How a Couple in Southern France Reflects Terroir in Every Glass
It’s 1701. Jean Baptiste d’André arrives in southern France, about an hour from what today is the Spanish border. He sees a particular parcel of fertile land with rich soils called Al Pech, meaning “hill” in the old romance dialect of Occitan. It’s a beautiful area, nestled amongst the rolling landscape of olive trees and vineyards, cooled by the coastal breeze. As it turns out, the site is perfect for farming everything from grapes to apricots. Jean Baptiste jumps at the chance and starts what would become a 300 year old French family domaine that’s lasted to this day.
Le Pech d’André, as it’s now called, takes the heritage of this ancient history and marries it with a deep scientific knowledge of biodiversity and farming to craft delicious wines in a natural way. This is the vision of husband and wife, Philippe and Mireille. They believe they’ve been entrusted with important land and they must do everything they can to protect, nurture, and preserve it for future generations. After all, this is what their ancestors did for them.
This responsibility starts with the soil. A unique combination of sandstone and limestone with some clay and mud, the soils of their Minervois region are dry and rocky, owing to low rainfall and high summer temperatures. Because Philippe and Mireille never use chemicals and only till with a light touch, they have managed to preserve the vitality of the soils. When you walk through their vineyards, you are walking on the same soils that Jean Baptise farmed hundreds of years ago. The earth is dark and rich. It teems with life, from healthy worms to necessary microbial minerals.
This magical earth gives life to an incredibly diverse ecosystem of plants, trees, insects, and animals. Biodiversity is at the heart of le Pech d’André.
First, the vines. With thick, hearty roots and expansive, green leaves, the vines take full advantage of the hot sun and dry soil for nourishment. Healthy vines last, with some over 65 years of age. If Philippe and Mireille think the vineyard needs help, they may intervene with natural methods only. Perhaps they’ll add some fermented vegetables to inject nutrients into the soil or use orange essential oil to protect the vines from mildew or mold.
Grapes flourish here. Specifically, Philippe and Mireille grow hyper local Mediterranean varietals that are not well known, but that are very well suited to the area. White grapes like Bourboulenc and Clairette and red grapes like Picpoul Noir and Alicante mature well with the humid winds from the ocean. The conditions are perfect for ripe, delicious fruit.
But grapes aren’t the only fruit this farm bears. A striking, almost dazzling diversity of life beams from every corner of these vineyards. Trees of almonds, olives, apricots, and figs mixed with wild herbs such as thyme provide color, fragrance, and food for the farmers. Chickens, horses, and sheep roam the nearby lands, with important insects like bees making frequent visits as well.
Nature provides this farm with much bounty. Outside of wine, le Pech d’André crafts capers, jam, honey, vinegar, and olive oil. Vegetables from the garden taste delicious. Their figs and berries are juicy and fresh. It is marvelous biodiversity on full display.
This symphony that makes up Nature’s life in Minervois is best experienced in a glass of Philippe and Mireille’s wine. Robust earthy tones dominate their reds, providing a strong backbone for a luscious expression of fruit. The acidity pops, giving the wine vivid personality. Dried Italian herbs such as oregano and thyme make subtle appearances, with darker black and purple fruits adding seductive undertones.
Philippe and Mireille don’t make a lot of wine every year. Their production is small and their focus is on quality over quantity. This is their life’s work. They judge their success based on how healthy their earth is and how honestly their wines reflect this sense of place.
With a son and a family of dogs, the French couple teaches us that we don’t need a lot to live a good life. A dedication to land. A respect for future generations. Fresh, local food. Honest wines.
With these simple ingredients for life, much like Jean Baptiste and the ancestors after him, Philippe and Mireille share their love of land, of history, of soil with us, all from their hill in southern France. We are so grateful for the chance to share their story with the world.