A native of the Languedoc, Ludovic Engelvin fell in love with the notion of viticulture already as a teenager. Without family vineyards of his own, he travelled and worked for various domaines to learn as much as he could. However, he didn’t yet have enough money to settle and dedicate himself to winemaking, so he became a sommelier, and eventually set up a wine shop.
Although impatient at the time, this stint working as a sommelier would become an indispensable experience for Ludovic. He was able to taste wines he otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to taste, and hence formed a complex palate, understanding what inspired him (and what didn’t inspire him). He was drawn more and more to the realm of organic and biodynamic farming, and natural winemaking. When the opportunity came to take on a parcel of vines in his home region, the call was too strong to resist.
LITTLEWINE met with Ludovic on a trip to London in 2022 for this interview, and we filmed this short clip with him where he explains why organic farming is crucial to his winemaking:
LITTLEWINE: Hi Ludovic, thank you for meeting with us. We love your wines, and admire your journey. Please could you tell us a little more about your beginnings?
Ludovic: Great to meet you. It all began after school, when I did an internship with a viticulturist. I like nature, and wine has always been interesting to me. My grandpa worked in wine, and even though I never met him, at my grandma’s house there were still barrels and things like that. I really enjoyed the internship, and it made me decide to pursue studies at an agricultural college. Then, I worked at various domaines in France, and also went to Rioja in Spain. In Rioja, I saw a different kind of viticulture and winemaking. It was very industrial, and that wasn’t the kind of wine I wanted to make. I came back to France, and went to work with Didier Dagueneau in the Loire. There, I discovered another kind of viticulture again. This time it was artisanal, and that gave me the desire to make wine and set up on my own. But I didn’t have money, nor did I have any family vineyards… It was complicated. So, I became a sommelier. That was great as it gave me the opportunity to taste many amazing wines that I wouldn’t have been able to try otherwise. It was fascinating.
LITTLEWINE: When (and how) did you decide to take the plunge to become a winemaker?
Ludovic: I started making wine in 2010, when I rented a little vineyard. I was also a wine merchant at the time; I had a shop near Nîmes. Then, in 2011 and 2012 I took on more vines, and eventually in 2013 I sold my wine shop to focus solely on making wine.
LITTLEWINE: How did you decide on making wine in the Languedoc – had that always been the plan?
Ludovic: I was asking myself the question: if I make wine, how will I do it? As I didn’t have any family vineyards or anything like that, it also became the question of where? At the start, I wasn’t actually looking for vineyards in the area where I came from; rather elsewhere. However, the opportunity arose to take on a parcel in my home region, and so I started making wine here. It became evident to me that I wanted to make wine from the region I come from, even if it isn’t the most famous region. Thankfully it has improved in recent years, but the Languedoc has suffered from a reputation of producing low-end wines for a long time, even though it has beautiful terroirs and a very rich history — vines have been cultivated and wine has been made here for 2000 years, since the time of the Romans!
LITTLEWINE: Please can you tell us a little more about the region?
Ludovic: Of course. As I had the chance to make wines here, I worked to understand the history of my region. In Nîmes, the Romans cultivated vines. They loved wine and drank a lot of wine! By looking at the terroirs and starting to understand them, I realised… why would I go elsewhere? We have so many incredible terroirs in the region. Perhaps we don’t have a famous appellation, but this is where I’m from, and we have these beautiful terroirs. We don’t need famous names, labels or appellations to make good wine. If we have good terroir, then that’s what’s important. The challenge for a winemaker is to make the best wine possible, and you need interesting soils to make good wines. The appellation – the real sense of the appellation – is the soil, the taste of the soil… the taste of the place. What is necessary, however, is to have a place where you feel good; somewhere you enjoy working, and a place which gives you the desire to make wine.
LITTLEWINE: Why do you think the Languedoc, with its magnificent terroirs and varieties, has suffered from an unfair bad reputation?
Ludovic: We have such a rich and important history, because we have these interesting limestone and sandstone terroirs; there is such diversity. Sadly, our history was somewhat erased by industrialisation. After the wars, there wasn’t enough wine being produced in France, and so the Languedoc was sacrificed for that as people turned to mass production. But at the time of Louis XIV, just like the wines of Burgundy, wines from the Languedoc were being taken to the royal courts. That means there were great wines here! The terroirs are still here. We just need to rediscover them, and our varieties. We have a strong cultural and regional identity.
LITTLEWINE: Aside from your experience with Didier Dagueneau, what made you decide to pursue organic viticulture?
Ludovic: To make wine, in my opinion you must have an understanding of wine; to know what has been done in the past, to know about different regions… I had the chance to taste many beautiful wines, and hence to forge my palate, and to have an idea of the different ways you can cultivate vines. I realised that the wines I loved the most were the ones which were made with an artisan approach, and with a vision of a certain type of viticulture — often organic or biodynamic. That’s how I came to the point of wanting to make wine in this way. In addition, I had already been very fearful of chemicals. They’re so harmful for the environment, but also for the people working in the vineyards. So, as it was something I had always been afraid of, it was evident to me that I wanted to farm and make wine without chemicals. I want to respect the environment and respect the people who work in the vineyards — I have a mindset of preservation.
My methods in the vineyards are still evolving. It all starts in the vineyard. I make wine from grapes, so if the complexity isn’t in the grapes, then it won’t be in the wine. It’s a very simple notion; basic even; but you must have good grapes that tell the story of their place. And to achieve that, you need healthy vines and living soils.
LITTLEWINE: Well said, we couldn’t agree more. How about in the cellar — could you tell us a bit about your approach?
Ludovic: In the cellar, it’s very simple. The most complicated part is to make it simple. We want to work naturally, so the grapes need to be healthy and in good condition. When the grapes arrive at the cellar, they are also bringing all the microbes that live on their skins with them. Those yeasts and bacteria allow us to carry out natural fermentation with the microbial life that comes from a certain place. Every place is unique, and that brings complexity to the wine. So, we must take care of the grapes and be attentive to them. Then, when it comes to winemaking – well, it’s really about accompanying the grapes, and following the process — in order to respect the natural yeasts and thus the expression of the place. Then, we react by tasting; it’s sensory; there isn’t a specific method we follow. The notion is to make wine that expresses its place in a particular year, and that process already starts when I taste the grapes. It’s about following the vintage and reacting to the vintage. Every year is different, and I wouldn’t be able to make the wine if I hadn’t been paying attention to the vineyards throughout the year. I must be there to understand what they need. The work I do in the vineyards defines a large part of the wine.
LITTLEWINE: How many hectares do you have now, and what are the vineyards planted to?
Ludovic: I now have 8.8 hectares in production. The varieties are Grenache Noir, Cinsault and Mourvèdre, and I also have some young vines I planted two years ago. I chose to plant Oeillade Noire, which is a very rare but historic variety from this region. There’s almost none left, so I planted a massal selection — firstly to save the variety — but also because I really believe in its potential for us. I love the wines it makes, and it’s very adapted to the region. I’ve also planted Cinsault — I love that variety, too. It’s sometimes criticised, but only because it tends to be very generous, so if you push it further, then it can give too much [high yields can result in a diluted style of wine]. It’s important to plant Cinsault in the right place; it can truly be extraordinary. A lot has been pulled up in the region, but I think that’s a big mistake, as it is well-adapted to climate change. Grenache, meanwhile, suffers from mildew. We usually have a dry climate but with the recent erratic storms we’ve been having, it can be problematic. Furthermore, Grenache tends to produce a lot of alcohol, and with climate change… well… we try to look for freshness. That’s why, in my opinion, Cinsault is something we should be planting. It can create beautiful wines; not just rosé or something very light. It can make great wines for ageing when it’s planted on the right terroirs.
LITTLEWINE: We love Cinsault, too. It’s sort of like the Pinot of the South!
Ludovic: Exactly! It's a great variety, especially given what’s happening in the south with climate change. Because of this, I really think it’s one of the greatest varieties for our future. Meanwhile, we often call Oeillade the cousin of Cinsault, but it’s different. It also creates lower alcohol wines, but it’s very floral. I planted it on slopes with poor soils, and I’m very impatient to create the first wine from the variety. I think it can make great things; after all, it’s one of the varieties that created great wines here once upon a time.
LITTLEWINE: Yes. It’s so tragic that indigenous varieties are disappearing. Your work to save Oeillade is crucial, and very inspiring.
Ludovic: Yes. When we speak about terroir, we must also remember that it isn’t just about the soil, the climate, the exposure, etc. There is also the cultural part of terroir — the people who have worked here over time — and the part of terroir which relates to vegetation; the plant material which has adapted here over time. It is so important that we work to preserve that. We only have one old vineyard of Oeillade near us, so we need to save it. I am convinced that it’s one of the varieties of our future; I think it will be so important.