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08 August 2011

Languedoc: Clos du Gravillas, St-Jean de Minervois

2012/13 update: oops, it's the old 'take far too many months to get round to finding and typing up these notes' ploy. So, here are their 'latest' tasty vintages sampled at The Real Wine Fair in London in May 2012 (including a white made from Terret gris and a 'Fino' style, for the first time); and some of them again in Jan. 2013 at the premiere of the Terroir-istes du Languedoc film screening in Montpellier (they're part of this terrorist band). There's some more info on Nicole, John and Gravillas below these updates (mostly extracted on my first visit in 2007).
2010 Emmenez-moi au Bout de Terret (gris) - intense nutty nose, concentrated richer almost 'toasty' side vs green 'mineral' freshness. Different. £12-£15
2010 L'Inattendu white Minervois (mostly Grenache Gris/Blanc and a splash of Muscat) - rich toasty and yeasty vs exotic fruit and roast hazelnut edges, delicious lush vs crisp and intense palate. £15-£20
2010 Sous les Cailloux des Grillons red - intense fruity vs 'inky' nose, grippy and fresh mouth-feel with smoky dark berry side. Yum. £10-£12
2008 Rendez-vous du Soleil red - pretty grippy with meaty edges, coconut texture/flavours too, quite rich vs savoury finish. £12-£15
2008 Lo Vièlh (ye olde Carignan) - similar savoury developing vs grippy and pretty intense profile, smoky and lush vs still tight and fresh. Needs time to open up. £15-£20
Oxytan (Grenache blanc aged under flor yeast (like Fino sherry), 2006 vintage plus topped up with others) - hazelnutty and yeasty 'Fino' characters, intense long and tangy; again, a little different and nice with it.

2011 updateJohn Bojanowski was one of several winemakers from the region to make the trek to London SE1 for the mucho-mentioned, on this blog anyway, first ‘natural’ wine fair (click there for more info) back in May. Read on below for a wee profile on this always worth tasting/drinking/visiting estate. These wines are priced from about £10 to £20 in the UK available via their agent Les Caves de Pyrène; send him an email for info on where to buy in the US and elsewhere. Latest reviews feature my 1 2 3 "scoring system" (see right-hand column for explanation); previous words and notes from a visit and tastings in 2007 and 2010 feature ye olde 100-point thing. And there's more here too, an enthusiastic note on their delicious Muscat de Saint-Jean 2009. As usual, it seems, my favs in London were his top Carignan, the 2007 Lo Vièlh ("the old one" in the Occitan lingo, I think) and the 09 vintage of their dry white Minervois was/is pretty impressively done as well.
2009 L'Inattendu white Minervois (mostly Grenache Gris/Blanc/Muscat) - honeyed nose and palate with subtle toast and creamy lees tones, refreshing mineral mouth-feel vs concentrated and quite rich, elegant balanced finish too. Unexpected in fact (ho ho: what it means in French...) 2
2009 Sous les cailloux des grillons red blend (see below for varieties) - nice juicy cherry fruit with soft tannins, has a bit of attractive 'bite' too. 1
2007 Rendez-vous du soleil red blend (see below for varieties) - liquorice with enticing wild herby edges, tight intense mouth-feel with nice spicy notes, gets lusher on the finish vs still firm and structured. 2
2007 Lo Vièlh (senior-citizen Carignan) - maturing nose with savoury and leather notes vs rich concentrated palate, lovely 'sweet/savoury' profile, again still quite solid vs nicely textured tannins then attractive smoky blast. 2-3

2010 update: I caught up with John and Nicole at Millésime Bio in Montpellier (meaning they go officially organic this year) and sampled some new vintages and new wines too. They are now distributed in the UK, US and Canada as well as Japan, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium.
2007 L'Inattendu white (Grenache gris, Grenache blanc) - nutty, lightly leesy, exotic and oxidative style nose; rounded with subtle wood tones, mature feel vs mineral touch. 87
2008 "sous les cailloux des grillons" (similar red blend to RdVdS below plus Counoise/Terret Gris) - lively cherry and blueberry fruit with smoky edges; juicy and tasty with mouth-watering finish, very nice now although has enough depth to hold back. 85-87
2007 Rendez-vous du soleil (CarignanSyrahCabernetMourvèdreGrenache) - firmer and more savoury in style; somewhat closed up and unrevealing yet has appealing, subtle intensity. 87+
2006 Lo Vièlh (ancient Carignan) - developing smoky fruit with ripe blueberry notes and a hint of tobacco; juicy vs solid with underlying sweet oak, great depth of fruit plus enticing dry vs ripe and rounded texture, powerful yet elegant. Needs a couple of years yet. 90+
2007 Côté obscur (Carignan) - "I've wanted to make a wine with this name for ages!" John explained (it does indeed mean "dark side" so start your Darth Vader heavy breathing now): wilder, funkier and spicier aromas; lively tasty fruit with crunchy berry vs liquorice profile, intense and long too. 89+

Nicole and, a little later, American John Bojanowski (becoming husband: "I just came here to drive the tractor," he quipped) arrived in the timeless Languedoc outback in the late 1990s. They have since planted Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Marsanne and Muscat among others, to complement Nicole's original 1 ha/2.5 acres of cherished 1911 Carignan and Grenache Gris. The estate now amounts to over 6 ha planted with no less than 13 grape varieties (a bit of a ner-nerdy-ner-ner to Chateauneuf-du-Pape perhaps?); all found on a 300m/950 foot-altitude plateau composed of the meagre chalky gravel soils that surround the tiny village of Saint-Jean, set in a stunning remote spot between the gorges of St-Chinian and the old Mediaeval city of Minerve (a must-visit when you're in the area). Their signature reds Le Rendez-vous du soleil and Lo Vièlh are made from old-vine Carignan (the above mentioned, almost 100 year old plus 1 ha planted in 1952 and relatively youthful 1970) - the RdV is now a broader blend, by the way, see below below. John is a big fan of this sometimes unloved variety and founder-member of a growers' group called Carignan Renaissance, who are actively shouting about their wines crafted from this awkward Med grape (see www.carignans.com). The family (there is a petit Bojanowski) also rents out the converted old village café, a two-bedroom gîte with terrace and quite nice view! Details are on their website below.
I tasted these wines with John on a daytrip in sunny but chilly late November 2007:
2006 L'Inattendu Minervois blanc (Grenache gris Grenache blanc, 14%) - milky and toasty with honeysuckle notes; full, rounded and quite rich finishing with attractive bite and freshness. 87+
2005 Vous en voulez en voilà Vin de pays Côtes du Brian (that's a local river, by the way, rather than Monty Python homage; made from all reds except Grenache, 13.5%) - ripe blackberry/currant, floral and spicy with liquorice tones; rounded and fruity palate v serious edges as well, firm and quite long. 89+
2003 Le Rendez-vous du soleil (Carignan plus a touch of Cab Sauv) – maturing smoky and white peppery, quite complex; liquorice and tobacco flavoured palate, concentrated and lush with fresh tannins and bite; very nice wine. 90+
2006 Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois – very floral and perfumed with white peach notes, the sweetness is nicely cut by alcohol and acidity, so it doesn't end up so sweet. 87

Clos du Gravillas, 34360 Saint-Jean de Minervois. Tel: 04 67 38 17 52, nicole or john@closdugravillas.com, www.closdugravillas.com.


  1. I was knocked out by the Emmenez Moi au Bout du Terret 2010 (I think) a white made from Terret Bouet. Nothing complicated about it so will never score highly, but it has a lovely clean minerally fliny mouth feel. I asked John about it at London Natural Wine fair and apparently the Japanese bought the remaining stocks (retails for about 7€ or so).

  2. Never tried it although doesn't surprise me, as John and Nicole seem to constantly come up with new wines in tiny quantities and sometimes only made in one vintage. John said there are a few more new things in the pipeline too! I've tried other dry whites made from terret though, can have a fair bit of character.
    Funny how we didn't bump into each other at the fair, or maybe we did and I didn't realise?!

  3. Aha, I have tasted it now Graham - see above.



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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.