Although Chateau La Sauvageonne lies only about 50 kilometres west of the bustling city of Montpellier (famous, amongst other things, for its university, including for viticulture), getting to the village in Larzac reminds a bit of driving through the countryside of Tuscany with its narrow roads and stone houses. When you arrive about an hour later, the wines awaiting you are worth every metre and kilometre of the journey.
Chateau La Sauvageonne was founded in 1992 by the Ponsard family, who also had a construction company in the village. Unfortunately, following a motorcycle accident, Antoine Ponsard was not able to continue working the vineyard and winery. In 2002, he sold to a Britisher by the name of Brown whose ambitions were not so much to produce wine but to have a home in the sunny south of France. Having visited Chateau La Sauvageonne, I can fully understand why Mr Brown fell under the spell of the ravishing, wooded, mountainous landscape.
Another person who succumbed to the Sauvageonne charm – not just its physical attributes but also its grape expectations – was Frenchman Gerard Bertrand. So it was that in 2011, this “Lord of the Languedoc” added another sterling arrow to his already bursting quiver of wine assets. (Apart from annual production in excess of 10 million bottles from domaine vineyards, managed estates and branded wines, the Gerard Bertrand group’s annual turnover – wine and wine tourism business – is over €30 m).
A New AOC
Formerly, the white, rosé and red Chateau La Sauvageonne came under the wider Languedoc AOC. Then in 2014, in recognition of the terroir being special, the red was granted its own Terrasses du Larzac AOC. Under the new designation, the red must have at leat three varieties, not one of which must be more than 75% of the blend. The varieties are syrah, grenache, carignan and mouvedre.
Ironically, it is not the red nor white that has catapulted Chateau La Sauvageonne into the wine stratosphere. Instead, it is the rosé. Which has been named Best Rosé in the World for two consecutive years at The Drinks Business Global Rosé Masters held in London in 2017 and 2018 for the 2016 and 2017 vintages respectively.
Grenache forms the backbone of La Villa Rosé. Whole bunch pressed, only the free run juice is used. After a cold settling, the grenache is co-fermented with the white vermentino (known as rolle in France) and viognier in stainless steel vats. Before the fermentation is complete, some of the must is transferred into oak barrels. The make-up of La Villa is around 65% grenache, 25% mourvedre, 7% viognier and 3% vermentino.
Chateau la Sauvageonne La Villa Rosé 2017
Although Larzac is in the south of France, it enjoys cool nights because of its micro-climate. This means that the ripening of the grapes is more drawn out. Consequently, this adds layers of aromas, flavours and complexity to the wine. Handpicked between sunrise and 10 am to further capture freshness, the peach and red berry fruit has a dash of vanilla. Textured and delicately glycerol. Persistence and length of fruit. Don’t overchill. Best in a wide Burgundy glass or Cognac balloon. Named Best Rosé in the World at The Drinks Business Global Rosé Masters London in 2017 and 2018. La Villa has been biodynamic since the 2016 vintage.
Chateau La Sauvageonne White 2017
Citrus, pineapples and delicately vanilla. This south of France white also possesses a minerally aspect. Exotic and gently creamy. Medium-plus bodied. A blend of grenache blanc, vermentino, viognier and roussane, the wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks. Halfway through fermentation, some of the must was transferred to 225-litre oak barrels. And continued to be matured in them for six months on its lees.
Chateau La Sauvageonne Red 2015
Strawberries, blackberries, garrigue and spice. Intensity and persistence of fruit backed by rich, ripe tannins and freshness. Very balanced. About full-bodied. A blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre and carignan.