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Bats, Bees, Birds, Biodiversity and Organic Rosé: Château Galoupet in Provence


Freshly picked – grapes from the 2023 rosé harvest at Château Galoupet in Provence. L to r: Cinsault, Tibouren, Syrah, Rolle, Grenache


In a 12-month period from 2021 to 2022, Château Galoupet in Provence saw the microbial life in its soils increase by 30%. As the soils had been damaged by years of chemical inputs and biodiversity had been impacted by wildfires and human activity, you might wonder whether it is really so surprising that, given careful soil management and husbandry, Moët Hennessy, which bought the estate in 2019, was able to turn things around like this so quickly.


You might also feel that an international luxury goods conglomerate like Moët could easily afford to do it.


You would be right about the financial resources, but it takes more than money and a bit more care than usual to turn things around in a single year on a 146-ha estate: one made up of 69 ha of vineyard in generally poor health and 77 ha of protected, natural woodland that included an old, leaking reservoir and irrigation system in an region where, to quote Mathieu Meyer, winemaker and technical director, “water is a luxury” and “irrigation is essential to get freshness in the wine”.


You can be cynical, too, about how good all this must look on the drinks giant’s virtue balance sheet. But does that negate the positivity of doing the right thing? I don’t think it does.

"Being organic is not enough. It doesn’t necessarily make the land and ecosystem better."

When Moët Hennessy took on this large, self-contained estate in La Londe-les-Maures – just a kilometre from the Mediterranean in La Provence Crystalline and separated from it only by old salt marshes – the company embarked on a 20-year plan to make it an exemplar of sustainability from soil to recycled amber glass bottle.


And the idea was that it was not only to be a beacon within Moët’s own empire but, by sharing what they learned through their management and experimentation of the land, it was to be a lodestar for the Provence wine region and the wine industry generally. (Let the cynics murmur “arrogance”.)


What Moët bought was an estate that hadn’t changed in layout in 200 years, despite having had 14 owners, but it was land that hadn’t been cared for.


What the Galoupet team wanted – led initially by Jessica Julmy and now by managing director Nadine Fau and estate director and winemaker Mathieu Meyer – was a sanctuary of biodiversity that produced wines which fulfilled the quality potential they had identified when they did a blind tasting of Provence wines before the purchase. The potential wasn’t really a surprise. The terroir had long since been recognised when Galoupet was one of only 18 Provence wine estates to be classified Cru Classé in 1955.

A glass of the elusive 2022 Château Galoupet Cru Classé with the 80% recycled amber glass bottle behind it on the left . A harvest-time hailstorm slashed production, so the 2022 was only sold in a few small markets


An army of local and international specialists (geology, oenology, regenerative viticulture, agroforestry, apiculture, environmental infrastructure) crawled over every inch of estate for the next couple of years analysing soils, climate, wines and water resources and making an inventory of every species. Galoupet partnered with CEN PACA) the Conservatoire des Espaces Naturels de Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) and the LPO (Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux ), both of whom have been doing audits, and also with the Observatoire Français d’Apidologie (bee conservation association).


Today, the estate – vineyards to the south, woodland to the north – is home to parasol pines, holm oaks, wild herbs that include a unique camomile, 12 species of bats, including some of Europe’s rarest, almost 60 species of birds, many of them migratory, and hundreds and thousands of reptiles and insects. Two hundred beehives have been installed and the estate has one of only 12 queen bee fertilisation stations in the world.

Mathieu Meyer, winemaker and technical director, and Nadine Fau, managing director, in the midday sun in the wooded northern part of the estate in early September, a few days before the end of the 2023 harvest


Soil management practices include experimenting with different permutations of cover crops, elimination of all synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers, reduced tractor use to avoid compaction, and the planting of corridors of trees from the hillsides and tree borders around the vineyards. “The quality of the soil now is fantastic, but it’s going to continue to improve,” says Nadine Fau, whose family’s vineyards also face the sea, but in Collioure, where it’s much hillier than in La Londe-les-Maures.


As of the 2023 vintage, the wine is certified organic and the team has been working towards regenerative since 2020. But being organic is not enough, says Mathieu Meyer. It doesn’t necessarily make the land and ecosystem better.

Unlike much of Provence, Château Galoupet doesn't have limestone. Its main soil types are schist (above) and schistous sandstone (below). Water is a luxury here in La Provence Crystalline


Galoupet has a focus on cover crops – they retain water and increase root penetration – and yet they’re not a prerequisite of organic certification. More than that, Nadine and Mathieu believe that cover crops improve the quality of the wine. Flowers account for 40% – “It’s like a jungle for the insects,” says Nadine. “We’re convinced that this biodiversity makes better wines – great wines,” they say.


The vineyard block occupying the south of the estate slopes from north to south down towards the sea, on schist and schistous sandstone; deeper soils and finer particles lower down and drier, stonier soils further up. There are 40 sub-plots, each one picked and vinified separately.

A Tibouren vine planted in 1969 just before the grapes were picked in 2023. It was to be the final harvest before it was uprooted – the vines in this plot had become too unproductive


Improving the health of the vineyards has involved much replanting of old and unproductive plants (60% by 2030) and has included, since the 2023 vintage, some of their treasured Tibouren from the estate’s oldest vineyard, planted in 1969; treasured not just because of its age but because it’s a key component in the Galoupet blend. It’s always 12–16% (16% in 2023), higher than average in a region where it accounts for just 2% of plantings.


Old vines are important says Mathieu, but they’re not the be all and end all. They have one plot of Tibouren which, at only six years old, is giving very good fruit, thanks to green harvesting resulting in yields of just 15–20hl/ha.


Green harvesting is particularly important for Tibouren, a very vigorous and abundant variety. Nadine says it’s an “an extrovert”, Mathieu calls it out as “a monster”, but both value it for its aromas, silkiness and what Mathieu calls its unique personality and very powerful palate, describing peach, yellow fruits, dried apricots, toasted almonds, spices and salinity.


Not everyone is quite so appreciative of Tibouren. “The vineyard manager hates it!” says Nadine, explaining that it’s not only vigorous but susceptible to diseases such as mildew and has to be harvested before the other varieties are ready. On top of that, it’s difficult in the winery because it oxidises easily.

There are 40 vineyard plots all picked and vinified separately and investment is going into smaller tanks – 14 last year – to do more microvinifications. There have been new presses, too, one in each of the last three years


While the Tibouren is critical to the blend, Grenache Noir (52% in 2023) is the backbone. Harvested quite late to get fullness, texture and ripe red-berry fruit and spice, the Grenache is vinified in stainless steel.


Syrah and Rolle are two further essential components and they’re planting more Syrah (14% of the 2023 blend). It gives strawberry and raspberry fruitiness, freshness and structure and, co-pressed and co-fermented with the exotic fruit notes of Rolle (15% in 2023), provides acidity, tension and fruitiness.


Just under 40% of the wine, including some of the Syrah Rolle co-ferment, is vinified for four to five months in 600-l barrels (demi muids), half new, half one year old. Bâtonnage is done on a barrel by barrel basis: broadly, it’s twice daily initially, then reduced to two or three times a week and then stopped altogether. The idea is to enhance the fruit, give good structure and an extra dimension of toasted, slightly coconutty aromas.


The fifth and sixth varieties (3% combined in 2023) are Cinsault – aromatic, perfumy and relatively light bodied – and Sémillon. They also have small plantings of Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon at their disposal.

A palette of pinks – newly picked 2023 grapes and their newly pressed juices, including the co-pressed co-fermented Rolle and Syrah, third from left


In future there may be other varieties. They have a 4-ha experimental plot in collaboration with INAO (Institut National de L’Origine et de la Qualité) and the Syndicat des Côtes de Provence (the interprofessional body) where they are trialling Calabrese, Moschofilero, Aghiorgitiko and other autochthonous varieties. No prizes for guessing that climate change, weather extremes and lack of water are on their minds. And no wonder.


At the beginning of September 2023 when I visited, it had been so hot and dry all summer that even the wild rosemary was parched and yellowing (see picture below). Grape yields were low as a result, but at least quality was high. In March this year, when I met Nadine and Mathieu for a tasting over lunch in London, they had just had 25% of the average annual rainfall over the previous weekend. While back in 2022, they lost 40% of the crop to a hailstorm during harvest.

The growing season was so hot and dry in 2023 that by the beginning of September even the wild rosemary was dry and yellow (bottom centre)


What was spared in 2022 made a very good wine – expressive and silky, with strawberry, peach, orange zest and paprika notes, creamy weight, serious structure and grapefruit and mineral length – but there was not enough of it to sell in the UK, so this month the UK jumps to 2023.


I feel I already know the 2023 Château Galoupet intimately. I tasted four of the component juices in situ last September – Cinsault, Grenache, Tibouren and the co-pressed Syrah and Rolle (it’s quite unusual to be able to compare four varietals alongside each other like this, because of different picking times – see photo). Then in March, with Nadine and Mathieu, I tasted the four individual wines, including the Rolle-Syrah in both stainless steel and oak-fermented versions. And in the case of the Cinsault, it was the wine of the exact same small batch. I then tasted the blend, newly bottled.


A tasting of component parts of the 2023 Château Galoupet Cru Classé, the newly bottled blend and the 2021


The 2023 opens with intense citrus and peach then touches on strawberry before moving through spicier paprika notes. The palate is powerful (14% abv) and opulently textured but cut by reverberating acidity and oyster-shell salinity, giving a wine that deserves to be served with food: with tuna tartare, creamy salmon, seafood and chicken dishes, olive-oil roast aubergine and other aubergine dishes or herby, grilled and roast lamb.


Judging by the 2021, the silkiness, the acidity and salinity will remain but the fresh fruit intensity will gradually give way to dried fruit, spice and toasted-almond complexity. I hope to be there when it does.



Links to my earlier tasting notes for the 2021 in July 2022 and September 2023.


Stockists

2023: £46.50, clos19 

2021: £46.99 (mix six) Majestic, £46.50, clos19, £48, The Finest Bubble, £48, Hedonism 


Photographs by Joanna Simon


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