Some people think that wine has a time and a place. That it should be properly presented, poured and reverently appreciated either around a dining table or more appropriately in a solemn proper winetasting.
Happily, Justin Howard-Sneyd, MW, doesn’t think that way. Which is why me and Mr DrinknEat (Nathan Nolan) found ourselves at sunset on top of a hill in Roussillon slugging away on not one, but two bottles of wine from Justin’s vineyard, Domaine of the Bee. Nathan and I were there to visit the region and find out a bit more about the wines of Roussillon.
I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard of Ch. Monty, that rather interesting show on British TV a few years back that followed an English chap who chucked it all in to follow his dream of owning a vineyard in the south of France. Justin and his wife were a bit more prudent, buying vineyards in the Roussillon while still keeping their day jobs in London. Justin and his partners, wife Amanda and chief financial partner, Phillipe Sacerdot now have 3 vineyards in the Cathar country about a 20 minute drive from Perpignan, near the town and appellation of Maury. Their vineyards are old vines, as most are in the area, although slowly, old vineyards are being grubbed up and new plantings being put down. Justin’s vineyards are between 1 and 1.4 hectares in size, growing grenache noir and carignan primarily. While the grapes used come from vineyards owned by Justin and his partners, the grapes are grown and the wine is made by Richard Case, owner of Domaine de la Pertuisane where he also makes his own wine, as well as being winemaker for Domaine of the Bee.
Justin and co. come to the valley a few times a year to check on how things are going as well as to enjoy the fresh country air and beautiful hilly vistas. The region used to be well known for its sweet wines but as demand declined, so did the visibility of the region. Nowadays, though, the region is being rediscovered by a new generation of winemakers who not only respect the land and what can be produced from it, but also take into account new technological practices that can be applied while at the same time being true to the traditions of the area. The best grapes come from the schist soils of the hills and the old vines that are so common in the region produce low yields but extremely concentrated wines.
Domaine of the Bee produces just 1 wine but it’s big and bold while at the same time, smooth as velvet, round tannins caressing your palate and leaving a mouthcoating memory. A blend of grenache and carignan from old vines. The wine is made in a brand spanking new winery, called Department 66 after the department they are located in, the winery was built by Dave Phinney, Californian winemaker and Dave allows Dom. of the Bee to make their wines there. Both wines are lush and full bodied, the 2008 having plenty of spicy character, black pepper and brambly notes, excellent concentration. I found the wines to be quite extracted but I suppose that is to be expected from such grapes and terroir, no shrinking violets here. The 2007 was a bit more mellow notes of black plums and black cherries, much fruitier then the 08 but still excellent structure. These are wines that need time, not only to age but also to drink.
The 2009 was still in barrel and we didn’t get to try it but I think that Richard and Justin’s wines are quality wines, well crafted and a pure delight to drink. These are not wines for the fainthearted but if you’re looking for wines that can stand up for themselves, these are it. Domaine of the Bee’s wines are currently only available online, you can order them here. Prices on the website start at £20 per bottle for the 2008 and £18 per bottle for the 2007, prices go down according to quantity ordered. They don’t make much so snap’em up while you can.