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17 September 2021

France, Roussillon: Domaine of the Bee

This is the first full update on Roussillon wine producers since I published my book on the region (did I mention it already?! Click there for details), focusing on new vintages and releases from wineries featured in the book, and potentially any new-to-me places that would then be slotted into the winery guide sections for a future edition. Domaine of the Bee was tentatively launched in 2004 (some old vines purchased) by Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, wife Amanda and business partner Philippe Sacerdot. Their first vintage was 2007, unleashed in 2009, and they are working on the 15th vintage at the moment. You'll find the full story and commentary on their wines over the years in the book. Notes on 2019 vintage reds, 2020 white and rosé and English bubbly are posted below.

Hector the 'magnificent 100 year-old Grenache vine.'
To set the scene, here are a few developments and observations gleaned from their amusing Buzz newsletter (e.g. World Bee Day headed up with a picture of a gleaming bidet) or from the horse's mouth. The 2021 vintage in the Roussillon has been marked by drought (unlike elsewhere in France), whereas 2020 threw up a long damp spring succeeded by a more-or-less typical summer. The 2019 vintage saw Domaine of the Bee red and Les Genoux (see below) switch appellation status to Maury Sec, the Côtes du Roussillon Villages sub-region introduced ten years ago, which is a good idea for a very small producer like this to enhance their individual vineyard plots inside the zone (they are all in it). In contrast, three 2.25L BIB wines were launched this summer via a new upmarket wine boxing company: the 2020 white and rosé and Land of the Bee, 'a one-off limited parcel of juicy young Carignan.'
Back on the ground, Justin wrote recently that their approach is increasingly influenced by what's become known as 'regenerative agriculture', which appears to have many of the common-sense shades of organic and biodynamic farming without the official certification (and some of the pitfalls it could be argued). Indeed, the estate's name isn't just window-dressing as there are active hives on their land, while backing initiatives such as #WorldBeeDay and #Savethebees. The Bee people have a UK, US and Hong Kong website with online stores: prices here are £GB (wine club price and retail) and $US (for previous vintages where quoted in brackets).

2020 Field of the Bee white IGP Côtes Catalanes (13% abv): Grenache blanc and Grenache gris sourced from vineyards owned by Jean-Marc Lafage (whose Château Saint-Roch property near Maury is where the Bee wines are made and matured), some of which are over 100 years old, and aged for 3 to 4 months in oak for 20% of the volume (used barrels) following typical cool fermentation.
A touch awkward, lees-y and grainy when first opened (not uncommon in a white wine like this that hadn't been bottled long when I opened it, although three months ago now), but after a day open it really blossomed with honeyed and peachy notes, zesty yeast-lees, juicy and fresh yet with rounded lightly nutty underbelly, concentrated too. £13.20 members' price / £16.50 retail ($30).
2020 Bee Pink Côtes du Roussillon rosé (12.5% abv): Also made from grapes purchased from Lafage's vineyards, this lively blend of Grenache noir, Grenache gris and Syrah makes for a tasty easy-drinking dry rosé. Aromatic rose petal tones with zesty red berry fruits zipped through with zingy pink grapefruit flavours, juicy crisp and quite intense turning creamier on the finish too. £12 / £15 ($25/$30).
2019 Domaine of the Bee Carignan Côtes Catalanes (14.5% abv): From their one-hectare La Roque vineyard planted with 80+ year-old Carignan (bush vines), which are destemmed without crushing to allow some carbonic maceration (to release colour) before fermentation partly in stainless steel and two 500L barrels, before pressing then ageing in used barrels.
Light coconut notes and texture underlying its lovely balsamic wild blueberry and black fruit aromas and flavours, smooth rounded mouth-feel with supple grip and nice freshness; still fairly structured although concentrated with lingering finish showing spicy sweet/savoury fruit, light bitter twist and subtle oomph. Delicious, very good. £18 / £22.50.
2019 Domaine of the Bee Maury Sec (15% abv): Made from 'the best barrels of Grenache (60%) and Carignan,' where 'the first Carignan picked is fermented in stainless steel tank and the rest of it with all the Grenache is cold-macerated in upturned 500L barrels (the end is taken out), before being warmed up, inoculated with yeast and punched down two to three times a day. After pressing, the wine was drained into 500L and 225L barrels (approx. 25% new) and left to mature for 18 months.'
Fairly oaky to start, slowly revealing aromatic kirsch and spicy dark berries, powerful punchy palate with relatively soft tannins for its age and dark chocolate overtones, weighty and concentrated with lingering oomph, spicy fruity finish with the oak integrating better after airing. The next day, it seemed less oaky with attractive texture mixing firmness, juicy dark fruit and savoury notes too. Good stuff. £20/£25 ($50).
2019 Les Genoux Maury Sec (14% abv): Grenache, Carignan, Grenache gris, Grenache blanc from 100+ year-old vines in their Coume de Roy vineyard. Similar winemaking to above although two of the open-top casks 'were filled with whole bunches, crushed under-foot and plunged by hand twice or three times a day during fermentation.' The wine was 'drained into one 500L Seguin Moreau Icone barrel, and the pressings blended with other Grenache pressings in another 500L barrel.' These two were aged separately for 15 months then both casks were blended together.
Smoky coconut oak edged with perfumed ripe berries and cherry and savoury black olive undertones, shows fair weight yet a certain elegance too, the oak is still a little dominant but layered with peppery sweet fruit and attractive firm yet rounded tannins, subtle depth? Second day: nice silky palate with upfront coco oak, peppery and ripe finish. Good although expected a bit more for the money; it does linger though and is dangerously easy to drink, perhaps leave it for six months to a year and see (if you can)? £36/£45 ($75).

And as previously posted here, Justin, Amanda and team also produce a classy English Sparkling Wine called Hart of Gold. Back in the day when Justin was a buyer at Waitrose supermarkets, he was involved in the planting of a vineyard on the John Lewis Partnership's own farm called Leckford Estate in Hampshire. He also bought English wines for Waitrose and previously for Safeway and Sainsbury's then for Laithwaite's / Direct Wines (another company that's invested in English vineyards for fizz production).
This classic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier blend (2014 vintage, 12% abv) was selected from a vineyard in Herefordshire and made at the Ridgeview winery in East Sussex. The finished base wine 'spent nearly six years in the bottle in contact with the lees before disgorgement in March 2020' (when the sediment is removed and the bubbly recorked), which means much longer ageing than many currently available 'traditional method' bubblies. Classy and elegant with quite rich toasty biscuit notes and long crisp lemony finish. Like all good quality English fizz, it is expensive (£28 / £35) but that's a good deal less than say Bollinger and equivalent to the price of own label or small grower vintage Champagne. I believe the 2014 is now sold out, replaced by 2015.

Other most recent updates on latest releases from Roussillon wineries:
Domaine Modat here and here (Dec 2020-Jan 2021).
Roc des Anges here and here (Jan-April 2021).

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