Meet the Winemaker: Jean Marc de Crozals, Domaine des Homs, Minervois

Bonjour Jean Marc, where are you from? From Languedoc. I studied viticulture and oenology where I met Anne, who later became my wife. Then after a professional experience in the food industry, I came back to the family estate.  The more I tried to escape my roots, the more I was pulled back.  

What do you enjoy in life? I love nature, fishing, picking mushrooms, walking in the wild landscapes where you soak up the fauna and flora.

What don’t you like?
Hypocrisy in general.

When did you decide to return to the family estate? Was it easy? 

I came back in 2000, after a detour to the Rhone Valley.
Not easy to start as the image was so negative !
An ageing vineyard, very little renewed with a lot of vines missing, no trellises, no white grape varieties: I had a real challenge to take on.

We started by progressively digging up hectare after hectare and replanting with essentially Mediterranean grape varieties that are adapted to our climates: Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Viognier, Muscat, and soon Vermentino and Grenache Gris.

Each grape variety was planted according to the Terroir and the soil.

We have kept the old Grenache and Syrah vines which were the best quality.

JEAN MARC, HIS WINES, HIS WORK

Which vintage did you like to vinify?

2012: a balanced vintage, a reflection of a vineyard that has also found its balance. If the soil is alive then everything becomes easier during the vinification. 

Why did you decide to make organic wine? Does the climate of the Minervois make organic viticulture complicated? 

When I came back to the estate, I knew that I wanted to make organic wines.  We started our work with the minimum of synthetic products, and then none at all, and when our son Paul was born in 2006, we applied for certification. Since 2009, all our wines and other products of the estate are organic: olives, olive oil and almonds.

The climate is favourable to organic farming in our region because it is hot, dry and windy. We hardly have any fungal diseases.  On the other hand, we can suffer from lack of water. The autumn and winter rains are not always enough.

Since the 2015 vintage, we have experienced several droughts… I have no regrets for having chosen to work the soil regularly. It wouldn’t be possible to put grass on my land.  It doesn’t rain enough to make the seedlings rise and I wouldn’t be able to pass the mulcheras the soils are so stony.

I think we have to adapt our crops to our soils and regions and each winegrower does his best by taking all the natural elements into account.
The wines since 2015 continue to gain in finesse and confirm that I was not mistaken.

On the other hand, I also do seed-sowing when the soils of the plots allow it. We just sowed 1 ha of alfalfa last week. It’s a perfect legume to enrich the soil in nitrogen and prepare future plots. These are seedlings made for the next 5 to 6 years.

It is also an excellent way to continue to develop biodiversity on the estate.

HIS VINES, HIS DOMAINE

What do you like about the Minervois region? 

We are lucky in the Languedoc to have a real diversity of terroirs.  This is true at the level of each appellation. In the Minervois, we have the terroirs of the Montagne Noire, the schist, the “balconies of the Aude”, etc. At the estate, our vines are planted on the soils of “Terroirs de l’Argent Double”, named after the river that runs through here.

I also like being able to vinify so many different grape varieties and to work with blends.

How did you choose the grape varieties you planted? 

It’s mainly by relying on the nature of the soil. 

Coming back from the Rhone valley, I wanted to work with Syrah and Viognier but I wanted to make sure that they would be well established in my region, so we had some analyses done before making our choices.

I chose a very qualitative clone for the Syrah, producing small bunches of grapes and small berries to produce quality, balanced wines.

I also like Viognier very much, I think it’s a grape variety that gives you a lot in return. It is not easy to work with, it produces a lot of vine shoots (you have to remove the stems 2 or 3 times a year), you have to disbud it, lift it up … BUT, it is a grape variety that does not cheat.  If the yields exceed 40 Hl/ha, then it is diluted and not good. On the contrary, when the work is well done, the wines are of great complexity, there is a very good texture and I am very happy to have some at Des Homs.

Are there different terroirs on your estate?

Yes, there are three:

1) Part of the land is deep with few stones.  It has an interesting water retention potential, especially in recent years with the droughts. This is where our whites are planted: Chardonnay and Viognier.

2) We also have some very poor, garrigue soils. Here we find Cinsault and Grenache. On these soils, the Cinsault produces less, which is important to be able to slow down its yield as it is naturally a very productive grape. In the Languedoc, Cinsault is our Pinot, a grape variety that gives little sugar and has no tannic structure.
Grenache, a grape variety of Spanish origin, loves these soils.

3) Finally, the last and also the most representative, is that of La Gravière where we have our Syrah and Grenache. These are the lands of the Minervois, very rich in stones, the terraces of the Argent Double.

HIS WINES TODAY & TOMORROW

How do you vinify your wines? 

The vinification is traditional in concrete vats with no additives, nor SO2 during the vinification. I start from the principle that if the vine is balanced and the grapes healthy, the work in the cellar will be easier with just temperature control, some pumping over and delestage at the beginning of fermentation.
I am now concentrating on barrel ageing for the whites and full barrel vinification for the reds: perhaps a new cuvée to come!

Almost all your red wine cuvées have been in the Minervois appellation since when?

Since 2015, which was a very nice vintage with balance.
Initially, when I took over the family estate, I downgraded some of my red wines to IGP. I have great respect for the appellations and I wanted to achieve a certain quality before bottling my wines in AOC Minervois.
All the efforts made in the vineyard started to pay off in 2012. Our wines have gained in structure, substance, richness while maintaining balance.
In 2015, our Clots de Pals cuvée joined Paul et la Gravière and we now have a range of 3 red Minervois with more or less Grenache or Syrah.

Why do you vinify all your whites partly in barrels?

I have been using barrels in vinification since the beginning of our white production, in 2005 for the Viognier and now also for the Chardonnay.
Fermentation in barrels and then maturing on lees gives them complexity and richness.
I already had freshness thanks to the tillage of the soil, but I wanted to gain in texture. 

Recently you started to produce “Petites Bulles“, a very light, sparkling sweet wine, vinified like a Moscato d’Asti.  Where did you get the idea?

Moscato d’Asti! It’s a wine that I enjoy very much, as an aperitif, with desserts… It’s a light and fresh wine that I’ve always liked to taste and therefore I wanted to produce it.

It is also the story of a “meeting by chance” where I met a vigneron in the South of France that allows to vinify grape must in closed vats. The work is very serious and I was confident.

Before I started, I brought several Moscato d’Asti, I tasted a lot of them … 42 different bottles … to understand, to see what I liked or what I didn’t like.  The ones we liked the most we had analysed.  As in all my wines, balance remains important to me, so we worked with musts with less sugar to keep a wine fresh.
Our cuvée Petites Bulles contains 70 g/L of residual sugar (for Moscato d’Asti wines in general this can go up to 110 120 g/L ). We use our Muscat à Petites Grains for our Bulles, which was previously used to make our grape juice. 

What do you expect from a wine?

For me, wine rhymes with sharing and conviviality. I like wines that are pleasurable to drink young… And that’s why l’Amandier was produced, to make simple wines of pleasure.

What are the regional dishes that you recommend with your wines?

We have several very typical dishes, such as Cassoulet, and roasted duck breast. These dishes go perfectly with the cuvée Paul or Gravière. In the summer, we cook a lot “à la plancha” – grilled meat and fish, salads – the l’Amandier, or the Clots de Pals is a more suitable match with a slight chill on them.

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