AOC St Chinian & IGP Pays d’Oc
Two sisters are at the heart of this story, struggling to retain a piece of family heritage that is dear to them. Pech-Ménel is an ancient farm hidden at the end of a hillside track in the scrub of the Mediterranean hinterland, an unspoilt rural idyll looking down to the brash beach resorts of the coast. Little has changed here over the years: there are the remains of a Roman villa and ancient artefacts such as pottery and tools often rise to the surface during vineyard work. The sisters both have day jobs by necessity, yet through their skill and determination they carry on producing what some critics consider amongst the finest wines of the Languedoc region.
Elizabeth and Marie-Françoise Poux inherited the property where they were born and grew up. Their earliest memories are of a time when there weren’t many mod cons around; shepherds migrating annually from Andorra still drove their sheep and goats down the footpath that crosses their farmyard, so that getting from the house to the chai could be a noisy business!
They have 20 ha of vines, mainly on rocky, south-facing slopes, and another 35 ha of wild brush land from where a riot of colours and smells emanate from springtime onwards. The garrigue is a pungent mix of broom, rosemary, thyme, lavender, cistus and arbutus bushes interspersed amongst low pine and oak woods. These aromas come through in the wines, as do the characters of the many varied mineral soils that make up the numerous vineyard parcels.
From a wide pallet of grape varieties – Rolle, Chardonnay, Viognier, Grenache blanc, Roussanne for the whites, Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault for the reds – are produced half a dozen reds and whites. The vineyard management and winemaking follow principles of maximum respect for the environment and minimum intervention, and in 2017 the sisters embarked on the journey to organic certification. There is still no sign of technology in the winery, but there is no need for it either, as it is semi-submerged into the hillside and needs no mechanical pumping or cooling. The Carignan gets whole bunch fermentation for the early-drinking reds and carbonic maceration for the top ageworthy reds, and the results are beguiling. Not a hint of an oak barrel yet the fruit tannins themselves give structure to mature and improve for over a decade.
This corner of France is an exciting place to explore, and more charming, authentic and engaging wines are hard to envisage. Their latest creation, simply entitled Blanc de Pech-Ménel, has been hailed as possibly the finest white wine in the south of France. High praise indeed!