Grape(s): 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 20% Carignan
Localization: Languedoc, France
Tasting Notes: Terrasses de Larzac is so dramatic. It’s a testament to Julien’s training in Sancerre/Menetou Salon that he coaxes wine so cool, fresh, and amiable from the southern soil and climate. This certified organic blend of Grenache, Carignan, and Syrah makes my mouth water and my grill spontaneously burst into flames. As in a fairy tale, perfectly-seasoned 1/3lb. burgers rain down from the sky to land gently upon it, flipping themselves once, after 3.5 minutes. Fairy tales need updating.
Notes: From the moment the Les Petits Pas was created, Julien and Delphine’s intention was to create a charmer in their line of wines that didn’t take itself too seriously —hence the full color pinkish red label with neon green footprints, inspired by their children. Pas de L’Escalette is nestled up into an ancient roadway that connects the Languedoc to the north by way of France’s central mountain range, the Massif Central. This is a cooler wine country, far from the Mediterranean, so it’s plenty cold at night, even in the summer and this is what imparts their wines with more zippy freshness and crunchy red and dark fruits, which make it a perfect wine for warm weather. Les Petits Pas is a multi-parcel blend of organically farmed vines on limestone terroirs with a mix of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, and 20% Carignan. Each of these grapes naturally carries ample freshness which is magnified by a little chill, making it anything but heavy under the sun. It is indeed a compelling wine for us wine geeks, but it’s more of a drink it, don’t think it kind of wine, high brow and low maintenance at the same time. It doesn’t constantly tug at your sleeve begging to show you how good it is, it’s just good.
The Domain: Natives of northern France, Julien Zernott and his wife, Delphine Rousseau, wanted less intense winters and brutally hot summers so they headed south to fulfill their life dream of having vineyards and making wine. Before establishing Pas de l’Escalette, Julien went to wine school in Dijon and capped his work experience with five years in the Loire Valley in the Menetou-Salon cellar, Domaine Henry Pellé. Together Julien and Delphine craft some of the most precise and unexpectedly elegant, organic and biodynamically farmed vines in the Languedoc.
Delphine was working in the south and she met Julien when he was working at Henry Pelle. They had little money so they had to go somewhere where they could afford to start something. Through the years of commuting from the Loire Valley to the Languedoc (where Delphine lived), they passed through the Pégairolles Valley, and they knew that was the place. They found eight hectares of vines for sale in 2003, bought them, and five years later they quit their jobs and went all-in on their life project.
The philosophy at Escalette is simply to focus on farming their vineyards as naturally as possible using organic and biodynamic methods and do as little as possible in the cellar, save for a severe triage when the grapes arrive and precision with their winemaking. They use a minimal amount of sulfites in their wines (no more than 30mg/l, or 30 parts per million total in their reds and a touch more for the whites) and allow them to finish both fermentations without the help of enological products. Sulfites are employed only at the time of bottling so the wine has time to define its personality during its aging process without the abrupt redirection sulfites can impose during this time.
They eschew the use of new oak and use large older wood barrels and tanks to help sculpt their wines grown on limestone and clay soils; they use a range of wood vessels from 500-liter barrels, 20 hectoliter foudre, and 40 hectoliter vertical wooden tanks. In 2018 also added cement vats to the mix with the intention to further protect the high-toned fruit qualities that their cool-climate yields—a stark contrast to the majority of wines grown in the Languedoc, which are often dense, sun-soaked reds and usually uninspiring whites.
The focal red grapes at their estate are Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, and a tiny proportion of Mourvedre, a grape that is more commonly grown in the hotter areas of the south of France due to its need for a long growing season. (In fact, the only Mourvedre on their property was mistakenly sold to them as Cinsault for one of their new vineyard, Les Frieys. But they liked the result of its contribution to the final wine and decided to keep it.) The whites are principally Carignan Blanc, Terret Bourret (an acid beast of a white grape and the backbone of their minerally white Clapas wine), and Grenache Blanc. The principal grapes they use have a natural affinity to demonstrate bright fruit qualities when grown in cooler climates and are fantastic transmitters of terroir specificity—all defining features of the Escalette style.
Delphine and Julien maintain more than twenty hectares of vineyards on their thirty-four hectares of land. The age of their vines runs from newly planted to more than eighty years old. All of their new plantings are massale selections and the vines are head-trained (also called goblet).
The Languedoc is a massive swath of vineyard land responsible for the greatest volume of wine production between all of France’s wine departments. With such a massive quantity of land, there is a lot of diversity in soil type, microclimate and of course, wine quality.
The Terrasses du Larzac, where Escalette’s vineyards are located, is an exceptional terroir within the Languedoc; it would be too gross a generalization to lump it into the same category of wines from this extensive region with vineyards often fully exposed to an all-day supply of sun on softly undulating hills and flatlands. It’s on the northern fringes of the region and nearly a complete contrast, save for the amount of daylight it receives and its geographical location. While it has a few fewer sunny days than areas further south and away from the Massif Central, it’s more mountainous, with steeper hills and cliffs with vineyards between 300 and 450 meters in altitude and a much cooler climate.