Domaine Sainte Croix

Vines planted before WWI at Domaine Sainte Croix in Corbieres.

who? what? when? where? why? how?

who grows the grapes at Domaine Sainte Croix? who makes the wines?

The English couple Jon and Liz Bowen have followed quite a path to the Haute Corbières. Jon travelled the world learning winemaking in large and small cellars and Liz is by trade an agricultural economist. They both knew they wanted to translate their experiences into a project of their own and spent nearly a decade looking in and around the Languedoc and Roussillon regions before settling in this remote, isolated area.

Hand harvesting at Domaine Sainte Croix

Together they do nearly 100% of the work required to farm, harvest, and vinify the grapes they grow.  A small crew of pickers joins them at harvest but that’s it.  They share many of the tasks requires in the field while Jon drives the winemaking and Liz handles the numbers behind the business.

what wines do they make at Domaine Sainte Croix?

The offering of wines of Domaine Sainte Croix reflects an profound fascination with and respect for the history of the Hautes Corbières.  Jon and Liz sought the oldest available parcels of Carignan in the region and continue to seek out any available parcel of some of the regions oldest varieties including the white Grenache Gris and Terret Bourré, along with the red Aramon grape.  Each of these varieties played a role in the earliest days of “modern” production in the region as wine from Fraissé des Corbières and the surrounding area was shipped to soldiers in WWI and to workers in French industry as part of their rations.

At Candid we have their old vine Carignan, aged in neutral oak, which is a powerful expression of 100+ year old vines.  We also have a tiny amount of the Aramon, a wine that challenges perceptions of what southern France can produce with it’s Piedmont like rose petal finish.  Le Fournas blends Carignan with Grenache and Syrah in a versatile, inexpensive bottling while La Serre blends Grenache Blanc and Gris as a white entry into the estate.

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when did Domaine Sainte Croix start? when might you open a bottle?

Domaine Sainte Croix dates to the mid 2000’s, when Jon and Liz purchased the estate and numerous surrounding parcels, but the history goes back to the turn of the century when many of the vines on the property were planted. This is an area that produced massive amounts of Carignan and other reds for French workers for decades with little regard to quality, but now hides hundred year old vines if, like Jon and Liz, you know where to look.  The estate’s first vintage bottled for sale was 2007.  


 

Jon and Liz bought the estate precisely because of the potential of these older vines.  The fruit the vines yield, particularly in the case of the Carignan, has both density and acidity, meaning they can be paired with more than simply red meats as one might expect for sunny, southern French reds.  In fact, our friends at Autre Monde in Berwyn served Le Fournas with a smoked Mackerel and lentil dish that blew us away.  

where is Domaine Sainte Croix?

The “Hautes-Corbières” is smack at the crossroads of the Languedoc, the Roussillon, the Mediterranean and the mountains of the south of France. Only 20 minutes drive from the ocean, the estate benefits from a partially maritime climate and relatively high altitude, and thus cool nights, in an area that can be very hot in the summer. This area is quite different from the Corbières we have tasted and is spot we suspect will grow in stature in the near future.
Harvest at Domaine Sainte Croix: a team of six does all the work.

The wind is a startling aspect of this terroir.  Vines and trees seem to point the way to the ocean, bent as they are from the gusts out of the north and west that rush to the water.  At the Col de Feuilla, the saddle that separates Corbières and appellation of Fitou and serves as the last break between inland and the ocean, it can be hard to ride one’s bicycle downhill when the wind is coming the other way so powerful are the gales.   The result is a near constant drying force on the vines which drives vine roots deep in search of water.

why is Domaine Sainte Croix a Candid Wine? why might you want a taste?

Over a glass of wine in Chicago, we asked our friend Emmanuel Pageot of Turner-Pageot and a former top young Sommelier in France, who among his neighbors in Languedoc might be a fit for Candid. He paused and then said “Jon and Liz”. And so started our path to the Hautes-Corbieres and this small family farm that makes such unique wines.  Merci, Emmanuel, you were spot on.

We think they present a compelling picture of some of the oldest vines one can find in one of the most rural areas of France that we have visited.  Carignan and Aramon planted between 1900 and 1920 make for unique wines unlike most that you will encounter from Languedoc.

Jon and Liz are dedicated to doing everything on a small scale at Domaine Sainte Croix

how is the wine made at Domaine Sainte Croix?

The tiny winery at Domaine Sainte Croix.

Native yeasts, stainless steel, neutral oak, and gentle extractions all contribute to Jon’s efforts to preserve the unique character of each small parcel he farms. The Fournas, their first tier red blend, is fermented and aged in concrete tanks, while the Carignan is fermented in oak barrels of no less than three wines, meaning that much of the oak character has been diffused into the three wines that came before.

As he has worked with the fruit over the past five years, Jon has become more and more gentle and non-interventionist, finding that the less he adds, the more the wines seem to express. Tasting with him through barrel samples his fascination for the combination of weight and natural acidity of Carignan comes through clear as day and he talks at length of a continuing evolution in the way he approaches the fruit from each plot.

In the video below, Jon talks about punchdowns and pumpovers as relate to making red wines.  The specific details are perhaps less important than Jon’s general approach and evolution which is conveyed in this piece :