THE MOUSSET HERITAGE: Domaine des Saumades was created in 1995 by Murielle and Franck Mousset. Franck has proven to be a dynamic winemaker worthy of his illustrious pedigree. His grandfather, the famed Louis Mousset, purchased Château des Fines Roches in 1936 and turned it into one of the most successful estates in the Rhône, now a beautiful hotel and restaurant.
The Mousset family, rather like the Perrins or the Sabons, seem to dominate the landscape of the Southern Rhône and Louis’ many descendents today own several estates across the South of France, including Jas de Bressy and Mas Grange Blanche.
Beside Domaine des Saumades, Franck Mousset owns together with his brother Olivier Clos Saint Michel (15 hectares in Chateauneuf du Pape and 12 hectares in Cotes du Rhone).
5th generation winemaker Franck has leveraged his ancestry and a lifelong immersion in the fine art of winemaking to craft glorious wines made from some of the Châteauneuf du Pape’s most popular grape varieties – Grenache Blanc, with the ancient Bourboulenc and Clairette for the whites, and 100% Grenache for the red Châteauneuf du Pape.
At 2.25 hectares, Saumades is the smallest domaine in the CdP AOC. As a result, Franck is able to pay meticulous attention to detail and his stamp of approval goes into every wine, of which only about 500 cases are produced annually.
The tiny vineyard of Saumades is located in the center of the CdP vineyard area, with fairly sandy soils and only a few of the large Galets stones for which the area is famous. Just to the north of the Crau plateau, it sits adjacent to the famous sites of Pegau and La Roquette.
The vines are managed according to organic farming, not using any kind of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. All the fermentations are carried with the help of selected neutral yeast, skipping any further additive.
Châteauneuf du Pape, or new castle of the Pope, has a long and illustrious winemaking history that dates back to 1308 when Pope Clement V relocated his papacy to the city of Avignon. He was said to be a great lover of wine and did much to promote it.
Phylloxera hit this region very hard in the 1860s, and it took almost a century for the region to recover.
Since then the amount of vines has expanded greatly, and today Châteauneuf-du-Pape produces more wine than all of the Northern Rhône appellations combined. In 1923 Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the first region to adopt a voluntary system of checks and regulations on their wines to ensure quality. This would become the basis for the Appellation Contrôlée system for the rest of France, and most wine regulations the world over are based upon this system.
The appellation stretches from the eastern bank of the Rhône near Orange in the north-west to Sorgues near Avignon in the south-east. The altitude reaches 120 meters at its highest and is in the northern part of the appellation, while the lowest bounds of the appellation are approximately 20 meters above sea level.
60 Million years ago, however, the whole region was underwater. During this time, known as the Miocene Epoch, sand and mud were deposited in a relatively even layer across the bottom of the shallow Mediterranean. After the sea receded, the Alps were born, and when their glaciers melted they swept countless tons of pulverized granite down the biggest channel they could find, which happened to be the relatively young Rhone river valley. The journey from the northern Alps to the southern part of France tumbled these mostly granite and quartzite stones perfectly smooth, and when they finally lost momentum they came to rest atop the layers of compressed sand and mud from earlier eras.
CdP appellation covers 3200 hectares of land with at least three distinct types of soil or terroirs. In the north and north-east the famous galets roulés, round rocks or pebbles covering the clay soil. The rocks are famous for retaining the heat from the plentiful sun, some 2800 hours a year, releasing it at night, ripening the grapes faster than in the eastern part of the appellation, where the soil is mostly sand, as well as to thesouth where the soil is more gritty. The powerful mistralwind carries away the moisture, intensifying the dry climate.
Wine grown on the predominantly north-facing vineyards between Mont-Redon and Orange tends to be more reserved and elegant with smoother tannins than those of wines grown on the hotter sites, which can be very concentrated, potent, and tough when young. In the northeast around Courthézon, pebbles alternate with sand and yield particularly heady wines. Blends can brilliantly combine these styles.
The AOC regulations for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in addition to setting the boundaries of the appellation and stating the 18 permitted grape varieties include the following stipulations:
– A maximum of 3000 vines can be planted per hectare (about 2.4 acres)
– The minimum distance between vines is 2 meters
– All grapes except Syrah must be head-pruned / Gobelet-trained bush vines
– All grapes must be harvested by hand, from vines at least 4 years old
– Irrigation is only permitted in the case of a severe drought
– Only red and white wine can be produced (no rosé allowed)
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is unusual in its cocktail of as many as 18 permitted varieties (once 13, but different colours of the same grape are now listed as separate varieties).
Grenache is the backbone of the AOC, often blended with Mourvèdre and Syrah together with some Cinsault, Counoise (a local speciality), and small amounts of Vaccarèse, Muscardin, Picpoul, and Terret Noir, and the light-skinned Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne (which is much easier to grow in the southern than the northern Rhône), and the neutral Picardan. Château de Beaucastel and Clos des Papes, unusually, persist with all 13. The other 5 varietals listed in the AOC regulations are Clairette Rosé and both white and pink forms of Grenache and Picpoul.
A flirtation with Syrah, which can lack freshness this far south, has been widely replaced by an increasing affection for the late-ripening Mourvèdre now that summers are generally so warm. Its inclusion in a blend can help rein in the alcoholic excesses of Grenache in hot years.
The much rarer whites (only 7% of the total production), succulent in the ﬁrst few years, can develop even more exotic scents when fully mature, after an often-sulky middle age. But these whites are well worth seeking out as they can age beautifully displaying richness and texture. Because of their intensity and body they are wonderful with food and you can pair them with not only fish (preferably grilled or with a creamy sauce) but also with duck breast and all kinds of white meat.
Grenache Blanc, just like the black (red) Grenache Noir, often ripens to high sugar levels which give the wine a high alcohol level. Clairette, Piquepoul and Bourboulenc add freshness and a taste of lemon and citrus. Roussanne contributes with aromas of peaches and quince. Clairettte Rose is an unusual but excellent grape that brings texture and tannins to the wine,
A papal crest embossed on the shoulder of the bottle defines all estate-bottled wines.
With such small property vineyards, it isn’t surprising that Saumades production is limited to two wines: a white and a red.
Franck and his wife Murielle are certainly in the modernist camp in Ch̢ateauneuf and their wines are powerful and fruitdriven, with the ability to develop into graceful examples from this region.
The harvest, restricted to 35 hL/ha, is totally handmade by all the members of family: Murielle, Franck and their 3 children, Thomas, Marie and Pauline (Thomas and Pauline are students in oenology and agronomy).
CdP blanc 2016: The white is a classic southern blend with 50% Grenache Blanc and equal parts of Bourbelenc, and Clairette (usually Grenache Blanc plays the most relevant role with its 50%, but this is not a prefixed standard, as vintages change and varieties perform differently). The grapes are harvested at optimum ripeness in small bins, transported to the cellar, and slowly pressed in a small pneumatic bladder press. The juice descends into small oak barriques (3 or 4 year old barriques to prevent oak flavors) for primary alcoholic and malolactic fermentations. The wine is aged for 8 months in the same barrels before bottling.
How does it usually taste? An explosion of tropical fruits, with mango, papaya, ripe pear, and kiwi dominating more subtle mineral elements. Rich, viscous, almost late-harvest in intensity and depth, this white wine is made for Provencal cuisine.
According to Josh Reynolds, writing for Vinous and tasting the 2015 vintage in Dec. 2016, the wine deserves 88 pts. “Light yellow. Ripe tangerine and peach scents, along with hints of white flowers, fennel and ginger. Silky, gently sweet and open knit, offering energetic citrus and pit fruit flavors sharpened by a jolt of tangy acidity. Fleshy yet energetic, finishing with resonating floral and citrus fruit notes and good tenacity”.
CdP Rouge 2015: Let’s switch to the red now which is a single-varietal Grenache. Grapes are hand-harvested in small bins, then loaded into open-top concrete vats for temperature controlled fermentation and maceration. Grapes crush themselves through their own weight, and fermentation proceeds only with natural yeasts.
During the alcoholic fermentation, which takes approximately 14 to 18 days at 23° C, the cap of skins and seeds in punched down (pigeage) twice a day to ensure an even maceration and extraction of color and tannin.
Maceration is complete after 28 days, and the wine is drained to small oak barriques (20% new) for malolactic fermentation and aging for a further 12 months before bottling. Usually this wine presents a deep ruby, almost purple color.
How does it taste? Think of lovely oriental spices to complement dark red and black berry fruits. Full, rich and with resolved tannins, Domaine des Saumades Chateauneuf expresses its 100% Grenache cherry fruits with hints of mocha and chocolate. Moderate power and elegance combine in a long luscious finish.
Several wine experts tend to consider Saumades’ red eas a near-neighbour, both stylistically and geographically, to Château Rayas.
According to James Suckling, 2015 vintage deserves a 91 points rating: “Dried rose and some wild herbs as well as bracken and red berry fruits. The palate has a soft, smooth and elegant feel. Extremely smoothly rendered. Drink now”.