Return to the Vineyard – Domaine des Homs Vintage 2020 with Jean Marc de Crozals, vigneron in the Minervois

Domaine des Homs, Minervois
31 July, 2020

We continue our tour of the French vineyards with our next visit to organic winery Domaine des Homs in the heart of the Minervois.

Leaving the motorway that connects Narbonne to Carcassonne, we take the small winding roads through the villages, passing over the Canal du Midi, a link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

The estate extends over 20 ha on a terrace of soil dating from the Villafranchien period, rich in stones carried  down over thousands of years from the Black Mountains, and clay deposits.  Jean Marc and Anne de Crozals cultivate vines, olives and almond trees – and this year – honey!

Canal du Midi just before arriving to Domaine des Homs

In this report you will find:

  • Following to the vegetative cycle from autumn 2019 and work in the vineyard 
  • Discussion of a pressing, and recurrent problem: lack of water  
  • Gite & Cellar Door Tasting Terrace
  • Organic Wines Available

Autumn 2019 = Soil Soil Soil

To understand the current vintage we must follow the vegetative cycle by going back in time to the end of last year’s harvest. 

October was rather a classic “normal” month in the region with mild temperatures and little rain.

As always at this time of the year, Jean Marc passes through the vines, one row out of two, to give a light plough of the topsoil to decompact the soil (which has not been worked since July). To aerate the soil, even at a shallow depth, it is worked very lightly, and helps to facilitate the penetration of the first rains.

From November, the first applications of organic matter (humus) are spread and mulched.  Then pruning starts with the white grape varieties, which are the first to lose their leaves in mid-November.

The main problem of the region is the recurring lack of water.  Therefore in December, a subsoiling is done one row out of 2 to decompact up to 60/70 cm deep. At the end of this big task, he adds a tool on the tractor forks to go a bit deeper and make a trench for the heavy spring rains. 

Despite one early Spring light snowfall at the end of March, in general this year has been mild, there were no negative temperatures. This is very easy to remember, because there was no need to break the ice in the hens’ water trough as is often the case during the winter. 

Even the snow was ephemeral with a few hours of powder snow on March 26th, illustrating the shock of two cold airs from the North and warm air from the South. 

Winter 2019 & Spring 2020

The vines started to drip at the end of February and budburst was early, almost coinciding with the end of the pruning which finished around March 15.

Then at the end of March, as the soils began to warm up, Jean Marc passed the tractor to mulch in the clipped vine trimmings every other row. This passage brings oxygen into the soil. The combination of the presence of oxygen and the warmed soil helps the soil bacteria to set out to transform organic matter into humus and thus the assimilation of nitrogen by the plant’s roots.

In order to half the quantity of Copper and Sulphur used for the first treatments, Jean Marc added orange peel essential oils to the preparations.

Adaptation of the quad to be able to do the treatments and enter the plots in spite of the waterlogged soils. 

A fickle and harmful month of May

It was a rainy month of May for the records! In a region normally sheltered, even lacking water, this year it rained nearly every day of May. The rains followed the drizzle and vice versa, so much so that the slightest streams were filled up, and the water sources appeared in resurgence among the plots.

However, due to the absence of winter, the vegetative development was early, so May was also the month of flowering. This is a crucial and sensitive stage for the future harvest. The permanent humidity kept the vineyard under the pressure of diseases, particularly mildew, and it was impossible to go into the vines to treat and protect the flowers because the soils were impassable with the tractor.

Jean Marc went to his vines by foot or on a quad equipped with a ramp as soon as a break in rain occurred … Unfortunately, the grenaches were more severely affected and there will probably be no harvest of the Grenache (or very little) in 2020.

After the rains, hail … on June 3rd, two ha of Syrah were affected on the plantations closest to the Canal du Midi.
Finally, since June, the weather has been fine and everything that has been saved is magnificent: the Chardonnay and Viognier for the whites and the Syrah for the future Paul.
The vines are superb, with lots of very green leaves and no sign of lack of water for the moment.
With 8 to 15 days in advance, the Chardonnays should open the harvest around the 25th of August. The maturities are very close together, so the estate is expecting a very intense and short harvest!

Jean Marc showing his superb Syrah 
Photo 1 Muscat petit grains already slightly sweet, some grapes bronzed by the sun
Photo 2 with the magnificent chardonnay

Replanting … a little each year

In some aspects, the work of a winegrower is an eternal cycle of “restarts”. Planting for example. Whether it is regularly replanting missing vines, or entire plots, there is always a need to renew the vineyard.

This year, 0.5 ha of Syrah were replanted in May. Planting is a very heavy undertaking as weeds must be regularly pulled out by hand and pickaxe: a long and gruelling task. So, on purpose, Jean-Marc voluntarily replants every half hectare.
Next year, another 0.5 ha will be replanted with Syrah.

A hectare of Viognier will also be replaced by Rolle, a grape variety perfectly adapted to the hot and dry climate of the region.  

Plantation of 0.5 ha of Syrah the 10 May
A successful planting – all the grape vines have started to grow their first shoots.  
Photo taken July 31st

The Saga of Water continues…

As we were talking about in the 7 Pierres report, here too, water is terribly lacking. This year has been exceptional in the Spring, but often it doesn’t rain a drop from March to April anymore and the temperatures become very hot day AND night!

As a result of long discussions, today the producers are finally allowed to practice drip irrigation. It will be a very controlled system on a total area of 1200 ha. No winegrower will be able to start irrigation without the authority from a controlled platform, with the total possible quantity will be 100 mm per ha.  It will then be up to each one to manage with this quota.

The Domaine des Homs will gradually equip its vineyard with drip irrigation on the driest or most sensitive areas.

Organic Wines available:

All wines at Domaine des Homs are certified organic by Ecocert.

The 2019 vintages for Chardonnay, Viognier, Rosé and l’Amandier are available. A very expressive vintage with much elegance.

Clots de Pals 2018 has just been released!  There are still a few bottles of Cuvée Paul and Les Gravières 2017 –  our two vintages that won gold medals at the Millésime Bio competition at the beginning of the year – then we will move on to 2018 very soon.

The bottling of the Clots de Pals, Paul and Gravière 2019 was done in mid-July. The wines will age in the bottle before leaving the cellar to develop their aromas.

Grenache taking care of the grapes … !

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