Friday, March 28, 2014

Buzet’s winery is a progressive co-operative

Photo: Buzet's Delphine Leuillet

Among the many French wineries at this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival, chances are that the least known was Les Vignerons de Buzet.

Some of its wines are listed on Quebec and Ontario. Through local agents, the winery is making an effort to get into markets in western Canada.

There are at least a couple of reasons why it deserves to succeed. First, it is one of the most progressive co-operative wineries I have ever encountered. Secondly, it has a red wine with no added sulphur that will be a godsend to those who attribute headaches to sulphur in red wine.

The Buzet appellation is in southwestern France in the general region of such better known appellations as Cahors, Madiran and Armagnac. The appellation is only 2,000 hectares in size, about equal in size to the Oliver/Osoyoos vineyards in the Okanagan.

About 95% of the Buzet production goes to Les Vignerons de Buzet, the co-operative that was organized in 1953. “We are like a monopoly of the Buzet appellation,” says Delphine Leuillet, the Buzet export manager who represented the winery at the festival.

The growers began working toward appellation status shortly after forming the co-operative and won the AOC status (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) in 1973.

Since the appellation is south of Bordeaux, it is hardly surprising that the vineyards grow similar varieties. Merlot comprises about half of the red plantings; Cabernet Franc accounts for 26%, Cabernet Sauvignon for 22% and Malbec for much of the rest. The white varieties are primarily Sémillon (70%) and Sauvignon Blanc (30%).

The wines, however, often command much lower prices because the appellation is far less well known. “We have the Bordeaux quality at very attractive prices,” Delphine suggests. The Buzet co-operative produces between 12 million and 14 million bottles a year. The home market consumes 60% of those wines.

Buzet is worth supporting because of the winery’s growing commitment to sustainable viticulture. During the past five years, the growers have reduced significantly the use of chemicals to ward off diseases in the vineyards. No treatments are applied any longer as a matter of routine. Increasingly, natural and alternative methods are applied. In 2012, for example, they stopped using anti-botrytis chemical sprays, adopting instead vineyard practices that enable the growers to avoid botrytis (rot) in the first place.

Like a growing number of growers around the world, those of Buzet now make a conscious effort to foster biodiversity in the vineyards. Sometimes, that is a simple as letting grass grow between the vines to promote diverse flora and fauna in the vineyards. There are ongoing efforts to repopulate the vineyards with protected species, including birds. Of course, these keep the insect pests in balance, again reducing the need to spray chemicals.

In the winery, Buzet also has shown innovation. The wine with no added sulphur is an example. “This is a concept wine,” Delphine said while pouring it during a trade tasting at the wine festival. It contains a mere seven milligrams per litre of sulphur, which was a natural by-product of fermentation.

In conventional winemaking, sulphur is usually added to preserve wines from premature oxidation. The sulphur might range anywhere from 30 mg, when it would not be perceptible, to 100 mg where an experienced taster might get a whiff. Reducing the sulphur content is a general trend in winemaking, made possible by the cleanliness of modern winemaking. Buzet has removed a lot of sulphur from its other wines and claims to be somewhere between a third and a quarter of the industry average.

Sans, as Buzet’s no added sulphur wine is called, is a delicious, easy drinking red.

Here are notes the four other wines that Delphine also had at the festival.

Red Badge Merlot Cabernet 2010 (estimated $14.95). This wine, already a general listing in Ontario, is a soft fruity red with flavours of cherry and black berry. 88.

Le Lys Dry White 2012 (estimated $16.99). The name means lily. It is a blend of 60% Sémillon and 40% Sauvignon Blanc. It is a crisp and refreshing white, with appealing fruity aromas and flavours of citrus and tropical fruit. 89.

Baron D’Ardeuil Dry White 2012 (estimated $21.99). This is a 50/50 blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc aged eight months in oak. There is citrus in the aromas and on the palate, with a satisfying weight on the palate and crisp finish. 90.

Baron D’Ardeuil Red 2010 (estimated $21.99). This is a red Bordeaux blend from old vines, aged half in new oak and half in more neutral oak. There are notes of vanilla and red fruits on the nose, following with flavours of black berry and black currant and a touch of liquorice on the finish. 89.



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