According to Olivier Pithon, there is a saying between Bordeaux and Narbonne that the men from each city take women from the other depending on which way the tramontane is blowing. We like to think that, equally, the women might take the men – should fancy take them – but, sexism aside, this is a maxim about the incredible power this northern wind is considered to have in the south of France. Not least among winemakers.
The tramontane blows from near Bordeaux right down to the Mediterranean and in between the Pyrenees, a cool, dry wind that stops the berries getting damp and keeps them clean. Sometimes it brings rain with it, too, conveniently offering the grapes the climatic equivalent of a wash and blow dry.
In the pocket of Haut-Roussillon in which Pithon grows his grapes – the Côtes Catalanes IGP – the tramontane works in tandem with the marin, an onshore breeze from the Mediterranean which brings humidity to the vines. This is particularly crucial during summer heatwaves, when these southernmost parts of the country get baked by hot sun; the marin gives the leaves and fruit moisture when intense rising heat would otherwise scorch them.
Together, the two winds work to offset the often-ferocious conditions in Haut-Roussillon. And because Pithon isn’t allowed to irrigate in summer and can’t control the cold and wet in winter, he relies on the balance of moisture and ventilation that the marin and tramontane offer in tandem, offsetting the possibility of jammy or flabby wines at one end of the spectrum, and of damp and rot at the other.
The Côtes Catalanes’ savoury white wines have been described by our Head of Wine Operations, Victoria Sharples, as sometimes having a “Burgundian style”, which perhaps hints at the singularly balanced conditions the region offers, relative to other parts of southern France. She calls Pithon’s wines “captivating in character”, and on that note we invite you to come and be captivated at Bread & Wine every Wednesday evening of September, when we’ll be pouring a glass on the house to every diner.
Words by Mina Holland, Photographs by Elena Heatherwick