Jamie Goode begins his exploration of the Costières de Nîmes with a visit to the excellent Château Morgues du Grès, owned by François and Anne Collard.
‘2022 was a particular year,’ says François Collard, as we walk through one of his vineyards in August. Harvest is already underway. ‘We have never seen this before: we started on 11 August.’ They were harvesting the white grapes and the reds were on the vine still, and he reports that they are ripe, fruity and showing good balance – but very early.
I’m actually surprised at how green the canopies still look after an intensely hot summer. But this is one of the strengths of the region: a combination of a humid wind from the sea, plus deep soils that retain water further down both help to alleviate hydric stress.
The soils here are typical of the region: 70% rocky, 30% soil, and coloured red from the presence of iron oxide. They look similar to the soils of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Lirac. ‘There are very deep soils in this part of the region,’ says François. ‘We think it is a soil very interesting for vines.’
One of the benefits of this soil is its excellent drainage, because although it rarely rains here, when it does the rain can be intense. ‘Sometimes we have heavy storms,’ says François. ‘Afterwards, we can go straight back in and work the vineyard. Vines don’t like too much water, but the water can go deep. In June and July it is very warm, but we have some clay deep down, and when the vines are 10-12 years old the roots can reach water deep in the clay. So this soil prevents the vines suffering: it balances the dry climate and the storms.’
‘Often in August and September in mid-afternoon we have wind from the Mediterranean,’ he says. ‘It’s fresh and humid air.’ This helps the vine keep photosynthesizing: without the humid air, the stomata would close in the heat of the afternoon.
Morgues du Gres have been farming organically since 2004. They were certified biodynamic by Demeter in 2020, and for the wines the first ones to be certified biodynamic were with the 2021 vintage. But manual control of weeds here can be a challenge. ‘The rocks can blunt the weeding tools,’ he says. ‘It is good to work when there is some water in the top of the soils.’ The stones here act as a sort of mulch, covering the soils. ‘These stones protect and prevent evapotranspiration. Some people think about grass in the vineyard, but we return to work the vines as les anciennes used to do: we are afraid of grass – we have a mulch with rocks.’
In the cellar, one addition that is hard to avoid is acid. This year they will need to do a bit of acidification, but the biodynamic work means they’ll have to acidify less. In 2021 they didn’t add any. ‘We are searching for the feeling of acidity with the minerality,’ says François. ‘The minerality brings a feeling of acidity and gives a skeleton to the wine, a spine, and it helps the wine age very well. The aroma moves, the complexity appears but we always have the freshness and the minerality 10 years after.’
On the way back to the winery we stop to look at a block of Cinsault, recently planted. ‘Cinsault is a grape very well adapted to the Mediterranean area,’ says François. ‘Winemakers 20-25 years ago put Cinsault aside, so it’s rare to find old cinsault. We think it’s a grape for the future so we have planted more of it.’
At the winery we taste, and are joined by François’ wife Anne, and also their son Romain, who is actively involved and has some new ideas, including the incorporation of trees into the vineyard to increase biodiversity.
‘We used to have big plots with only vines,’ says Romain, ‘but we’ve decided to plant a group of trees around the vines – a small forest between the different plts. And perhaps some olive trees as well.’ They are working with a non-profit called Agroof based in Anduse. ‘Their goal is to plant trees and forests in the Gard,’ he says. ‘They come with us and walk around the vineyard and forests, and see what is indigenous. Then they collect seeds from them and create a nursery, and give us the small trees and bushes.’ They are supplying 15-20 indigenous species.
Château Morgues du Grès Les Galets Dorés Blanc 2021 Costières de Nîmes
Three main grapes: Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Vermentino, plus a little bit of Marsanne, Bourboulenc and Clairette. Some parcels machine picked. Pressed with some protection by CO2 after cooling the grapes. Debourbage, fermented in stainless steel and elevage for 4-5 months, move the lees. When the balance is right they stop moving the lees. This is bright and focused with lovely pear and citrus fruit, as well as some exotic apricot and pineapple in the background. Linear and pure with nice intensity. 91/100
Château Morgues du Grès Terre d’Argence Blanc 2021 IGP Pont du Gard
14% alcohol. Viognier, Roussanne and Petit Manseng. Sometimes they add Vermentino or Grenache Blanc. This is beautiful: lively and bright with lovely intense citrus, with some lime and mandarin as well as some apricot. Has density and purity with incisive acidity from the Petit Manseng. Some subtle honey and nut characters here in the background. Serious and potentially ageworthy. 94/100
Château Morgues du Grès Capitelle Blanc 2019 Costières de Nîmes
14% alcohol. Mostly Grenache and Marsanne, and one parcel of each is from the north exposure slope which has some limestone. There is a touch of Roussanne and Viognier which is from galet terraces. Fermented and aged in barrels, for two years. This is really expressive: mandarin, ripe pear and nuts with some fine spicy notes and a touch of orange peel. Lovely intensity here with focus and purity, and a nice bitter twist on the finish. Lovely stuff. 93/100
Château Morgues du Grès Fleur d’Eglantine Rosé 2021 Costières de Nîmes
Mostly Grenache with some Mourvèdre and Cinsault. This is supple and bright with a real texture to the slightly briny cherry and pear fruit with a touch of apple. Such texture and purity: it may be pale coloured but it has lovely volume in the mouth: a really distinctive, elegant rosé with lovely intensity and elegance. 93/100
Château Morgues du Grès Galets Rosés 2021 Costières de Nîmes
13.5% alcohol. Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Full pink/red colour. Sweetly aromatic with cherry and strawberry fruit, showing full fruity flavours with nice texture. Has some depth to it with a warm spicy edge to the red fruits. Very fresh and fine. 90/100
Château Morgues du Grès Capitelle Rosé 2020 Costières de Nîmes
Effectively a white wine made from red grapes – a blanc de noirs. Fermented and aged in barrels (half) and also half stainless steel. Sell it a year later than the others. Taut and textural with fine spices and a bit of mealiness, as well as compact pear and white peach fruit. This is quite layered with nice finesse. Serious and sophisticated with good density. 93/100
Château Morgues du Grès Les Galets Rouges 2021 Costières de Nîmes
Fermented and aged in concrete tanks. Lovely aromatics here: fresh, floral cherry fruit with lovely red cherry perfume and some subtle meaty hints. This is so expressive with fine structure and a touch of pepper under the pure, elegant fruit. Some stony, rocky notes, showing lovely freshness and purity. A lovely wine. 93/100
Château Morgues du Grès Cuve 46 2021 Costières de Nîmes
13.5% alcohol. Majority of Cinsault (60 years old) complemented by Grenache and a touch of Syrah. The only one bottled without any sulfites. From a single plot. Bright, juicy and perfumed with herbs, meat, wild strawberry and cherry fruit, finishing with nervy, intense sour cherry characters. This is tangy and lively with amazing freshness and drinkability, and a lovely sour note on the finish. So distinctive and delicious. 93/100
Château Morgues du Grès Terre d’Argence Rouge 2019 Costières de Nîmes
14.5% alcohol. 80% Syrah. This is concentrated and fresh with some blackcurrant and cherry fruit, with good structure. There’s nice intensity here with good concentration, nice structure and lovely balance, despite the substantial size. Quite mineral and rocky on the finish. 93/100
Château Morgues du Grès Capitelle Rouge 2019 Costières de Nîmes
14.5% alcohol. Syrah with Grenache and Carignan. This is juicy and fruity with nice intensity and some flesh. There’s a freshness, some peppery notes, but despite the ripe fruit which tastes quite sweet there’s a lovely freshness on the finish. Fine intensity here and a sense of fruitiness, but also showing structure. 94/100
Château Morgues du Grès Terre de Feu 2019 Costières de Nîmes
This is 95% Grenache from 70 year old vines. Fresh, fine and peppery on the nose, with red cherry and some fine green hints. The palate is supple and elegant with lovely juicy red fruits, some iodine. Very clean and mineral with real precision. 94/100
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