The Chardon family moved from Touraine (in the Loire Valley) to Bellegarde in the early 1980's, where they bought some land and began farming fruits such as apricots and cherries and vegetables, converting to organic farming a few years later. When their son Jerome graduated from his studies in agronomy in 1993, he moved to the estate to assist his parents. At the same time, he planted vineyards with Syrah and Grenache, and also bought an established vineyard planted with Clairette (the local white variety). The estate has for many years now been certified as both organic and biodynamic - indeed, Jerome displays a clear passion not just for organic and biodynamic viticulture, but for the whole ethos of sustainable farming and respect for tradition.
This even extends to the winery, which he built himself next to the farmhouse, from natural materials. The walls are made from the same stone that was used by the Romans to build the nearby Pont du Gard. Each one is 2.1m wide, 0.9m high and 0.6m thick and weighs a whopping 2.5 tons! The roof structure consists of untreated oak beams and rafters, traditional baked earth tiles and 8cm thick cork insulation. The result is an extremely functional and cool yet really rather beautiful chai. The tasting table is actually a huge (and very ancient) grape press, which was rescued from a Burgundy grower who was about to send it to the tip.
The 9 hectares of vineyards (2 ha of Clairette, 4.3 ha of Syrah and 2.1 ha of Grenache) surround the property, along with fruit and olive trees. The soil consists of the same sort of siliceous rocks that are the hallmark of the Costières de Nimes region, and of course Chateauneuf du Pape, a few kilometres up-river, whilst the vines are trained on wire trellises, in order to facilitate good air circulation.
No chemicals (apart from the occasional treatment with a very weak "Bordeaux mix") are used in the vineyards, the only regular treatments being completely natural herbal and biodynamic sprays and soil treatments, plus shallow tilling to keep weeds to a manageable level (with a flock of sheep doing their bit for the cause through the winter!).
Similarly, no chemicals are used in the winery, save of course for a little SO2 at the fermentation and bottling stages. The grapes are de-stemmed and some parcels fermented traditionally, whilst others go through a sort of semi-carbonic maceration, depending on the style required from each parcel. Fermentation is entirely reliant on the naturally-occurring indigenous yeasts. Picking, racking and bottling are all carried out in accordance with the phases of the moon.Rather importantly (in fact crucially, in my opinion) the wines are all aged in vat - the only oak barrels in sight are old and purely ornamental. Which - biodynamic practices aside - is one of the main reasons why the wines all taste so alive and "un-mucked-about-with". Indeed, the reds are a real eye-opener, and re-define for me what is possible in this little corner of south-east Languedoc. In fact, not only do they set a new benchmark for the Costières de Nimes appellation, they are simply some of the best Languedoc Syrah-based wines we have ever tasted. Trust me - they are that good!You can read an expanded report on our 2013 visit to Terre des Chardons on the Leon Stolarski Blog.