2013 “Emilien” and the debut of Duc des Nauves
The very existence of Chateau Le Puy almost defies belief. In, of all places, Bordeaux—a region that fell especially hard for the oak-and-muscles approach favored by certain critics and point-chasers over the past few decades—there exists a sizable and historic estate that has never made even the slightest concession toward modern winemaking. In continuous operation by the Amoreau family since 1610, Le Puy has never employed chemicals in their vineyards (Pascal Amoreau quips that the ancestors were “too cheap” to buy them!). They began using biodynamic treatments—the manure-filled horn (for the soil) and quartz spray (for the leaves)—in the 1960s. They own a few large and beautiful horses which they use to plow their best parcels. Of their 100 hectares, only 45 are planted to vine; the rest are preserved as fields, forests, and ponds in order to maintain a natural ecological equilibrium.
Chateau Le Puy’s relative geographical isolation certainly helps them remain so firmly outside of trend and fashion. Located far out on the Right Bank in the Francs Cotes de Bordeaux appellation, they are not exactly in the epicenter of blue-chip Bordeaux territory. However, their vineyards are on the same limestone plateau as Saint-Emilion and Pomerol—and at the same altitude (110 meters above sea level). Like those more vaunted appellations, Le Puy’s is a terroir of extremely poor topsoil: barely half a meter of red clay and sand before the mother rock. And the wines themselves have a poise and complexity far beyond what one typically encounters in these satellite appellations of Bordeaux.
As atypical as their approach in the vineyards is for Bordeaux, it is in the cellar that the uniqueness and wondrousness of Le Puy is made emphatically clear. The Amoreau family has never introduced an outside yeast strain into their ancient cellar, and fermentations have occurred spontaneously since the very beginning. Fermentation takes place in immense cement vats, and without any human manipulation—no pigeage, no remontage. One of the older generations of Amoreau devised an ingeniously low-tech method by which wooden slats are affixed to the openings at the tops of the vats with space enough between them for the fermenting juice to bubble over, but tightly enough so that the cap is pinned against the slats from below. The continuously bubbling juice keeps the cap immersed, and allows for an incredibly natural and gentle extraction. When fermentation finishes, the cap simply falls to the bottom of the vat, and the wine is transferred by gravity into barrels for the elevage.
Oak vessels as large and as old as one finds at Le Puy are an extraordinarily rare sight in Bordeaux. In fact, the Amoreaus only replace barrels when they are no longer functional, and the aging of their main-production wine “Emilien” takes place in enormous 50-hectoliter foudres that exceed 100 years of age in some instances. (Again, the thriftiness of the ancestors—many of these ancient foudres were bought second-hand at the time—proved in time to be an unintentional magical flourish.) Sulfur is applied in as small of a dose as is needed, and in fact is sometimes not applied at all—another practice almost unheard of in Bordeaux. And the wines are never fined or filtered, nor have they ever been.
The second week of June, we will receive the 2013 “Emilien” from Chateau Le Puy, as well as our inaugural shipment of Duc des Nauves—Le Puy’s second wine, and surely one of the most unique and incredible values in all of Bordeaux. Given the robust start we have had with Le Puy since we began working with them last fall, Duc des Nauves will undoubtedly sell out swiftly.
2013 Chateau Le Puy “Emilien” Francs Cotes de Bordeaux
Composed of 85% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% each Malbec and Carmenere, the 2013 “Emilien” spent its first year in 50-hectoliter foudres and its second in well-worn 228-liter barriques. Whereas in some vintages sulfur is applied during racking (never at fermentation, and very rarely at bottling), the 2013 “Emilien” received no added sulfur whatsoever due to its relative stability during the elevage. 2013 was overall a quite difficult vintage in Bordeaux, as a cool and miserable summer led to a real struggle for ripeness. Le Puy harvested later than normal, and achieved yields of only 19 hectoliters per hectare. Challenges aside, however, the 2013 “Emilien” is immediately appealing and delicious, offering a gorgeous and exuberant nose of succulent red fruits, savory spice, fresh herbs, and sandalwood. The palate is fresh, racy, and harmonious, with vibrant acidity and a mouthwatering savory streak that echoes on the nicely driving finish. “Emilien” comes packed in wooden boxes, with each bottle individually wrapped with translucent tissue paper—an elegant presentation of a truly unique wine.
2015 Duc des Nauves Cotes de Bordeaux
What a joy it is to have access to the “second wine” of such a singular estate—one that boasts the same rigorously natural vineyard management and cellar practices as Chateau Le Puy itself. The Amoreau family acquired this nine-hectare vineyard in 2006, and immediately began employing biodynamic practices (Duc des Nauves is certified biodynamic as of the 2015 vintage). Planted to 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, the vineyard is situated on the same Asterie-limestone mother rock as those of Le Puy, but at a slightly lower altitude—80 meters above sea level compared to Le Puy’s 110 meters. The topsoil is slightly sandier and less clayey here, and it is a bit deeper than at Le Puy—between 1.0 and 1.3 meters. In the cellar, Duc des Nauves is both fermented (spontaneously, of course) and aged in cement, and bottled without filtration after one year. This 2015 is stellar, its Le Puy bloodline showing in its aromatic exuberance, silky and harmonious palate, and overall seamlessness. It brims with the vigor and generosity of the great 2015 vintage, but it is in no way overripe or out of balance. One would be hard-pressed to find a Bordeaux at this price offering more pleasure, life, and complexity.