“She’s been with me since the beginning,” says Olivier Pithon as he strokes his grazing cow, Laïs, “she’s very special”. Pithon can only be in his early forties, so – with over 22 years together on the clock – I imagine that Laïs has been the most longstanding woman in his life; certainly, they seem very comfortable together. She wears a large bell on a collar around her neck, which jingles with every chew.
Pithon started making wine here in Calce, a village in the Haut-Rousillon, in 1997. His positioning is particular – nestled between the Black Mountains, the Pyrenees and Corbieres, less than 30km from the sea, and almost at France’s southernmost tip, he has hot, dusty summers, breezes galore (but also protection from fiercer winds), plenty of rain and warm, rocky schist soil. The name Calce also hints at the flavour profile of the village’s wines: mineral, saline, and not necessarily what you’d expect from grapes ripened in southern French temperatures.
When Trevor describes the first time he came to visit Pithon, moons ago, he says he could hear donkeys braying from a mile away. They grazed near Laïs then and, together, the cow and the donkeys represented something essential about what Olivier Pithon is doing here. “One of the most important things about being biodynamic is having animals,” says Trevor, “where there’s a vineyard, there’s a pasture”.
Surely, though, Laïs represents more than just biodiversity to Monsieur Pithon? Why else would he have given her name to two of his flagship wines? The 2017 vintage of his Cuvee Laïs in white – a blend of macabeau, grenache gris and grenache blanc – has newly been added to our list, and the 2015 red – blending carignan, Grenache noir and mourvedre – remains.
Pithon is our September wine focus and we’ll be pouring Wednesday visitors to Bread and Wine a glass on the house all month.
Words by Mina Holland, photography by Elena Heatherwick