Julie Benau, aka the wine goddess of the Languedoc, is making some seriously cool wines in the south of France. We have long loved all the exciting things happening in Languedoc - the necessity of reclaiming a unique identity and experimentation lead to fun wines! Though it was amongst the first areas of France to be winemaking, the area has long been known for volume production and cooperatives. Since the 80s, some of the most creative and committed winemakers are now making fabulously worthy wines in this Mediterranean region of France. Julie’s familial vineyards are located in Picpoul de Pinet, the only region in France named after its most famous grape varietal. Picpoul de Pinet is a notoriously racy white grape, with tongue prickling acidity. Julie makes wines that both honour the terroir and bring a sense of youthful fun to a wine region that perhaps doesn’t get all the love it deserves. Julie comes from a wine family. Her father and grandfather both worked managing the local cooperative. In the 80s, her parents purchased a 16th century farmhouse that included 15 hectares of vines. For a long time, the family sold their grapes to the cooperative. In 1999, Julie returned home to the vineyards after a time studying wine formally and completing an internship in the Rhone Valley. Since then, she has made wines of high quality, neither selling her grapes to cooperatives or purchasing grapes to make wine. She makes her wines with sustainability in mind, farming organically and creating higher quality, more concentrated wines by reducing yields in the vineyards. Her winemaking follows the same philosophy: she uses no conventional interventions, even eschewing the addition of sulfur in some of her wines. While she does everything to amplify the characteristics of her family’s grapes, she also experiments, using grapes atypical to the region and winemaking techniques are less common in that part of France.
This version of Picpoul is a singular and inviting expression of the grape. The grapes spend time fermenting on their skins, gaining texture and aromatics, before resting for 10 months in fiberglass. There are only 375 cases of this wine made - it is a special treat to be able to enjoy the Southern French jewel here in Alberta. This wine is truly vivacious, living up to its name “Chichois a la Barquette” which roughly translates to the “wild stuff that went down at the party” in the local dialect. This wine, while a total curiosity, is full of juicy five alive-type flavours, making it totally worth sharing. It has a voluptuous mouthfeel which is nimbly balanced by the bracing acidity that comes with the grape. In one word, yum!
Tempranillo and France are two things you hear about together too often, but this is a perfect example of the kind of experimentation that happens in the lovely Languedoc. While Julie focuses mainly on Picpoul, she makes this fabulously thirst-quenching Tempranillo that is a far cry from the famous examples that come from Rioja. It is vibrant purple in colour and best with a touch of chill. Juicy, with flavours of just crushed blackberries and gently ripe blueberries. It also has a healthy dose of gravelly minerality and a touch of herbaceous funk. This is the ultimate backyard red. With enough oomph to enjoy with a barbeque, it is also completely quaffable.