Blog: Producer Newsletters

  • Prodigy Natural Winemaker from Gaillac!

    October 2nd, 2012

    Prodigy Natural Winemaker from Gaillac!
    Damien Bonnet, Gaillac, South West France
     Damien Bonnet 
    Once again, we are heading to the South West of France. Near the “pink city” of Toulouse and in the heart of one of France’s oldest and most exciting wine regions: Gaillac.
    Situated in the Midi Pyrenees east of Toulouse and west of the town of Albi (famous for its world heritage forteress-like cathedral built in 1287 as a protection against the Cathar rebelion), winemaking is part in parcel with the rich cuisine of the area. The town was founded in the second century A.D. by the Gauls (hence the name) although the Romans had introduced winemaking to the southwest before that time.
    Loin de L’Oeil grape
    In spite of its long wine history, Gaillac is going through a lot of change today, driven by young vignerons who are returning to traditional methods of viticulture that were employed by their ancestors. It was our goal to find a producer in Gaillac who believed in this philosophy – someone with passion for the terroir, who worked sustainably and with minimal intervention. Above all, the wines had to be delicious.



    Tasting with Damien during our 2011 Caravan Buyer Trip
    However, when Raphael first visited Domaine de Brin in 2010, something was missing. Damien Bonnet (Domaine de Brin’s very young winemaker) was away and his dad received him at the winery. Damien’s dad had been selling his grapes to the local cooperative for years and wasn’t the best spokeperson for his son’s wines. Generational as well as cultural gap. Raphael had the intuition that even though the wines were great, he had to meet Damien to fully understand his work before making the decision to import his wines.
    Damien’s dad has been collecting miniature cars for years..
    It wasn’t until his next visit in 2011 that Raphael met Damien.  The wines were not only delicious again, he was so inspired by Damien’s passion for his terroir and vision. This energetic young vigneron with the mad scientist persona became our next South West import right away.

    Braucol, also call Fer Servadou

    From the town of Castanet, Damien’s family has been growing grapes for four generations. Damien supplemented his viticultural knowledge at school and worked in Bordeaux but winemaking as he knew it would change forever after working under Sylvain Fadat of Domaine d’Auphihac in Montpeyroux (Herault department in Languedoc).
    Auphihac, an organic producer, is among several in Hérault adhering to ‘natural’ winemaking practices. Impressed with the results, Damien decided that he wanted to make wines following the same principles back home.


    As we previously wrote, prior to Damien’s return, his family sold its wine to a local cooperative. In 2008, when Damien was 26, he created Domaine de Brin from six hectares of his family’s land. When his father retired last December, Damien acquired another 12 hectares. Damien is focused on reviving the ancient grapes that are so unique to the area. You can find plants of Loin de l’oeil, Mauzac, Braucol and Duras in his property. Last year he pulled merlot vines and replaced them with Ondenc which is the last indigenous grape that he didn’t use to have. Finally, all his fermentation occur with indigenous yeasts.
    Aperitif during our Caravan Buyer Trip visit in May 2012
    In May 2012, part of our annual Caravan Buyer trip to France, Damien and his wife welcomed us for lunch before we headed north towards the medieval town of Cahors (to visit Fabien Jouves of Mas del Perie). The 6-hour experience was such an epiphany and Damien’s mesmerized us once again. He made a nettle omelette to pair with the Cuvee Pierres Blanches that we enjoyed in the garden then we headed towards an open but covered part of the barn-turn-winery as a dark clouds were approaching. 
    “Pierres Blanches” Cuvee with nettle omelette during Caravan 2012
    Damien’s aunt prepared a homemade duch confit that was a great pairing with the red cuvee Petit Brin. Before finishing up with some of his sweet cuvees with his all time favorite dessert: Tarte au Citron (lemon tart) with drizzled caramel that his mother has been making for 29 years. And made just for us that morning. While walking through the small forests, vineyards and fields surrounding the domaine, Damien named dozens of local plants, sometimes naming them in French, Catalan (local dialect) and even Latin. Damien is particularly obsessed about maintaining biodiversity around his vineyards.


     Cuvée “Petit Brin” with incredibly delicious homemade Duck Confit
    In 2011 Damien began the process of acquiring organic certification, a lengthy, costly and arduous ordeal. Since the beginning, he has practiced manual harvesting, hand sorting, indigenous yeasts and minimal use of sulfur. He makes ten wines and at present Return to Terroir carries two of them: the Petit Brin, 09 and Pierres Blanches, 2010. 
    Ciment tanks

    Domaine de Brin, Cuvée “Pierres Blanches”, Gaillac Blanc 2010 

    Mauzac 60%, Loin de l’Oeil 40%
    Mauzac is grown in the South West and in the Limoux appellation of the Languedoc where it is mostly used for sparkling wine production. Loin de l’Oeil has been grown in Gaillac for centuries and is not found elsewhere. This is a full-bodied but easy-drinking wine with notes of apple, walnut, white flowers, lees and almond oil. Twelve months of combined fermentation and aging in old neutral barrels makes for a creamy texture, complementing the naturally high acid found in the Mauzac.  Overall, it is balanced and unique with the ability to hold its own against the most pungent of cheeses and anything from roast chicken to a hearty meat-based dish.
    Domaine de Brin, Cuvée ‘Petit Brin,’ Gaillac Rouge 2009 
    This is a blend of 40% Duras, 25% Braucol, 20% Syrah and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Duras is indigenous to the Gaillac area and as it is susceptible to fungus, it is grown and used with much care. Braucol is also called Fer Servadou, and it is grown in other parts of the Southwest where it is noted for its aromatics. Most of the vines are at least 20 years old.
    With the garrigue (herbal) notes that are typical of the Languedoc, it would be easy to confuse this for its neighbor. Texturally, it is approachable but – the tannins are noticeable but soft. Spicy and smoky with cocoa and black fruits, this is a classic southern French wine that will match charcuterie, duck, olives and other local dishes.


    Also, check last week post by Terroir-driven blog Wine Terroirs about Damien’s wines:
    Next week: Domaine Andre Robert (Champagne)…
    Gaillac Appellation in South West France
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