Return to the Vineyard – Harvest 2020 at Figuière, Cotes de Provence

August 31, 2020

The harvest has already started at Figuière at the end of August. This year, the grapes are harvested from two sites in the Côtes de Provence : the coastal side at La Londe, and the inland vineyards at Pignan.

Geographically, these two regions are very close with only 35 km of distance, yet are very different from a climatic and pedological point of view with differing grape maturities by about 15 days. 

This is the second year since the acquisition of these additional 30HA of vineyards in Pignan, and the Figuière team is up for the job!

In this report you will find :

  • A follow-up of the vegetative cycle since last autumn and the work carried out in the vineyards. 
  • Organic Pest Control – MicroWasps!
  • A comparison of two typicities within the Côtes de Provence – sea side vs in-land
  • A tour of the cellar and available vintages

Autumn 2019 – Winter 2020

Autumn was wet, but without the violent Cévennes episodes, thus water reserves were replenished. Since last autumn, it has rained about 650 mm, which corresponds to a “normal” year, in comparison to recent dry years where the rains have brought only 250 mm of water over one year.

Winter, on the other hand, was mild, creating an advance in the vegetative cycle with an early bud burst. The vines were 2 weeks ahead of schedule when a cold air wave from Eastern Europe with temperatures down to -5°C damaged the first buds of the vine shoots the night of March 24th.  This isolated episode caused a loss of about 30% of the harvest at Barbeiranne (inland Pignan vineyards), and about 50% of the 15 ha affected at La Londe.  The rest of the winter was frost-free.

The soils of the estate on the two sites are generally well-draining and allow for good evacuation of the regular rains. In addition, the estate plants crop-covers between the rows, which helps the penetration of water into the soil.

This year in Provence, as in other regions of the South of France, the pressure of mildew was very high. François Combard evaluates that there was no significant impact on their estates because they managed to protect the vines at the right time from the beginning of the vegetative cycle.

All the organic treatments are contact only – nothing systemic.  François Combard explains that he prefers to apply small doses even if it means doing them more frequently. They better protect the vineyards while keeping the quantities applied per hectare low.

This year, Spring rhymed with confinement everywhere in France and the estate was reduced to a small team. However, this confinement did not concern the vineyard and all the important work in Spring was done normally.

Video: François Combard explains his Rye cover crops.

Serene Flowering Season & Early Harvests

The flowering went well. After the frequent autumn rains, the weather was classic Provencal with a radiant sun. The vine took advantage of these water reserves and the sun’s heat to develop properly.
These perfect growing conditions continued throughout the summer, where unlike the rest of France, Provence did not experience a heat wave, and the vine did not experience any stress.

All this led to an early start of the harvest on August 12 for the vines of La Londe. Semillon opened the vintage, followed by Syrah, Grenache, Rolle and Ugni Blanc.

The last week of August was very hot – a warm mistral wind blew over the region during the whole week, accelerating the maturities and the rhythm of the harvest. Only 50% of the harvest was left to complete at La Londe on August 28th.  However, on the evening of Saturday 29th August, a small (3 mm) rainfall was recorded, which slowed down this intense pace. Temperatures went from 40°C to 26°C in a few hours. Even very small rains can have a significant impact on the alcohol levels, such is the case here at Figuière, who is taking a break to resume harvesting in a few days time.

This is a perfect illustration of the tailor-made work during this intense harvest period. A control of the ripeness, the daily grape tastings – these are the elements that allow François Combard to decide which parcels are ready to be harvested. Decisions are made on a day-to-day basis by taking into account the climatic elements that can cause plans to change. By listening to the daily life of the vineyard, a quality harvest and finesse in the wines show afterwards.

In the days to come, the Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre grapes will be harvested.

A team of agronomists came by at Figuière to study a micro-wasp population protecting our grapes from harmful insects. An organic solution to fight pests ! 🐝

Organic Pest Control 

Figuière has been working organically for 40 years; the La Londe estate is Ecocert certified.  As soon as they took over Barbeiranne, an estate located in Pignans and bought by the Combard family at the end of 2019, they immediately started a conversion to organic farming for the entire vineyard.
For the Combard family, nature is a luxury and organic farming a necessity.

In the vineyard, François Combard exploits many elements of biodiversity development in their vineyards. A natural balance between species allows for reduced treatments, and Figuière often works in collaboration with scientists to promote the establishment of natural predators of vine pests.

We had followed their work for the establishment of bat nests and chickadee housing last summer. This year, they hosted a team of agronomists to study a population of micro-wasps that protect grapes from harmful insects.

The first grape musts seem a little reminiscent of those of 2018 with a light colour, a lot of crunch, fruit and finesse.  Obviously it is still early to say and we will have to wait until the whole harvest has come in to confirm this feeling.

Climate & the Vine: La Londe vs Pignan

Since Vintage 2019, the Combard family now owns two estates: Figuière in La Londe, 5km from the Mediterranean coast, and Barbeiranne in Pignans, further inland.

Only 35 kilometers of distance separate two very different micro-climates and landscapes. At La Londe, the the Mediterranean moderates temperatures in summer and winter. Budbreak is always earlier on the coast due to a milder winter. Conversely, summers are more ventilated and cooler than inland.

If one makes the way from Figuière to Barbeiranne, one crosses part of the Maures massif to arrive at a large inland valley surrounded by the Alps and the Maures mountains. More precisely in the heart of the Muschelkalk massif of Flassans, bordered to the north by the Issole plain and to the south by the Permian depression which runs from Fréjus to Toulon.  The soils are clay-limestone from the Permian period – very different from the schists of La Londe.  
The vineyard forms a kind of amphitheatre where at the level of the central depression is a Muschelkalk (dolomitic limestone) covered with a layer of recent alluvium.  This particular configuration protects the vineyard from the dominant winds and the sea entrances allowing it to benefit from a more continental climate with greater thermal amplitudes than on the coast.  Winters are colder where temperatures can drop below zero, and Summers are warmer with nights that remain around 30°C. Indeed, the amphitheatre structure of this valley does not allow ventilation and the heat can quickly rise.  Concerning the vine, in Pignan this leads to a later ripening of the grapes compared to La Londe.

The grape varieties are typical with Rolle, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault.  At the end of August, the vintage has just started with the Rolle: 4 ha already harvested of the 34 ha. 

Each production site vinifies its own grapes, allowing the harvest to be chilled and put in vats very quickly. The harvest starts at 3 o’clock in the morning so that the last pressings are done before 10:30 am, still in the cool temperatures.  
Modern technology has also helped manage the harvests.  Last year, the Combard family invested in a cooling unit to gain 2°C of temperature on the grapes and press cooler harvests. Here too, the aim is to maintain the freshness and finesse of the aromas.

Figuière Wines Now Available

Méditerranée : IGP Méditerranée

Blanc 2019: 100% Vermentino (Rolle) – Notes of citrus, lemon, delicate white grapefruit peel, white jasmine and sweet hay.  Juicy, slightly saline finish, and a perfect apèro wine.

Rosé 2019 : Spiced Red currants, watermelon and juicy red berries perfume the nose.  The palate continues with a silky, fruit-forward finish!

Rouge: Black currants, baking spices and blueberries comprise the bouquet. The palate follows with cassis and floral violets.

Signature : Côtes-de-Provence

Valerie 2019 Blanc: Zingy and zesty! The wine is full of lemon drop, citrus balm, and fresh summer grass.  The palate has notes of green banana and honeydew melon, with a lime zest finish.

Magali 2019 Rosé: The nose is filled with dried rose petals, pink peppercorn, pink watermelon and basil.  The palate is crisp and dry, with a pretty floral finish. 

François 2018: Spicy black plums, savoury saucisse, and leathery notes are present on the nose.  The palate is very savoury, and the tannins are structured enough to pair with BBQ ribs.

Première : Côtes-de-Provence  – ORGANIC CERTIFIED

Blanc 2019: On the nose, crushed almonds, white jasmine, and tarragon complement the lush Meyer lemon.  The palate continues, but in addition dried pineapple and sweet hay.

Rosé 2019: The nose is rich in spice and fruit: pink peppercorn, juicy apricot, white peaches, and just-ripe strawberry.  The palate is rich in texture that finishes on notes of tart raspberries in the mouth.

Rouge 2017: Smoky cigar, cacao power and a hint of mint are present on the nose.  The palate is spiced with black pepper and smoked cedar, with tannins perfect for grilled red meat.

Confidentielle : Côtes-de-Provence La Londe – CERTIFIED ORGANIC

Blanc 2019: The nose is very tropical with dried mango and perfumed bourbon vanilla.  The palate has flavours of whipped pineapple and creme fraiche, with a touch of tonka bean spice.

Rosé 2019: Fleshy yellow peaches and juicy red strawberries perfume this wine. The same fruits continue on the palate, but bush garrigue notes and pink grapefruit zest follow. The palate is richer with texture, minerality, and nice refreshing acidity. This is a gourmet wine, great to pair with food or to age!

Rouge 2017: The nose is sweet; sugared blueberry pie, ripe plums and blackberries.  The palate continues with cassis and vanilla bean, and beautifully integrated tannins.  A great pairing with roasted lamb.

Atmosphère 2018 : Methode Traditionnelle – ORGANIC CERTIFIED

Tasting Note: Crisp and fresh on the palate with pink and white grapefruit peel adding a zesty lift to the bouquet.  The mouth has more citrus peel – juicy lime and lemon – with pink strawberries and raspberries that give this wine vibrancy!

Pionnière 2018 – Rosé of Gastronomy  – CERTIFIED ORGANIC

Since Figuière Pionnière 2018 made its October debut, it has only continued to evolve beautifully!  A blend of 60% Mourvedre and 40% Grenache grapes, this rosé has been aged for 9 months in 2-5 year-old oak barrels.  As the family’s history is from Chablis, applying this same wine ageing technique as the famed Burgundy white wines, was an easy adaptation.  

Tasting Note: Tasting this wine truly blind in a black glass would easily place it among some of the finer oak-aged white wines of the world.  The integration of the wood is incredibly balanced, giving texture to the wine but allowing rich strawberry, quince and white peach fruit flavours to be expressed on the palate.

If you are passing through the region, the wines of Figuière are served at l’Assiette, the Combard family restaurant in the heart of the vineyards of La Londe, which will welcome you all year round. 

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