4 minutes reading time (802 words)
We had lunch with Winemaker Francoise Antech (phonetically "on tesh") from Limoux last week and shamelessly asked a lot of questions. Francoise was both generous in her comments and candid.
We tasted two of her sparkling wines paired with family style dishes at Rhubarb. "The wines are made in the Methode Champenoise but with different grapes," Francoise says. "Mauzac is from Limoux."
First up, Rose. "I did not want to make Rose just for a barbeque!" says Francoise. Clara Vie Cremant Rose made in Limoux is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac and a touch of Pinot Noir. This Rose is a hand harvested and hand crafted cuvee made from old vines growing close to the Mediterranean Sea. On the nose you will find small wild red fruits and spring flowers carrying over to a round, fruity palate with a clean finish. And the bubbles? Fine and constant.
Next, Clara Vie Brut Nature, Blanquette de Limoux! A blend of 90% Mauzac with equal parts Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. The wine is a yellow golden hue in the glass with those fine bubbles for which Francoise is known. Fresh aromas of green apples, honeysuckle and white flowers on the nose. the palate is white fruit, balanced minerality and a long finish.
Francoise is a 6th generation winemaker. The family estate in Limoux sits in the South of France in the shadow of the Pyrennes and close to the border of Spain. "Bubbles were invented here in Limoux by the monks 150 years before Dom Perignon!" says Francoise.
Francoise tells us that the winery has always been worked by women and only recently have men joined the inner winemaking circle. "Since I was born, I have always been in the vineyard and cellar and I took over 22 years ago," says Francoise. "My father, unlike so many, said that it was my choice."
It did not take long to realize that the path she had chosen would not always be easy. The climate is difficult and there is always the threat of a fatal frost in the winter. Sometimes nature can take from you. "But," says Francoise, "nature always gives you something back, every year is different and you never know what the juice will be like."
Francoise works as close to nature as possible. Through leaf analysis, she can determine what the soil needs and she gives the earth ONLY what it needs, no more. "Everything is possible in the vineyard."
But is the wine natural? Francoise bristles, with not only the approval but vigorous agreement with everyone seated at the table, at the term "natural." Limiting interference and manipulation is "just what you do," says Francoise. "We interface just enough."
But not every aspect of the wine business is within your control. Shipping is a big issue with Francoise. Everything involved in shipping wines around the world has a negative environmental impact. "We try to compensate in the vineyard to restore an ecological balance," says Francoise. But how? "We plant trees, almond, fig, fruit and cypress!"
While Francoise totally enjoys making wine, what she is really passionate about is the comaraderie with other women winemakers. She is a member of Vini Filles (http://www.vinifilles.fr/), a group of over 280 women winemakers in France. Started over 10 years ago, a gathering has good food and good wine. "But, mostly, it is about choosing family," Francoise says. "These are my sisters."
The pricing and style of these wines make it possible to enjoy bubbles everyday. And this is a goal for Francoise. "Bubbles, make life better!"
Francoise produces 850,000 bottles each year exporting 60% of her wine to 30 countries. Most of the wine goes to the UK, USA, Canada, Japan and Italy. Both wines also have a healthy market in Taiwan, Singapore and Russia. "Very good with sushi."
When not drinking her own wines, what does Francoise prefer? "Sancere and Burgundy," she says. "I prefer wines that are not oaked, I want to taste the terroir." Francoise does really enjoy Bordeaux but says it is too expensive. "I prefer Languedoc" she says. "I am looking for quality to price, not just a big name." What about wines from this country? Francoise finds some bottles of Pinot Noir from Oregon to be "beautiful."
Francoise wants you to know that her trademark fine bubbles are not just about the wine. It's about the glass too. "The bubbles depend on the soap you use for cleaning," says Francoise. "You must rinse the glass thoroughly with just water. And if you use an automatic dishwasher, don't use any rinse liquid."
"Wine should not be complicated," says Francoise. "It makes life better and builds good relationships."