The Pic Saint-Loup appellation of the Languedoc has some natural treasures: old vines. Sadly, more and more of these precious, living pieces of vinous history succumb to an early fate; ripped out to make way for younger, more productive vineyards. However, some fortunate examples of these ancient treasures have found themselves in the care of the Beau family; handed down from Christoph Beau to Victor Beau. And in these hands, they aren’t going anywhere — these beauties are staying in the ground, where they belong, farmed biodynamically for as long as they may live.
Although Victor is the son of a winemaker, the family wasn’t originally in wine. Victor says,
“My parents were the first generation to tend vines. My dad did agricultural engineering studies in Toulouse, and with my mum decided to come to the Languedoc, to Pic St Loup. They were 23, and it was actually kind of by chance… My dad always says that they took a map of France and that’s how they decided to come to where we are now.”
Luck was on their side — in 1982, they managed to find a little slice of heaven in the form of vineyards. Victor came along as a baby in 1989, and has early childhood memories of helping his parents out in the vineyard.
“I didn’t go to wine school — I learnt from my dad. It really was a process of learning by doing.”
And bit by bit, Victor has carved out his own style; like learning the important basics of how to draw in a certain way, and then adding his own custom layers. The Inebriati wines already have their own, unique ‘Victor’ stamp, and this stamp will only continue to develop and become more complex over time. This young winemaker is only at the beginning of what looks to be a shining career.
Victor began his own winemaking project, Domaine Inebriati, in 2011 — at first with two hectares from his father — then with a further three hectares which he purchased from a man in the village. His dad was continuing to make wine at the time, so couldn’t give him more vines (he hadn’t retired just yet). In 2017, his dad gave Victor an additional three hectares, to bring his total to eight hectares.
Since day one, Victor has been working biodynamically. This was the route his father had also chosen, and Victor feels equally as passionate about it. He says,
“Growing up, I often listened to my dad talking about biodynamics. When he had first started farming, he had decided to work organically. Given that he didn’t come from a family of winemakers, he didn’t know anything about chemicals, or how to tend vines chemically. Both of my parents are also naturally sensitive to the idea of organics, anyway — they always eat healthily, buying organic food and following homeopathy. They were already convinced by that, so I don’t think there was ever even the question of “shall we work with chemicals or not” — it was quite simple — organics was the only way.”
In the Languedoc, especially in the 1980s — the heyday of chemical agriculture — working organically was completely against the norm. And biodynamics would take it one step further.
“When my parents found out about biodynamics, they were quickly interested. But there wasn’t really a single ‘click’ moment, it was more through an experimental mindset. At the time in the 80s and 90s, there was pretty much nobody working organically, it was all chemical. But for my father, it would be against his intuition to work in that way. His intuition rather told him that biodynamics was the direction to take.”
Christoph Beau’s intuition led to healthy vineyards and tasty wines, and Victor was fortunate to inherit these efforts. He says,
“I count myself as being very lucky to have taken over these vines, as my dad had been treating them biodynamically for so long. They are very balanced, and there’s lots of life in the soils. But in addition, they are old vineyards — vines that were already old when my father bought them. They’re the oldest vines in the area I’m in, which is so cool. It means that there are varieties planted in them which we don’t find much anymore. For our cuvée Naia, for example, the vines are 80 years old —Carignan, Cinsault and Aramon. Those varieties are the historic varieties of the Languedoc. I really consider them to be treasures; they’re very special.”
The majority of the vineyards are planted to Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache, and in addition to the Carignan and Aramon, there is also Terret Bourret (a mutation of Terret), and Ugni Blanc. Victor says,
“It makes me really happy to be able to work with these older varieties, and to be able to offer something different to wine drinkers — not just the wines that have been the most common for the past 30 years.”
It’s also important for him from a climatic perspective; he has been farming and making wines for ten years, and in those ten years alone the climate has drastically changed. In the 2021 season, the growers of the Languedoc saw extreme frost. Being so far south, frost doesn’t tend to be so problematic here, but this year was different. Victor says,
“It’s the first time I’ve experienced frost like this. Of course, in other French regions, this happens every year, but it’s new here. We’re used to drought, but now it feels like we have all of the other climatic issues to deal with, too. But… when you work in viticulture… well, you need to be aware it’s not easy!”
By having more diversity in his vineyards — through varieties and massal selection — he can ensure he has better means to protect his crop against climate and disease struggles.
To delve further into biodynamics, Victor also bought two Highland cows, and works with a friend’s sheep in the vineyards as nature’s lawnmowers. We ask how he decided to choose cows, to which he said,
“The area here is known for pastoralism, and a friend of my dad’s is a cattle breeder. I was always hanging out there when I grew up, so the idea of having cows just spoke to me. Plus, in biodynamics, the cow is the central animal, so to introduce them to the vineyards — to eat the grass and to have our own manure — simply made sense to me. It’s a bit of work, sure, but it’s a great experience and I love looking after them.”
The way he shrugs this off is admirable: despite climatic (and hence economic) pressure, it’s just another day and struggle in the life of a vigneron.
Victor learnt how to make wines with natural methods from his father; the first crucial step being natural fermentation. His father had also always made red wines using whole bunches, which Victor has also adopted, but with a twist. He explains,
“I also use whole bunch fermentations, but in a different way, not always 100%, and I’m more vigilant when it comes to the maceration time. I do more of an ‘infusion style,’ which is softer — more digeste (drinkable). When you work with stems you can quickly have bitter or astringent notes, and I avoid that because when the wines are young it can be austere, and hence that style demands a lot of time for ageing. Instead, I look for freshness in the wines.”
Some cuvées, such as the aforementioned Naia, are wines that Victor’s father also made (via his own interpretation). Other wines are more experimental; either born from curiosity, or because a particular tank tasted outstanding one year. In 2020, for example, one parcel of Grenache tasted so delicious that Victor decided to make a new wine from it: Patus was born. The name references the local patois dialect, meaning pastoralism. As Victor is also dedicated to working with animals, it seemed a good fit.
“The fruit for Patus just tasted so good on its own, so I decided to release a new wine. It was harvested slightly earlier, so has a lower pH — thanks to its acidity it’s very lively — a wine that’s all about life, fruit and acidity. My vin de soif!”
He also released his first pét-nat in 2020, from Vermentino vines which he planted himself four years ago. As such, it was the first year he had enough fruit to make a wine. He says,
“When a vineyard is very young, I believe it doesn’t yet express the notion of terroir, as the roots are still superficial. I think they need to be around 10-15 years old before the terroir really shines through in the wine. So, I decided to experiment with a pét-nat. It’s my first try, and it was really cool to do the process. I already know what I’ll change next year — I might harvest a bit earlier, as the wine is fresh and lively but perhaps a bit ripe.”
He might think it’s a bit ripe, but we think it’s delicious — in fact, it’s one of the most exciting pét-nats we’ve had from the south of France. But it’s his constant questioning and contemplating that makes Victor a great winemaker.
When it comes to sulfites, he uses such a small amount (10 -20mg at bottling) that it’s almost not detectable, and for some of his wines, he makes them completely without. Being in the south, however, the warmer weather means the wines often sit at a higher pH level, which means working without sulfites is a little trickier. He explains,
“I learnt how to make wine with no additions from my dad, but I don’t refrain from sometimes adding a very small amount of sulfites before botting — that depends on the wine. I really think that the way I work with the red wines — with stems — protects them from oxidation. Even if the wine has some contact with oxygen, I don’t worry. But for the whites — well, we’re in the Languedoc. If I’d been in the Loire or the Jura maybe I’d have a different white wine story! Thankfully, varieties like Ugni Blanc and Terret-Bourret naturally don’t have high alcohol, but the pHs are often a bit high, so I do the tiny adds before bottling. In a year where I have good pHs, I might feel more comfortable when it comes to adding none at all.”
There’s always the tricky line for a natural winemaker of when to intervene, and when not to intervene. Victor laughs when he says,
“When I look at the analyses of the wines, even if the wine tastes great and feels stable, you do think… crap. What could happen later? If a problem happens in the tank, you can fix it, or the problem fixes itself. The wine has all of its other wine friends around it, and the atmosphere is conducive to healthy fermentations — you can work with healthy lees and reductive environments to avoid and fix problems. But once a problem appears in the bottle, it’s much harder. When it comes to the sulfites, I often say to myself, I’ve only added 10 or 20mg, it’s almost ridiculous it’s so low. I could have just avoided it altogether. But — I sleep better. I’ve reassured myself that things will be okay. And when you’ve bought a cellar, and you have things you need to invest in, you need to be careful.”
We couldn’t agree more — and to make good wines like Victor’s, you need to sleep well, too. Plus, it would be a bit dull (for him and for us!) if he achieved everything he has been thinking about in just one vintage, all in one go. Part of the fun of following a young grower is observing their own developments, step by step, and vintage by vintage. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Victor, his cattle, and his vineyards, and we look forward to exploring more of this special part of the Languedoc through his wines.