On the Trail in Limoux

Back at the beginning of May, we visited with our friend James Kinglake of Domaine Begude. A lot of changes were happening at the vineyard; not so much in the winery’s practices (they are still certified organic) or with the new plantings (they just added a some new hectares), but rather James and Katherine’s daughter, Millie, had gone off to boarding school in England earlier in the year. The new decision was to move Katherine and her parents back to England to be closer to their only child. So the day we caught up with Begude we found James in the midst of a little chaos getting passports for the dogs (so much for open borders!), packing up his in-laws (who were living on the property), and getting the rest of the house ready so that they could live a life of dual residences commuting back and forth between England and Limoux.

When Domaine Begude was conceived, back in 2003, James and Katherine Kinglake left their lives in the financial sector in London and moved to the south of France to take over a winery and begin their family. Within months of arriving, Katherine was pregnant with Millie and the long project of restoring the house, building a new winery, and replanting a vineyard was underway. We began working with them on their 2005 release and now, some ten years later, we are working with the majority of their wine portfolio.  

We started with an off road drive around the property, never getting above second gear while climbing the sloping hills of the vineyards. James related stories of people sneaking on to the property to do a little of their own ATV driving, forcing the winery to put up barriers so people wouldn’t drive off into the nearby gullies or canyons which would not be fun for anyone. We talked about the new plantings of pinot noir, the hidden grüner veltliner vines, and the expansion of the role of viognier in the winery’s portfolio. We also talked about the difficulty of having neighbors that are not practicing organics and the effect that can have on their farming. Challenges seemed abundant everywhere.

After our off-road excursion through the vineyards, we did some tank and barrel tasting in the winery. James ran through our favorites, including the Bel Ange chardonnay (all stainless with a splash of chenin blanc) that has just arrived and the sauvignon blanc which is due in a few weeks. We also talked about some of the appellation’s rules regarding the use of the designation Limoux. Limoux, as an appellation, is most famous for its sparkling wines, but still white wine can be produced as well. Begude’s high end chardonnay is known as “L’Etoile” and being their highest tier wine is appellation designated. We tasted through various barrels and the results are outstanding. The chardonnays are pure and precise with loads of stone fruit flavor. Some wines are aged in a mix of new and used 600L barrels that are swapped out after the fourth or fifth use. A wine that we have really begun getting traction on is the standard pinot noir and the 2015 results are stunning.  Famed wine writer Jancis Robinson has continuously lobbied the appellation board for recognition of this grape in the appellation, alas to no avail.

After our tasting we hopped in the car and went to town for lunch at the restaurant l’Odalisque.  The restaurant is best known for its seafood (the Mediterranean is less than an hour drive from Limoux).  We had the sauvignon blanc as an aperitif with a little cappuccino of langoustine soup and a crab and cucumber salad.  But the showstopper was the viognier-seared sea bass, mussels and asparagus (pictured below).

Without a doubt, the 2015s are the best wines produced at Begude to date. The ripeness of the vintage translates well into the depth and character of the wine. Let’s not forget that, in general, the fruit they're producing is more mature, they’ve continuously gotten better at making wine, and they know what they want to deliver in the bottle. Lush, pure, varietally-correct wine for a fraction of what you would get in any other region in the world. And, they do it all organically while living a life that includes family and adventure. 

-Keith Mabry

Keith Mabry