An idiomatic expression in French, Belle Lurette means, “a long time ago.” This is a cuvee based on old-vine Carignan planted on the north-facing and terraced slope of Brigitte’s vineyard situated at the northern edge of Faugeres. Here the soils are schistous and rocky and the exposure allows for a simultaneous ripening of the sugars and phenols of this challenging variety. The remaining varieties in this cuvee, Syrah and Grenache, are planted nearby and benefit from the same exposure and long maturation.
Leaving her native Bordeaux and the employ of Jean-Luc Thunevin, for whom she was the export manager, Brigitte Chevalier settled in Faugeres with the intention of starting her own estate. For years she had been drawn to the unique terroirs of Faugeres and its rugged landscape hugging the Massif Central in the far northwest corner of the Languedoc. Faugeres is a borderland where the gentle climate of the Mediterranean meets the wild and unpredictable weather of the central upland of France. Through diligent research, Brigitte was able to locate a group of vineyards in a remote part of Faugeres centered around a ziggurat-shaped hill at an elevation of 320m above sea level. This location affords a range of exposures from north-facing, then around the slope of the hill facing east before finishing with full southern exposure. Underneath these sites is the classic soil of Faugeres - schist. This distinctive soil stretches from Faugeres southwestwards into Saint-Chinian creating wines with pronounced acidity and minerality - qualities that make these two regions stand apart from their neighbors. These factors: soil, exposure and climate, combine to allow Brigitte to makes wines that suit her palate, what she calls, “Vin du Nord in the South.”
Brigitte currently makes three cuvees from her vineyards in Faugeres. The first, Les Bancels, is a local term for the dry-stone terraces that are common in this hilly region. These terraces have been built and rebuilt for centuries and have allowed these rocky slopes to be farmed. Since the underlying rock is friable it has a tendency to slip and erode, but this quality also allows for the roots of the vines to penetrate deep into the bedrock below. Les Bancels comes from north-facing vineyards of Syrah and Grenache with a small amount of Mourvedre that faces due south.
Il y a belle lurette, an expression in French meaning, “a long time ago,” is the inspiration for a cuvee of primarily old-vine Carignan planted with a full northern exposure. Belle Lurette is an homage to this ancient and indigenous variety which is witnessing somewhat of a renaissance - on both sides of the Pyrenees. There is no doubt that Carignan has an affinity for schist, as any fan of the Priorat can attest, and in Brigitte hands, it shows a delicacy and power that makes one wonder why so much of it has been uprooted and grafted over these last few decades. She adds a small amount of Grenache and Syrah to this cuvee to round out the blend, both of which also come from north-facing sites.
While Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan are fairly common in Faugeres, accounting for the bulk of the varieties grown there, Mourvedre remains fairly rare. Felgaria, the third cuvee that Brigitte makes from her vineyards in Faugeres is unique in that it is currently the only Mourvedre-based cuvee produced in the region and by extension the only Mourvedre-based cuvee grown on schist in the world. Mourvedre is late ripening, requiring plenty of sunshine and warmth to reach full maturity. This would explain both its scarcity in Faugeres and its use mainly as a compliment to the more widely planted varieties in the appellation. With full southern exposure in the warmest vineyards that Brigitte farms, her Mourvedre is perfectly situated to achieve full ripeness while balancing its varietal characteristics of dark fruit and spice with its more feral components of fresh herbs and cedar. To this Mourvedre she adds a small portion of Grenache and Syrah from her north-facing vineyards nearby.
In addition to the poised and elegant wines that Brigitte makes from her vineyards in Faugeres, she makes another cuvee from a terroir equally capable of producing elegant wines. The frisson between Grenache and sandy soils is legendary. Some of the greatest wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are sourced from sandy soils such as the Cuvee Chaupin from Domaine de la Janasse or the incomparable Chateau Rayas. Ex Arena, meaning “out of the sand,” is a cuvee that Brigitte makes from Grenache vines planted on sandy soils that are nearly 40m deep in a place just 20km from the Mediterranean. Brigitte adds a small amount of Mourvedre, about 10%, to this cuvee, to add a touch of bass notes to this blend.
With the goal of making a northern style of wine in the south, Brigitte is meticulous in her farming and winemaking. Her vineyards are certified organic and everything is harvested by hand and transported in small bins to her new cellar built into a hillside nearby. Viewed from the outside, this cellar barely rises above the surrounding landscape and the only indications of its existence are a pair of doors, a cement pad and a few small windows. Through one of these windows, the grapes are fed into fermentation tanks in the cellar bellow. Brigitte prefers native yeast, and whole cluster fermentations as well as aging in tank. For the Felgaria she ferments and ages the wine in demi-muid. Macerations are gentle and the wines are pressed with an old manual press dating to the early part of the last century.
In choosing a name for her Domaine, literally grounded in Faugeres, Brigitte took as inspiration an ancient goddess of the celtic tribes of the region, Cebenna. Mentioned by Julius Cesar in the first century BCE, Cebenna was worshiped in the area between Beziers and Nimes and her memory is preserved in the name of the mountains that form the southern boundary of the Massif Central, Les Cevennes. On a clear day in Faugeres, on the northern horizon you can make out Cebenna’s silhouette formed by the peaks and ridges of Mont Caroux, a profile that is reproduced on each label of wine from Domaine de Cebene.