Château Maris, Wine And More

The Château Maris logo not only looks smart, it actually encapsulates the philosophy of the winemakers at work. It tells us that wine is not just a produce of nature, but that it is also the creation of a universal, open mind, not unlike that of what was once known as Renaissance Man. The dove as messenger of peace, within a round which recalls the solar and lunar cycles while reminding us that our actions are part of the flux and reflux of cosmic energy. Above and below the dove’s wings, four dots evoke the elements: earth, air, fire and water, whose interaction we must attempt to understand, even if it often appears to defy rational analysis. And considering that wine is as much a cultural and spiritual phenomenon as it is biological, these four dots also remind us of what Carl Gustav Jung called the “ways of knowing”: intuition and sensory perception, thinking and feeling.

Put it all together and that’s quite a message to put in a bottle. Nevertheless, wine lovers will be happy to learn that the most immediate and much appreciated news is bottled here as well: a delightfully sophisticated wine. From year to year Château Maris reaps increasing rewards, not only thanks to word of mouth from enthusiastic oenophiles, but also by way of recognition at wine tastings of Languedoc’s best vintages, not forgetting the vineyard’s Ecocert certification as a producer of organic wines subject to strict quality criteria.

The destiny of Château Maris, Domaine des Comtes Méditerranéens, located at La Livinière, 40 kilometers from Narbonne, took a decisive turn in 1997, when Englishman Robert Eden purchased the domain from Monsieur Maris. Eden was certainly aware of the history of what was already one of Languedoc’s acknowledged vineyards in a region where wine had been cultivated for more than one thousand years, the first in fact to grow wine in France. The domain had long obtained the coveted Minervois La Liviniere Appellation. The new owner, however, was intent on taking his vineyards a step further by enhancing the quality of his wine through organic and biodynamic growing and wine-making methods.

His first decision was to concentrate his efforts on the best suited 50 hectares of his 85-hectare property. 40 hectares were reserved for the vineyards, while another 10 were planted with diverse crops which play an important role in implementing the sustainable development methods. Eden and his team immediately began to rejuvenate the domain and the wine-making process by experimenting numerous techniques in the aim of regenerating the soils and providing his vines with the elements which would enable them to fully express the quintessence of the land. Thanks to the Ecocert certification obtained in 2003, Château Maris was able to take this philosophy a step further.

So how does this quiet revolution affect quality? In Robert Eden’s mind, organic wine-growing is not least about putting a philosophy of well-being into motion which is as much about the people he works with as about defining their relationship to nature, wine-growing and wine-making. Thanks to methods respectful of environment and biodiversity, organic wine-growing both protects and enhances the object of its attention. First of all these methods limit erosion and runoff thanks to a vegetal cover during the winter months and thanks to absolutely refraining from the use of industrial agrochemicals, thus protecting both surface and subterranean water resources. By doing this, the vintner quite simply protects the health of his vineyard, of those who work there and of consumers in general.

The production standards for organic farming are defined in European regulations passed in 1991. Among other things, they specify that they must have been applied for three successive harvests before the vintner may label his bottles as “wine made from organically grown grapes”. Moreover, these wines must be certified by an appointed agency which performs regular on-site controls, today making organic wine-growing the most strictly controlled agricultural production of all.

On a practical level, this method, by uniquely combining contemporary and ancestral knowledge enhances the interaction of vines, soil and climate. It uses a variety of organic fertilizers – composts and dung from ruminants – whose minerals slowly mix with the soil, thus limiting the danger of nitrate leaching. The organic matter increases soil stability, protecting against erosion and runoff and improving the vines’ root growth.

While there were only a few organic wine growers in France in the early eighties, at the end of 2002 statistics showed that approximately 1400 of them were applying organic methods to 15,000 hectares of vine. Among organic methods, biodynamics appeal to 10 to 15 % of French growers. In biodynamic agriculture, cosmic cycles and the rhythms of nature take on an important role, as do homeopathy-inspired vegetal preparations designed to balance and revigorate plant life rather than cure it once maladies have struck.

This is the philosophy applied at Château Maris. The keyword here is quality, which is most evidently expressed by voluntarily limiting production to 35 hectoliters per hectare, a figure one associates exclusively with the very best wines in the world.

This initial decision allows the vintner to devote himself to the specific needs of his vine varieties, in this case Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The domain features three major types of terrain, and each site is dealt with individually. There are stony terraces, sandstone marl featuring a mix of clay and limestone, and soft limestone ground, whose light color is due to the presence of calcareous stone and marine fossiles. Each of these soils has its own characteristics in terms of acidity, water retention capacity and of course natural vegetal cover. Companion planting during the winter months – mustard, tansy phacelia, rye, vetch, feed radish etc. - provides protection for all lots and supports the development of microbial activity. In the spring, this blooming vegetal carpet attracts thousands of insects as natural pollinisers, doves and cailles fly in to feed and rest. The domain produces its own biodynamic compost and the vines are further strengthened thanks to watering with nettle, sneezewort, camomile, dandelion and horsetail infusions. Recently, Château Maris has begun to work certain parcels with Percheron plough horses, thus adding another “vital element” to the cultivation of its best vineyards.

Following the manual harvesting and sorting of the grapes, Maris’ winemaking remains true to the same philosophy. The harvest is treated with great care, fermentation in wooden vats is carefully monitored using indigenous yeast strains, before aging the wine in wood casks for 12 to 18 months.

This lengthy and delicate labor of love results in five cuvées whose individual personalities are honed to bring out the best:

- Château Maris La Touge AOC Minervois La Livinière, made from the Syrah variety, harvested from parcels representing all three types of soil; it offers execptional complexity and finesse.

  • Château Maris Vieilles Vignes Syrah AOC Minervois La Livinière, made from the property’s oldest Syrah vine stocks, this cuvée boasts a rich personality infused with the warmth of the sun. 100% of the cuvée aged in wood.
  • Château Maris Vieilles Vignes Grenache AOC Minervois La Livinière, a very Mediterranean wine, whose personality is defined by its provenance from parcels of the traditional goblet shape, where the vines are surrounded by dense garrigue and the stony white soil reflects the strong sunlight. 100% of the cuvée aged in wood.
  • Château Maris AOC Minervois, a rigorous selection of the best AOC Minervois parcels, resulting in a wine which perfectly embodies the characteristics of biodynamics.
  • Maris Syrah Vin de Pays d’Oc, a seductive, fruity wine, in which the character of its native soil nevertheless transpires.
  • All of these wines are proof of the energy and intelligence with which Robert Eden and his collaborators extend this generous approach to every aspect of growing and making wine. All employees, foremost among them Daniel Berthalon, the vineyard’s manager, share the belief that only a coherent and harmonious integrated process can produce great wines by biodynamic methods.

    You may not even have to travel to La Lavinière to witness this phenomenon, although you should not miss it given a chance. Instead, you may want to book a table at François Plantation, quiet and exquisite elegance is the ideal setting to enjoy a bottle of Château Maris, whose wines grace a thoughtfully assembled list, adding a touch of philosophy to your culinary pleasure.

    Source: Tropical Magazine n°16, season 2006-2007

    Photos: Jean-Jacques Rigaud

    Text: Vladimir Klein

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