Meet the Winemaker: Magali & François Combard, Figuière – Provence

Hello Magali & François, where are you from?
Magali: I come from wine! My father started his career in wine in Chablis. Then I went to study in Paris, where I worked until 2004. Then I joined my father and François and I moved to the estate in La Londe.
François : I am originally from Chablis.

What do you enjoy in life? François : I like to see friends, artists, to redesign the world.
Magali : I like eating, cooking, traveling, reading, walking … I like LIVING !

What don’t you like?
Magali : I don’t like stress
François : the lack of imagination

What do you like to eat or drink?
François: I like to discover new wines and I like simple food, cuisine that respects good ingredients.
Magali: I liked the wine I tasted last night, “Grain cinq”, a Valais wine produced by the winemaker Marie Christine Chappaz from Domaine des Claves.

THE COMBARD FAMILY, THEIR WINES, THEIR WORK

Which vintage did you like to vinify?
Magali: Confidentielle 2011, which I tasted very recently – Mourvèdre was very present with its spicy, liquorice notes. The wine didn’t age a wrinkle!
François: I liked the 2017 vinification, a very hot year, the harvest had started very early, on August 14! I remember that there had been 2 wildfires, including one the day before the annual summer Figuière festival.
It’s a solar vintage, it’s also the year in which we vinified Figure #1 100% Mourvèdre, the first of a series of experimental vintages that we vinify according to the typicity of the vintage.

When did you decide to settle down on the Figuière family estate?
François: For me it was in 1997, I was in Marseille. I had the the life of a Bohemian, I could easily come back to work on the estate with my father, for the grape harvest and as needed for viticultural work. The estate was then in full growth. My father had told me that I had to come and work with him. Either I would join him or he would sell.
He let me think about it for 6 months, and I said “ok”. It went very well with him. I love the vine, the land, the environment.
Magali: I arrived in July 2004. Dad really wanted to share his passion with his children. In December 2003, in his 60s, he had gathered his adult children together and explained to us that if we didn’t come back, he would sell because he wanted to slow down. Delphine, our sister, did the same thing as me, and moved to Provence.
I had a Parisian life, young children, I loved the Provence region. I had plans to open a guest house and it was a proposition that I liked.
Family is very important to us; Mom lives among her children and grandchildren, we all live next to each other on the estate. We have this family fiber, our friends are also our cousins, including Sebastien who has just moved here and who opened the restaurant, l’Assiette, on the estate.

What do you like in the Provence region and in this particular region of Provence, La Londe? 
Magali: the beauty, the climate, the art of living, being close to the sea AND the mountains, the land.
Dad is from Salon de Provence and mom is from Nice.
François: the sea, dad was sailing. When he left Chablis, he was looking to settle down and he had looked for estates all over France: in the Loire, in the Languedoc … One day, he arrived here, it was January, it was raining. He tasted the wines which were very good. In 1990, the guide Parker had quoted 3 domains: Ott, Figuière and ??. He fell in love with the site and bought Figuière. It was an expensive purchase, leading to a strong debt. At the beginning, they had the boat in Marseille, and they slept every night in the boat.

FAMILY VINES, FAMILY DOMAINE

Why did you decide to make organic wines? Does the climate of the Provence region make organic viticulture complicated? Since when did you make the first trials?
François : When our father, Alain, arrived, the estate was already organic, since 1979, and Alain was totally committed to this method of cultivation! However, at the time, there was no communication on the bottles and the wines were distributed via organic stores.
Alain wanted to take over an estate and make gourmet wines, he wanted to work with the restaurant business!
What convinced him to pursue this organic approach was the quality of the wines and the good condition of the vineyard with a correct production – in Figuière everything was organically grown and it worked!
For his part, the former owner liked Alain and was happy to sell to him.

What are the traditional grape varieties in La Londe, Provence? 
Mourvèdre brings structure to rosé wines, it is responsible for the aromatic notes of blackcurrant buds, eucalyptus, grapefruit, resinous, and in red wines, it brings notes of liquorice, zan, black fruits, rosemary.

Rolle (Vermentino) is freshness and finesse. It is a very delicate grape variety with aromas of white flowers, lime, etc…

Cinsault is finesse, it is the link between the different grape varieties in the rosé blend.

The Grenache is the power, the warmth, the most fruity with its notes of red fruits.

The Syrah, we have a little bit of it in the Magali cuvée and especially in the red wines. It brings spices, cherry and blackcurrant notes.

The Tibouren is very aromatic, it is very interesting in the blend. It is an early grape variety that matures quickly.
It is complicated to cultivate: fragile and sensitive to diseases, and produces a lot of vine shoots. But it is an autochthonous grape variety, adapted to the region. We have some of it on the estate.

What defines the terroirs of La Londe? 
François: The schistes soil and the proximity of the sea – There is humidity which comes in the evening that makes the rosé and provides hydration. When you pass the Maures massif, you don’t have it anymore.

Why is La Londe an exceptional terroir to produce rosé wines?
François: La Londe gives wines with silkiness, finesse and a very marked minerality. It is these elements that differentiate La Londe from other AOC Côtes de Provence.

THEIR WINES TODAY & TOMORROW

Are there different vinification methods for rosé, red and white wines depending on whether you produce the Méditerranée, Signature, Première or Confidentielle range?
François: Everything stems from the plot selection, the choice of terroirs and grape varieties on these plots. And then it is the blending that defines our different wines.
Magali: The Première wines come from schist soils, the Confidentielle wines are our crus, they come from the Londe terroir, with a lower production yield.

You have recently purchase 35ha of inland vines, from Chateau Barberianne. Is there a different vinification with grapes from La Londe vs Pignans?
In Pignans, the vines are planted on clay-limestone soils and the mouts are more generous and more structured. These musts will go into the Signature range produced from the two terroirs: Pignans and La Londe.
Signature corresponds to the richest wines in the range. In our region, when you progress through the range, you increase in finesse and delicacy.

What changes have you seen in Provence in recent years?
Magali: We’ve seen an evolution over the last 15 years, especially with the transition from an initial “trendy” phenomenon to a daily consumption of rosé today: we ourselves drink a lot of rosé.
However, what remains a great frustration is the reputation rosé has as a “little wine”, because it is associated with its sunny terraces and holiday lifestyle. However, our rosés are made like a white wine, and just as there are very great white wines there are very great rosé wines.
François: There is a lack of education, and also many brands that do not play the game of terroir.
However, Provence is the region known for producing quality rosés. We have a rosé technical center devoted to the research and study of rosé production, and to host technical meetings where we exchange on the life of the soils, biodiversity and environmental issues.

What climate and vinification evolutions do you see in recent vintages?
François: In 2020, we did not experience any drought or heat wave, but the last few years have been hot. Mourvèdre, a late grape variety, doesn’t rise too much in alcohol, so we are orienting the plantations in the vineyard to have more Mourvèdre, in order to adapt to the hot years when they are like these last years. For the last ten years or so, mildew has been very common, but we were very little affected by it before.

What do you like in a wine : that it keeps, that it is good right away …?
Magali : the immediate pleasure, whether it is good old or young, whether it is lively.
François : that it is good in the 3 dimensions.

What typical local cuisine do you recommend with your rosés?
Magali: There are many delicious things: sea urchins, shellfish, grilled fish, tagines with Provencal vegetables.

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