“A berry from schiste is like a diamond from the soil,” says Roussillon winemaker Olivier Pithon. At first glance, schiste doesn’t look so precious, a soil like pale broken pottery, weathered fragments of compressed clay that would suggest an unwelcome home for vines.
But schiste is actually desirable bedrock for growing grapes, carrying more minerals than limestone and reflecting and retaining the sun’s heat effectively. The vines’ roots delve deep in search of water and pick up nutrients which give the wines of Cotes Catalanes, where Pithon is based, their signature minerality and complexity.
Pithon grows just one parcel of red on schiste; it’s his rich whites that really showcase the character that this soil imparts. “For me, schiste soil is perfect for white,” he says, “It lends a sweet, unaggressive acidity.” And, as Trevor points out, while schiste cannot accommodate a high density of vines – smaller berries and fewer of them makes for “wonderfully focused fruit” – this paradoxically creates ‘dense’ whites, with a full, opulent mouth feel.
The D-18 2016, a Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc blend that we’re newly listing, is a good example, almost tannic in character, giving it freshness and a long finish now – but also the quality it needs for ageing. A diamond from the soil, indeed.