Our AWE visit to Château de Montfaucon in Lirac (once thought of as poor man’s Châteauneuf du Pape 30 years ago when I first listed a Lirac from Domaine Maby through Yapp Brothers) was one that I anticipated with great pleasure – I’ve known some of the wines through The Good Wine Shop and so I was delighted to see a visit on our itinerary that included seeing the oldest vineyard with Julien Thorn the winemaker and a fine selection of the estate’s white and red wines tasted in the original cellar complete with 16th century press. Although the Château can trace its heritage back to the 14th century , for most of the last century the grapes were sold to the local co-op . Then with the return of Rudolph Les Pins as winemaker in 1995 ,after studying at UC Davis and stages at Henschke and Vieux Telegraphe, Montfaucon started to make and bottle its own wines once more.
The estate now has 60 hectares including the vineyard we visited . It is the oldest vineyard on the estate ,with a field blend of vines averaging over 125 years old . So keen were they to get their hands on this particular parcel – which sits almost at the top of the hill looking down over the Rhone to the east, with the ruins of the tower of the papal summer palace in the distance that they had to purchase the 5 hectares around it . They now make the estate’s top white wine from the ancient Clairette vines in this parcel -Le Vin de Madame La Comtesse de Montfaucon . We were lucky enough to sample this one along with the Comtesse de Montfaucon white (35% Marsanne 20% Viognier, 20% Grenache Blanc,15% Clairette and 10% Bourboulenc ). Both wines displayed a fine sense of balance -richness matched with tension , phenomenal concentration and deftly handled old oak and lees ageing giving textural richness , complex flavours and extraordinary length. We also tried the Vin de Monsieur Le Baron de Montfaucon – an extraordinary blend of Grenache, Syrah,Cinsault,Counoise, Mourvedre, Muscat, Aubun , Alicante , Tempranillo, Viognier, Marsanne, Clairette , Bourboulenc and Picpoul , Both the top wine have labels copied form the original cellar in 1829 .
Vineyards here are farmed sustainably , grass grows between the vines , no chemical herbicides are used and organic matter from local sheep provides the only sustenance. Yields here are naturally lower than those permitted – a common thread throughout all our visits . It’s not hard to understand that while the Rhone may be the second biggest wine producing region in France with two thirds of the hectarage of Bordeaux it produces little over 50% of volume.
The regime in the cellar seeks to create wines with a wonderful sense of balance between the often many different cépages deployed. Older techniques like co-fermentation are also used and new oak is avoided -barrels are purchased second-hand from Burgundy. There is a profound respect for great quality fruit enhanced by judicious time in oak – a view which is contemporary amongst many young winemakers and yet as old as time/
These are beautifully made wines which deserve a place in everyone’s cellar and on good wine lists too.
Sadly for the moment, problems with their UK agent means Montfaucon’s wines are not easy to find – let’s hope for their sake and for our drinking pleasure that its’ resolved soon .