Wines - Exclusive Interview with Christophe Bouvet - Château Mouresse - Vidauban - Var
In the summer of 2010, perusing the short but promising wine list of the Bistrot d’Antoine in Old Nice, I plumped for a mid-range Côtes de Provence rosé that was unknown to me: “Classic” from Château Mouresse, at €28. It was seriously good: fruity but dry and with a pale pink blush. On the back label was the vineyard's URL giving its address in Vidauban, in the neighbouring département of the Var. Needless to say I beat a path to their door and tasted their other wines, all of which I found to be as good as that rosé - which cost only about €6.50 direct from the vineyard. So, with twisted shopaholic’s logic, I figured the more I buy the more I save! In due course, once friends and family had tasted those wines and concurred with their quality and great value, Château Mouresse became a staple of my cellar ever since.
Christophe Bouvet, the owner and manager of Château Mouresse, does not come from a family of long-established winemakers. In 2008 he was wanting a change from working in the building materials industry in northern France and he bought the vineyard, then covering 28 Ha, and moved his family south to the Var. In 2017 he acquired the neighbouring Domaine des Vérans comprising 32 Ha plus some fallow land, so he now has a total of 50 Ha under vines with another 10 Ha being prepared.
His energy, enthusiasm and astuteness have steadily built the business over the last 10 years, based on a compelling selection of wines, to the point where today demand is outstripping supply - hence the need to expand the vineyard. He offers AOC* reds, whites and rosés in 3 ranges:
Mmm : uncomplicated quaffable rosé at just €7.80 /bottle, ex-vineyard.
CLASSIC : mid range, accounting for 70% of sales, at €8.70 for white & rosé and €9.40 for the red.
Grande Cuvée, fine dining wines, representing 15% of sales, at €12.00 for the rosé and €16.90 for the red.
And 5-liter Bag-in-Box rosé for €25.00
Compared to anywhere in Northern Europe these prices are very reasonable indeed, especially for this high quality.
[*AOC = Appellation d’Origine Controllée]
In conversation with Christophe Bouvet :
You offer a broad range of red, white and rosé wines, so what grape varieties do you grow to produce these?
We grow Syrah (known as Shiraz in the New World) and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds. Rolle, Semillon and Clairette for the whites. And Cinsault and Grenache for the rosés. And we're experimenting with some Muscat. It is a heartening reward for all the hard work that I and the team have put in since 2010 that our wines have consistently won awards at the most prestigious shows: Gold, silver and bronze awards every year since 2010 from the Paris Agricultural Show. Gold and silver awards every year since 2013 from the Macon wine show. And Gold and silver awards every year since 2010 from the Provence wine show in St Tropez.
What are the main challenges you face as a winemaker?
Irrigation, irrigation, water and irrigation! Over the last 5 years we have experienced a marked reduction in rainfall in our region - in 2017 we didn't have any rain for 9 months and this caused a 20% drop in grape yields. And this year 2018 - which has seen plenty of rainfall - our yields were still 5% down because vines take a long time to recover from a drought. But four years ago we started digging ponds around the estate to collect water from natural springs - now we have 3 ponds - and this water is pumped to the vines. Then we noticed the ponds became home to some wild turtles! So we contacted the Village des Tortues in Gonfaron, 20 Kms down the road, and they came and had a look, and told us they are a rare local species called Hermann’s Turtles. They actually help to purify the water!
How are you responding to the increasing demand for organic wines? “Vins bio” in French.
We do recognise this shift in demand but I haven't applied for the green Bio label because I don't want to limit my options by having to follow a set of fixed ‘organic rules’. I already have to follow one set of rules in order for my wines to qualify for AOC status! Plus I have an issue with sulfites. The addition of chemicals called sulphites is necessary to preserve a wine in top quality between when it is bottled and when it is opened and drunk - because for instance during shipping it may spend a couple of hot summer days in a truck at 40°C. Too much sulphites will give drinkers a headache after only a couple of glasses. But we only put in the absolute minimum and no one ever gets a headache from our wines. But the Bio rules say nothing about what is an acceptable level of sulphites, and I think that makes a mockery of the Bio rules. We don't use chemical fertilizers - we make full use of manure from a large stables up the road! - and we don't use chemical pesticides or fungicides. We say our growing of vines is “culture ultra raisonné” [‘ultra responsible’].
Surely the absence of the recognisable green Bio label on your bottles will hit sales, as customers won't read the blurb about “culture ultra raisonnée”... Christophe just shrugs: I already sell all my production, so I'll take that chance.
How do you see the vineyard developing in the coming years?
We are happy that people love our wines and this means we can plan a rolling programme of investments every year; to improve the equipment in the cellar and to improve the land we farm. In 2017 we spent nearly €300,000 on 9 new temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, and over recent years we've invested €45,000 per Ha on preparing and nourishing the soil of new fields and planting new vines. Château Mouresse is a business and we are passionate about developing it, growing it and improving it.
The market leaders in Côtes de Provence wines are vineyards like Domaine d’Ott, Château Minuty, Château Sainte Roseline, Château Rimauresq, Château de la Rasque... While they do offer reliably good quality products, they are relatively expensive. I firmly believe Château Mouresse offers similar high quality wines but at far more competitive prices. So if you see it on a wine list I urge you to try it - I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
If you'd like to visit Château Mouresse it is 5 minutes southwest of Vidauban and, with its pleasant shop and tasting room, they welcome visitors throughout the year - for address, opening times, contact details, etc, see www.mouresse.com The website’s Contact page also includes the GPS coordinates and I recommend using them, because it's easy to get lost on the narrow country lanes out in the boondocks of the Var. Chin chin!