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Courbissac

High-Country Minervois from a Talented and Fearless Vigneron

When the name of an area is called La Livinière (from the Latin Lavineira) you can safely assume it’s long been known for its wines. The vineyards of this Cru are etched into the limestone terraces and plateaus of the Minervois high country; the mineral soils and altitude can bring finesse, while the sunny Mediterranean climate ensures regular ripeness. This part of the Minervois (in southern France) has always had enormous potential. Today there are a handful of growers showing what is possible when the soil and site are respected and nurtured. Brunnhilde Claux is one such grower.

While we don’t work extensively with the wines of Southern France, you can be assured that when we do it is with very good reason. Run almost single-handedly by the talented Brunnhilde Claux, Courbissac’s wines turn the typical Southern French red stereotype on its head. They are pure fruited and perfumed wines that are shot through with mineral freshness. Of course, these are wines from the South of France, so you expect flesh and you expect intensity, yet here you also have lower alcohols, a complete absence of new oak, and the kind of finesse very rarely encountered in this rugged, Mediterranean landscape. These wines serve as an homage to the Minervois wines of old—before modern viticulture, winemaking and wine culture encouraged far riper fruit, excessive new oak and a tendency towards glossy, high alcohol wines. 

Producers like Courbissac are bringing back the digestibility, polish and drinkability Minervois was once known for. They are precise, fresh and pure wines, and epitomise all that is thrilling about the ‘new’ France.

Minervois is a young region whose appellation status was granted in 1985. It’s an area littered with extraordinarily rocky, high-country vineyards and pockets of old vines growing out of limestone plateaux and slopes. The climate, soils and range of altitudes are almost tailor-made for vine cultivation, and the Courbissac estate covers around 30 hectares of slopes nestled along the jagged limestone of La Petit Causse, within the Minervois’ Cru of La Livinière. All the vineyards are bush vines and are managed organically (with a great deal of thought). There is no irrigation and yields are very low—20 hectolitres per hectare is considered a big crop here (that’s less than 1.5 tonnes per acre). There are a lot of old vines and an emphasis on indigenous varieties.

Unsurprisingly, for a grower who trained under Gérard & Ghislaine Gauby and who worked with Terroir al Límit, Brunnhilde Claux has continued the estate’s biodynamic traditions and, in fact, has taken them further. Yet Claux’s main drive has been to work the vineyards to achieve ripeness at the lowest possible Baumé – her aim being to capture as much freshness as possible. This work, combined with Claux’s gentle whole bunch winemaking–infusion rather than extraction–and the complete absence of new oak, has already produced a range of wines that are appreciably livelier, more seductive and more fragrant than what we had come to expect of this appellation.

Currently Available

Domaine de Courbissac Minervois Les Traverses Rouge 2021

Domaine de Courbissac Minervois Les Traverses Rouge 2021

Les Traverses is drawn from the estate’s younger vines. It’s a blend of roughly equal parts Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, hand-harvested from 11 parcels surrounding the cellar in the heart of Cesseras within the La Livinière Cru of the Minervois appellation. As with all Claux’s wines, the fruit is farmed biodynamically and natural whole-bunch fermentation occurs in concrete vat with minimal sulphur. The grapes are gently foot-stomped, followed by six months in concrete. Bottled at 13%, this is cracking value, as always: a supple and juicy red with spicy brambly fruit and delicious plum-skin tanginess. A wine that tells us something of what the finest Minervois wines were once known for, and a wonderful introduction to this exciting domaine.   

Domaine de Courbissac Minervois Les Traverses Rouge 2021
Domaine de Courbissac Vin de France L'Orange 2022

Domaine de Courbissac Vin de France L'Orange 2022

Organic. L’Orange is a whole-bunch, skin-contact blend from two sources. Most of the fruit comes from a 70- to 90-year-old field blend of old-vine blanc and gris varieties, historically co-planted on the limestone soils of the Roc Suzadou vineyard. While these include Terret Gris, Carignan Blanc, Macabeu and Grenache Gris, there are also rare indigenous varieties that have not yet been identified. Then, there’s some Marsanne and Muscat Blanc from another site, the latter bringing top notes to the wine.Whatever the exact make-up, it makes for marvellous drinking. Macerated on skins for 10 days, it offers mouthfuls of fuzzy stone fruit, tangy, preserved citrus and amaro spice balanced by crisp acidity, a nip of grape tannin and a salty finish. In a sense, the name is a distraction; this is an intriguing, Mediterranean-style white that works brilliantly with many different foods.

Domaine de Courbissac Vin de France L'Orange 2022
Domaine de Courbissac Minervois Roc du Pière 2019

Domaine de Courbissac Minervois Roc du Pière 2019

As the name suggests, Roc du Pière comes from rocky, bony, limestone-rich soils. Two plots contribute to the cuvée—80% Mourvèdre (from 60-year-old vines) and 20% Syrah (45 years old)—and both around 250-300 metres altitude. These are the same estate vineyards used for Les Traverses, but here the vines are older. The varieties and the southern exposure mean that this is winemaker Brunnhilde Claux’s deepest and most layered wine, while the cool nights, altitude and mineral soil give it ample freshness.Claux’s biodynamic viticulture and minimalist approach in the cellar are geared towards preserving the grapes’ natural vitality. For example, the wine aged for only 12 months in a neutral, 4,000-litre cask. As with all her wines, she adds only a pinch (20 mg/L) of sulphur. The new release is generous, with ripe blackberry and black cherry and an engaging savoury profile filled with touches of baking spice, woody green herbs and meaty depths. Fresh acidity and chalky tannins provide levity and framework—it barrels through the palate, finishing with a lingering stony presence. A paradoxical mix of power and refinement, all at just 13%.

Domaine de Courbissac Minervois Roc du Pière 2019

“[Brunnhilde Claux] starts talking about her wines and her vineyard and the local grape varieties planted in it, and her whole being changes. She is alive with the passion of it, eyes sparkling, hands animated.” Max Allen, The Australian Financial Review

Country

France

Primary Region

Languedoc-Roussillon

People

Winemaker: Brunnhilde Claux

Availability

National

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