Château Coupe Roses, Minervois
|Country & Region||Château Coupe Roses, Languedoc|
|Producer||Le Calvez-Frissant family|
|Founded||2008 but the Le Calvez family has been here for 12 generations|
T he family of Françoise Le Calvez—parents, son and daughter—manage Château Coupe Roses with passion and acumen high in the Mediterranean hinterlands. Their vineyards are in Le Causse and Le Petit Causse (a causse refers to an enormous outcropping of exposed rock— in this case, limestone—that supports little more than garrigue and can cultivate little more than olives and vines). These two delimited areas make up the highest growing zones in the Minervois appellation. At 750 to 1,350 feet above sea level, these zones have relatively cool nights and the growing season is the longest in the AOC (domaines down on the plain often begin harvesting a full two weeks earlier). The wines from Coupe Roses have excellent acidity and freshness, which Françoise always favored over the heavy and plodding characteristics of overripe wines. Her son Mathias, now in charge of the cellar, feels much the same.
Françoise’s father hails from Brittany (Le Calvez turns out to be a common Breton name), but her mother’s side of the family has been in La Caunette for at least twelve generations. The village essentially is a one-street village strung along a bench at the base of a tall limestone cliff that towers above the Cesse River. Cesse shares the root word of cease and cessation, because in summer this river stops running. La Caunette, for its etymological part, is Occitan, referring to small cave dwellings—in ancient times, the locals lived in caves burrowed into the cliff. Just upstream is the village of Minerve, which gives its name to the appellation of Minervois. It sits high on a pinnacle of limestone at the confluence of the Cesse and the Rieussec, hidden in a mountain valley behind the first range of mountains after the vast Mediterranean plain. It was here that the Cathars (catharsis–to purge!) had a stronghold, which held out for months before surrendering early in a twenty-year crusade launched by Pope Innocent III in alliance with the king of France in 1209 that swept over the Languedoc and burned infidels wherever they could find them. They found a lot in Minerve.
Most of Coupe Roses’ vineyards are on the plateau above the cliff, an arid, windswept place of scrub and rock–calcified limestone that microorganisms living in the threadbare soil eat into, creating pockets for water, soil and roots. Pascal Frissant, Françoise’s enologist husband, is fond of taking visitors up to the plateau to show them vineyards that appear to be growing in pure rock. He points out the odd olive tree here and there, the remnants of an ancient Roman road, and the fiendish rabbits that eat his young vines. Then he tells everyone to hush and listen. There is nothing to listen to; the silence is overwhelming. If you want to go crazy, he says, this is the place to do it.
In 2008, Françoise and Pascal purchased 15 acres (6 hectares) of vineyards in Petit Causse that are part of the Minervois cru of La Livinière. These vines grow on the highest point on the southern side of the Cesse Canyon, above Minerve. Indeed, these are the highest vines in the cru of La Livinière, which extends down the southern flank of the mountain ridge toward Languedoc’s great plain; the lower one descends, the warmer the terroir becomes. Coupe Roses doesn’t label a cuvée La Livinière because legally it would need to have a cellar located in the cru zone, but the altitude of their holdings gives them the potential to make the cru’s most elegant wine. A lot of the red grapes from this site go into their Vignals bottling.
Today their vineyard holdings total 143 acres. Save for the fifteen acres in La Livinière, all of their vineyards are a hodgepodge of plots–some 40 total–mostly on the mountain plateau above their village of La Caunette (i.e., east of the Cesse Canyon). The soil is a classic French mix of limestone and clay, with the accent on limestone. The mountain elevations make for a cool microclimate in the sunny south of France, and this shows distinctly in their wines. In broad tastings of Minervois, Coupes Roses invariably lands on the fresh end of the spectrum.
The winery itself is a large nondescript building on one side of the village, while the “château” is an old automobile service station that Françoise’s father operated decades ago on the other side of the village. For years it housed the office, and the old garage was insulated to store the bottled wine. It used to be that the sum total of high-tech wizardry that they had was limited to their grape press and their narrow gauge Lamborghini tractor. In 2009-10, the old garage was completely revamped (and covered with solar panels). Now there’s a tasting room and a new bottling line. In 2013, the domaine earned organic certification for its farming practices. In 2016, following his studies in enology, Françoise’s son Mathias took over as cellar master (he’s pictured above during the 2018 harvest). Among other changes, under his direction all ferments in the cellar are permitted to happen spontaneously, without additions of yeast or enzymes. Daughter Sarah is now heading up sales, and her better half, another enologist, is helping Mathias in the vines and cellar. This younger generation is going full-bore into cutting edge viticulture. Check out the photo below of some of the grasses they’re systematically sowing to rejuvenate their soils.
A cool bit of trivia is that since 1991 a friend and colleague of Françoise and Pascal, one François Serre, has been the consulting enologist at Coupe Roses, and he’s assisting Mathias now. For an even longer period, Serre has been the consulting enologist at Château Rayas in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Another cool bit of trivia concerns the label. We started working with Françoise in 1998. In that era she had a pretty ho-hum label, and she readily admitted that graphic arts weren’t her forté. But the folks at Michel-Schlumberger knew a guy with such forté–one James Robertson, a Beatnik printer and designer who, with his wife, had formed the Yolla Bolly Press in Mendocino, where they put out letter-press publications (an all but lost art, then and now). Jim designed the current Coupe Roses label, the original one being the Vignals label, from which all else sprang. One of Jim’s claims to fame was that he designed the Ridge Winery label, arguably California’s most iconic wine label. The full story is here. For the Ridge label, he used a brand new font that had just been invented in Germany: the Optima type font. Much later, this font was chosen for the inscription of the names into the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC.
Thanks to Jeff Bramwell for the shot of Minerve and Cesse River Valley, and to David Blon for the one just above of a few of Coupe Roses’ plots up on the causse.
Watch a drone video of La Caunette and its vineyards here.
|Champ du Roy blanc||70% Grenache Blanc, |
30% Muscat Petits Grains
|A hugely aromatic, dry blend of Grenache Blanc and Muscat from low-yielding mountain vineyards. This wine is not acidified, nor is it cold stabilized; malo is blocked. Yearly production averages 1,000 cases.|
|Frémillant Rosé||40% Mourvèdre, 30% Cinsault, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah||A direct-press rosé based on Mourvèdre from parcels chosen for this rosé, harvested by hand, and aged in tank. Frémillant is an old Occitane word referring to light red wine, and this is not a pale Provençal rosé--rather, it is a deliciously bone dry, character-filled rosé made by an artisanal family in the upper Minervois. Yearly production averages 1,000 cases.|
|Even split Carignan and Grenache,|
|The first of four Minervois cuvées, this one brought up in tank. A terrific buy for a true vin de terroir. In this wine is all the garrigue underbrush of the high Minervois, laced with high-toned blueberry notes and underpinned by Carignan's tarry black notes. Yearly production averages 3,500 cases.|
|60% Syrah, 30% Grenache,|
|We’re in the south, so pronounce that final "s." Vignals is the tier above Bastide and like Bastide, this is raised entirely in tank. Deliciously medium-weight, fresh, spicy, long, and infused with garrigue. Yearly production averages 3,500 cases. You should buy some.|
|Grenache cuvée with 10% Syrah||Granaxa is Occitane dialect for Grenache, and this is Coupe Rose’s Grenache cuvée, raised in second and third-year oak barrels. Now we get into more weight and body, with distinctly earthy overtones in the red fruit. Their Grenache grows in their stoniest soils. Yearly production averages 1,000 cases.|
|Syrah with 10% Grenache||This is the domain’s top cuvée based on Syrah, made in barrels, about one-third of which are new. The Syrah comes from their limestone parcels with the most clay high up on the plateau above the village. Orience has black/blue fruit with spice, earth and elegance in spades. It's with this cuvée that the mountain microclimate really shines through. Production averages 600 cases.|