I'm not quite sure how it was that I came to hear about Domaine Saint Sylvestre, although I have a feeling it may have been via their Facebook page. In any event, my interest was suitably piqued by the information I found and the images of their vineyards, scattered amongst the wild, oak-covered hills of the Terrasses du Larzac, near the village of Puechabon, just a few kilometres north-east of Aniane. This area is historically one of the real hotbeds of Languedoc fine winemaking, with such esteemed growers as Mas de Daumas Gassac, Domaine de La Grange des Pères and Domaine de Montcalmès all situated close by. Indeed, until 2010, most of the Saint Sylvestre vineyards formed part of the Montcalmès estate.
Vincent Guizard became involved in viticulture from an early age, working in the vines with his grandfather. In the late 1990's, he worked for a couple of vintages with Olivier Jullien at Mas Jullien in Montpeyroux. From 2003 to 2010, he was part owner, in association with Frédéric Pourtalié, of Domaine de Montcalmès. But at the end of 2010, Vincent decided to break away from Montcalmès, taking his 7 hectares of vines and creating Domaine Saint Sylvestre, together with his wife Sophie.
The Saint Sylvestre estate currently comprises around 8 hectares, in four separate plots, set in the wooded hillsides above Puéchabon, surrounding the 12th century church of Saint Sylvestre des Brousses de Montcalmès; "Fon de La Coste" is mainly Syrah, planted in 1989 on clay/limestone soil, with a north-west-facing aspect. "Saint Sylvestre" was planted in 1993, with Syrah and Grenache, on south-east-facing slopes, with a "topsoil" of galets roulés (similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape). The largest plot, "Défriche de Rouges" (défriche meaning cleared forest), with a similar aspect and terroir, was planted by Vincent between 2000 and 2003, and comprises Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. It is worth noting that the wines resulting from each of these three plots are markedly different, providing a compelling argument for the concept(s) of microclimate and terroir - not to mention complexity in the final blend. And finally, "Défriche de Blancs", comprising Chardonnay, Roussanne and Marsanne, was planted in 2007, with an east-facing aspect, on limestone soil.
Although not officially organic or biodynamic, Vincent and Sophie prefer a sympathetic approach to viticulture, along the lines of "Lutte Raisonnée" (the reasoned struggle) and no synthetic fertilisers or herbicides are used in the vineyards. All of the work in the vineyards is done by hand, and they keep the yields very low (around 20 hl/ha) by way of de-budding and green harvesting. Fermentation is completely reliant on indigenous wild yeasts. For the red wines, each grape variety, from each plot, is vinified separately, with long cuvaisons of between 30 and 40 days, then aged separately for 2 years in used barrels (i.e. which have seen one or more previous vintages) before being blended 3 months prior to bottling. For the whites, each grape variety is pressed separately, with the resulting juice being blended and then fermented and aged in used barrels for one year. Bottling is carried out according to the phases of the moon.
Following the split from Domaine de Montcalmès, the first vintage Vincent and Sophie made together was 2011. And in the short space of time since then, their wines have rapidly gained something of a cult following amongst the cavistes of France. So much so that we have had to wait almost a year before we could get our hands on any at all (and then, just a few cases)! But now that we finally have our proverbial foot in the door, hopefully we can manage to secure more wines (perhaps even the whole range) in the forthcoming years. Meanwhile, these two beauties will have to do.
For an extensive report on our June 2013 visit to Domaine Saint Sylvestre, see the Leon Stolarski Blog.