After spending a lovely morning with Mark Castan at Domaine Mamaruta we piled back into the car and headed just over an hour north to Montpeyroux, France, to visit Aurelien Petit at le petit domaine.
Aurelien has been a bit of a mystery to us ever since we got to taste his wines back in March. Here was a guy with virtually no online presence and a slightly helter-skelter portfolio that was making, without a doubt, some of the best wines we’ve ever had out of the Languedoc, and some of the best wines we’d ever had, period. To add to the aura he seemed to be both everywhere and nowhere at the same time, getting love from Aldo Viola in Sicily (another one of our producers, apparently they're besties) and people like Alice Feiring. We couldn’t wait to meet Aurelien and learn more about his backstory, see his vines, and taste some of the wines we hadn’t gotten to taste yet!
As it happens, Aurelien is just a normal guy that makes stunningly great wines. We met him at the winery in Montpeyroux, Herault, France. (Note: there are two Montpeyroux’ in France, this one is not to be confused with the one in Auvergne). It was a scenic drive up from Aude, as the windy Mediterranean coastline began to give way for open scrub brush and rocky mountains. Limestone dominates the soil here, and you can see it in the jagged rock formations and crater-like canyons.
Like with Marc, we started our tour out in the vines. le petit domaine is smaller than Domaine Mamaruta, farming only 5 hectares of vines across 7 plots in Montpeyroux and its neighboring towns. It’s mostly red grapes, and we checked out his Mourvedre just outside the town center. The grapes were healthy, although not as big as one would expect. As at Domaine Mamaruta, Aurelien lamented the hot weather that reached up to 40 degrees Celsius this summer. It just hasn’t rained a lot here in the south of France this year.
Aurelien spent a lot of time talking about his techniques in the vineyard. Interestingly, this plot abutted another local winemakers, and the difference in styles was striking. To one side, were Aurelien’s vines. Wild, with cover crops, natural vegetation, and vibrant grapes. On the other were neatly trellised vines, the soil carefully tilled between each row. It’s clear that Aurelien wants to keep what’s in the ground, in the ground, and allow the grapes to grow as they will in his plots.
The cellar was the next stop on the list. Here, we think it makes sense to stop a moment and talk about Aurelien’s philosophy, which we found absolutely fascinating.
Most winemakers generally have plots or groups of vines that they use to make a certain cuvée every year. A perfect example is Le Coup Soif plot we visited at Domaine Mamaruta, which was a field of Carignan and Grenache grapes exclusively used for Le Coup Soif. Natural wine being natural wine, you’ll always see a little variation between each vintage, but generally speaking, the wines are fairly similar.
On the other hand, you have vintners like Aurelien Petit. Rather than say “here are my Titan vines”, he really allows the grapes to express themselves, and then, when it’s time for bottling, decides what the wine is. What that means is that something like Mégalodon, the wine that got us down the le petit domaine rabbit hole, won’t be released again for several years. There just isn’t a wine that encompasses what Mégalodon is in the tanks and barrels of grape juice in the cellar right now.
We tasted through most of what was available at le petit Domaine that day. Le Demesure, a skin-contact white that we cannot wait to get our hands on next year (we’ve already put aside an allocation for our next shipment). Titan, Aurelian’s take on a classic, powerful Languedoc-style wine. Baraka, a 2014 Mourvedre that still has incredible freshness and tension. Mégalodon, the aptly-named wine that won’t be produced again any time soon, and Myrmidon, a living, acidic Syrah that is our favorite daily drinker right now.
We also had a couple of surprises in the cellar! The first was something Aurelien poured that had a cloudy golden color and fragrant sweetness that we could tell right away was NOT made from grapes. Mead! The ancient fermented honey drink that has more or less fallen out of style. It was sweet, but not cloying. There were floral notes that can only come from local honey, and we’ll absolutely be bringing in a case or two in early 2020!
Aurelien must like fermentation as much as we do because we weren’t done there. The last thing on the docket was a gin he had made from local juniper berries. It was a crisp, clean alcohol flavor that was unlike a traditional English style gin. It had fewer botanical notes and more juniper. Unfortunately, the TTB won’t let us bring this one in.
All in all, we had a fantastic day out at le petit Domaine. The future is extremely bright for Aurelien and his wines, and we can’t wait to continue working with him!
We do also want to leave you with this fantastic review from @chessez_le_natural (translated below):
It slipped into my mouth and I thought woooa, this is smooth! It seemed like it would be a wine that would be heavy, thick ... it was very dark. I only know it's Syrah and it's 2016 and it's called Myrmidon because it's written on it, of course, I also know that it's Aurélien’s wine (LE PETIT DOMAINE, Montpeyroux) ...because it's him who gave it to me.
It smells of grapes, it tastes like grapes, it exudes the brightness of the grapes. Frankly, it's delicious. It's moving. Then it's even more moving, to imagine the effort behind its creation, the care, all the work of the winemaker who is very much in favor of creating this thing that we drink! I have a million thoughts and positive vibes for you, fighting the frosts!
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Ça a glissé dans ma bouche et j’ai pensé woooa c’est fluide!!! Pourtant ça semblait un peu épais et c’était bien noir. Je sais seulement que c’est de la Syrah et que c’est 2016 et que ça s’appelle myrmidon parce que c’est écrit dessus, bien sûr je sais aussi que c’est le vin d’Aurélien (le petit domaine, Montpeyroux) parce que c’est lui qui me l’a donné, après un peu d’ébourgeonnage, trop court pour échanger davantage, mais déjà bien pour s’appréhender, ça prend du temps de se rencontrer et il faut le prendre et le laisser couler. Le temps. Le vin aussi. Se délecter. Ça sent le raisin, ça a le goût du raisin, l’éclat du grain de raisin. Franchement c’est délicieux. C’est émouvant. Puis c’est encore plus émouvant, d’imaginer l’effort derrière, le soin, tout le travail des vigneron.ne.s qui misent beaucoup, pour créer ça, ces choses qu’on boit. J’ai des milliards de pensées que je force positives pour tous ceux qui ont ressorti l’attirail anti-gel, ça vous prend aux tripes, et nous aussi, j’y crois, 2019, merde! #lepetitdomaine #aurelienpetit #montpeyroux #vin #vinnaturel #vinlibre #vinvivant #nature #chassezlenaturel #syrah #myrmidon #vin
It slipped into my mouth and I thought woooa, this is smooth! It seemed like it would be a wine that would be heavy, thick ... it was very dark. I only know it's Syrah and it's 2016 and it's called Myrmidon, because it's written on it, of course I also know that it's Aurélien’s wine (LE PETIT DOMAINE, Montpeyroux) ...because it's him who gave it to me.
It smells of grapes, it tastes like grapes, it exudes the brightness of the grapes. Frankly it's delicious. It's moving. Then it's even more moving, to imagine the effort behind its creation, the care, all the work of the winemaker who is very much in favor of creating this thing that we drink! I have a million thoughts and positive vibes for you, fighting the frosts!