Jean Louis Denois has made strides in quality over the last few years, which his customers and the wine trade now acknowledge. Followers of the estate's wines will have noticed this progression from 2006, when he decided not to use any more weedkillers and go back to ploughing.
From fine wines to entry level to base wine for sparkling, the winemaker shows the same conviction to work as naturally as possible. Wine quality depends on technical choices:
White wine quality stems from finesse and very pure aromas where body and raciness meet, which depends on pressing, the first moments of a wine's life, and selections made between the first-run must and pressings.
The reds are fruity and elegant with supple tannins.
Successful winemaking depends on being thorough, patient and keeping an eye on each wine. As every bottle evokes a place or variety, technical choices are fundamental.
Technology would be nothing though without a mind directing it: repeated tasting and intuition are the best guides for winemaking.
This doesn't make sense to Jean Louis Denois unless it helps enhance terroir and wine style. So why machine harvest if you lose 10% of volume and can't do any sorting, why de-alcoholise if you can simply pick earlier, why filter wines early on if you can wait for them to settle out naturally during the cold winter?
"Over the last 30 vintages, I've had the opportunity to taste most of the world's wines while travelling; and I've discovered most winemaking techniques. We're going round in circles and inventing nothing new, we must get back to basics: simplicity, perfect grapes, extreme hygiene and a little patience."
The vats aren't top-of-the range with all the latest technology like at those top châteaux; but are temperature-controlled and different sizes nicely suited to each plot. They let you do cold pre-soaks for several days and load whole berries by gravity (without crushing or pumping), and keep them intact for 'whole-berry' fermentation. This is a priority for getting fruit and supple tannins.
Total time in vat is 3 to 4 weeks. First the grapes ferment for 10 to 12 days, and the temperature doesn't go up much for gentler extraction. Daily pumping over and two or three rack-and-returns of all the must promote alcoholic fermentation and gentle extraction of the wine's phenolic compounds.
After fermentation, the grapes are removed and lightly pressed: a big airbag gently pushing them against the mesh, then the new wine is decanted before going into cask or vat for ageing on lees.
From the beginning in Limoux in 1988, Jean–Louis Denois has experimented with every modern winemaking technique to arrive at this conclusion in 2003:
"The least possible intervention in the winery is the best way to enhance the complex individual characters of each variety and site; that doesn't mean 'laissez-faire or leave nature to it', but being prepared and anticipating every step in the best conditions from the vine onwards."
A constant eye is kept on the ageing wines: regular topping up of barrels and monthly analyses until bottling.
Throughout the ageing process, there are mysterious exchanges between wine and oxygen; that's the point of ageing, like bringing up a child, for preparing it to stand up to life and time passing.
Very few new barrels are used, prefering varietal character and fruit to oak. Maturation times for the top wines have also been reduced, from 18-24 months to 10-12 max and racking every 6 months to avoid oxidation and retain more fruit in the wines.
Blending is the decisive moment in creating each wine, it rallies all your talents.
"Each vat of wine is my baby and tasted regularly to understand the vintage profile early on, what's special about each lot; in a word, their character!"
Time isn't paramount when trying to express a sense of place and find the right balance between house style and vintage character. This detailed work calls on your memory of taste, sensitivity and intuition for anticipating the future of maturing wines.