About the producer
Since purchasing the property in 2002 they have invested heavily into the vineyard and winery in order to produce some of the finest examples of red and white wines from the Minervois appellation in the heart of Southern France.
In the vineyard
AOC Minervois sits on the western side of the Languedoc Roussillon. The top vineyards in the region all have elevation – some, like in the foothills of the Montagne Noire (where Hegarty Chamans is situated), have slightly cooler conditions than on the baking flat plains below.
Since taking on the vineyards in 2002, John and Philippa have wanted to curate a biodynamic safe-haven free from any chemical farming to support the thriving biodiversity. The fact that the vineyards are completely surrounded by forests and are on the slopes above the flat plains of more commercial high-yielding vineyards means they are protected from any chemical spray drift.
Philippa and John experimented with yields and found cropping down to 25 hectolitres per hectare brought the quality they were looking for from the vineyard. As a comparison, Bordeaux typically crops at 40 hectolitres per hectare. The vineyards were certified organic in 2005 and became Demeter approved in 2010.
The four winds (Cers, Marin, Tramontane and L’autan) blow around the amphitheatre that the Chamans vineyard sits in and are a strong factor in shaping the wines' profile. Winds help dry moisture off the grapes helping to prevent disease and the surrounding woods create a natural windbreak for the vines.
Their property is situated within a nature reserve which has been protected since the early 2000s and means that the forests that help support the biodiversity of the vineyards cannot be felled and building development is severely restricted.
There are influences of the garrigue (scrubby bushes, fragrant wild thyme, juniper, lavender and fennel) which are rich in aromatic oils that leach into the limestone soils and these aromas can be found in these wines.
Animals are a fundamental element in the biodiversity at Hegarty Chamans. The estate raises a small flock of sheep which eliminates the weeds that grow between the vines and provides a natural fertiliser, supplemented by other organic manures. They also practice beekeeping, to preserve pollination.
They also prepare their own composts which are energised using specific biodynamic preparations. After spreading on agricultural soils, they encourage microbiological life and the mineral and organic richness which are at the source of the expression of their terroir found in the wines.
In the winery
Hegarty Chamans is always looking for elegance in its wines and takes special care not to over-extract – something that is too often a problem in warm sites such as the Minervois. The estate's aim is to produce aromatic, well-structured and characteristic Minervois wines. It uses large format 325hl barrels to encourage integrated and restrained oak influence, a silky texture and deep, nuanced flavours.
The Black Knight cuvee, made only in top vintages, is typically from the same favoured plots within the property. Syrah which makes up 80% of the blend always comes from their “Rabbit” vineyard – due to the exposition of the vineyard and the effects of a distinct red and white clay in the soil – it produces an unbelievable freshness to the Syrah from this site. The Carignan (typically round 10% of the blend) always comes from the oldest vines on the entire property – high up on the hill above the winery. The vines are 60-70 years old and have fantastic consistency each year. The Grenache is not always from the same site and is chosen after vinification.
Using only natural yeast, the grapes go through fermentation and undergo a four week maceration with gentle extraction and the wine is kept at a low temperature to retain aromatics with only the free-run juice used for the Black Knight cuvee – again retaining the elegance in the wine. The wine is then aged in a mix of one, two and three-year-old large barriques (300 litres) Stockinger and Seguin Moreau barrels for 22-24 months. It is this long élevage that creates the wonderful layered texture in the wine. There are lots of tannins in the wine and it needs this time to fully integrate in barrel. The wine starts drinking beautifully from 5 years and will age for a further 10-15.