The first thing you notice about La Palme, nested in the Fitou AOC of France right along the Mediterranean sea, is that it’s windy. Very, very windy. We pulled up to Domaine Mamaruta last week on a sunny summer day and were immediately buffeted by wind. Laughing, Marc Castan, the winemaker, assured us that this was actually quite a pleasantly mild day. Well, alright then.
Domaine Mamaruta is one of our longest-standing partners in wine, having tasted his wines at Raw Wine 2018. We fell in love with his ambitious portfolio of 10+ cuvée’s, the passion with which his team speaks about the project, and highland cows (obviously). Unfortunately, up until last week we had never had the opportunity to actually visit his vineyards in the south of France.
La Palme is a tiny town of 1,405 full-time inhabitants about an hour north of the Spain/France border, in the Fitou AOC. It’s very popular for wind sports (see above) like kitesurfing and windsurfing, and wine. All over the rolling hills of the town are vineyards. There are 4 winerys in La Palme, including Domaine Mamaruta.
Upon our arrival, we immediately hopped into the farm car with Marc and his Australian Shepherd, Junior to head out to the vines. As we drove, we chatted about the growing season, harvest (started last week!) and plans for the future. Marc has 30 small plots totaling 15 hectares scattered across La Palme and its southern neighbor, Leucate. He inherited a few hectares from his grandfather many years ago, and about 10 years ago decided to go back full-time into winemaking. He primarily grows red wine in the limestone soil permeating Fitou, and our first visit was to the single plot where he grows the Carignan/Grenache blend that makes up Le Coup Soif, a fan-favorite back in the States!
It was amazing to see that all the Coup Soif Marc makes comes from this one small plot, sandwiched between the foothills of the Pyrenees to the west and the Mediterranean to the east. The berries were ripe and ready to be picked, although there was a notable amount of dried out vines scattered among the healthy plants as well. Marc lamented about this here and in other plots, as this summer had been one of the hottest on record. Both he and Aurelien Petit at le petit domaine mentioned a single 40 degree celsius (104 fahrenheit) day that burned many plants, and will likely lead to lower yields across the board this year.
Next up was the Syrah used in our currently sold-out Un Grain de Folie! This one was right on the banks of a lagoon that was extremely popular with windsurfers - we actually lost Junior as he mingled with vacationers while we perused the vines. The Syrah was doing quite well! Its leafy, canopy-like vines provide a lot of shade from the hot Mediterranean sun.
Quick pit stop to visit Les Tondueses, or the highland cows. They’re a photogenic bunch, who get moved to different spots around La Palme and Leucate, wherever the fields need to be managed. Marc also sells these cows too, so if you’re in the market we’d be happy to make an introduction. We've also got a wine in our portfolio named after them!
Our final stop was up onto the cliffs of Leucate for the best Carignan plots Marc has to check out what goes into Le Vin de Ma Cocotte. These bush vines were small, ripe, and ready to be picked. At a slightly higher elevation with more crosswinds, much of these plots had been protected from the hot summer days. Good thing, too, because we LOVE this wine! Not a bad view from the cliff, either.
Into the winery we went! It’s a low-key affair, with vats, barrels, and a relaxed vibe permeating the building. We tasted through the lineup, with a few major highlights, including Ratatouille, a new cuvée that’s a blend of Mourvèdre, Macabeu, Carignan Blanc, Grenache Gris. Keep an eye out for this one, as it will definitely be coming stateside.
What impressed us the most is the sheer volume of what Marc is doing in the winery. It takes an incredible amount of creativity, skill, and finesse to make that much volume as what’s effectively a one-man show. Not to mention all the wine he makes is farmed organically, low sulfite, and spontaneously fermented with native yeasts.
Marc is a great person, a great winemaker, and one of the first to go into our Natural Wine Club. We're looking forward to many years of working together in the future!
Finally, major kudos have to go to Holly, who powered through the entire vineyard tour sporting the most Spanish-looking support boot (basically an espadrille) I’ve ever seen due to a microfracture on her toe. Wow!