variety here, and it was historically planted all over the area.”
She explains that the coustoubis — the nickname for the historical artisan farmers of the region — traditionally farmed vegetables, fruits and grapes, and made wine to sell at the local markets. They were the cultivators of the Négret de Banhars variety.
In addition, she also has some Mouyssaguès planted, another (even rarer) indigenous variety, of which there is less than one hectare remaining in France. She only has a small amount.
“It’s hard to harvest; it’s very aromatic and ripens before the others; so one out of two times it’s the birds that eat them! Taste-wise, it’s a bit like Pineau d’Aunis. A friend of mine, Olivier Basset, makes a cuvée of just this variety.”
Pauline creates her cuvées according to her parcels. She explains,
“Making wine parcel-by-parcel follows a logic which is at the basis of my vision of natural wine. You might ask why… Well, for me, natural wine is the only way to portray a terroir. That was a vision that was passed onto me, and one that I believe in and agree with.”
As her vineyards are planted on varying types of granite; some more sandy and others siltier, she wishes to capture this essence in the bottle. She says,
“It takes time to understand your terroir, which is also why I vinify according to parcel. I really discovered a terroir here; one that barely exists for consumers anymore, as it’s become almost unknown. Many winemakers in the area use a lot of additions, and lab-cultured yeasts, so I wanted to do the opposite; to transmit the terroir in the most hands-off way possible. That’s what my work is about; intervening as little as I can in winemaking. I try to rather accompany the wines, so they can express themselves in the simplest way possible. I don’t think we can demonstrate a terroir when we add lab-cultured yeasts… or alter the acidity by adding tartaric acid… But on the other hand, I also don’t think that a wine with too much volatile acidity or brettanomyces shows its terroir, either.”
Her work is about purity and precision. For her red wines, this also explains why she uses the whole bunches of her grapes (including the stem, i.e. not destemmed berries). She tells us,
“Working with whole bunches isn’t due to a philosophy, but rather it’s a choice by default. I don’t have a lot of equipment; equipment is expensive. When I learnt how to make wine, I tried many types of destemmers. I realised that unless you have a really fancy one, which is very precise, then you end up making soup. I didn’t want to do that, as I’m focused on making qualitative wine. I prefer not to destem at all that use a destemmer which doesn’t give me quality.”
For her earlier drinking cuvées she does semi-carbonic maceration, leaving the bunches untouched to create something light and elegant. For the parcels she believes to be more complex, which produce wines for ageing, she does some foot stomping to extract a little more tannin, to produce a more structured wine.
Ultimately, her approach is about assessing her soils, tasting the grapes, and experimenting; all to figure out how to best allow her terroirs to express themselves. She muses,
“My objective is to leave people who drink my wines with an image of the terroir; to transmit that place to the bottle.”
It is a simple objective; a pure one. When we taste Pauline’s wines, it’s this purity that speaks to us; these are soulful, energetic and honest wines, that make us desperately want to visit her part of the world. That’s what makes wines like these so special; this unique ability to transmit the energy of a place via a bottle of wine. We can’t help but think that the terroir of Aveyron is very fortunate to have Pauline working to preserve its rich diversity.