Château Flotis began in 2004 when three colleagues working together at Domaine le Roc (including the wife of the owner) bought this ancient, and nearly derelict, 44 hA domaine (26 hA in vines) in the southwest corner of the appellation. It has taken years of labor to coax the vineyards back to productive health. Vines not worked for decades were cautiously reintroduced to regular plowing and pruning. The rows were again permitted a spontaneous cover of grasses and flowers. Parcels not suited to the terroir were ripped out. Organic practices introduced early on yielded official Ecocert certification in 2012. Sheep now graze during the vines’ dormant months. The vines are now naturally producing balanced crops of healthy grapes capable of showcasing this estate’s ideal terroir.
Terroir and exposition are what initially drew the partners to the Château. At nearly 200 meters above sea level it is among the highest in the appellation. This was literally the grand, decaying house on the hill, the sort of project everyone dreams of taking on but so few actually have the means or courage to tackle. The soils are classic Fronton gravel and boulbènes caillouteuses, a pebbly, clay alluvium rich in silica and nearly devoid of calcium. Perfect Négrette terroir!
Négrette has been the emblematic cépage of Fronton since at least the 12th century and for over a century its been grown nearly nowhere else. Of the approximately 2,000 hA planted worldwide over 95% are planted within the Fronton AOC. When well sited and skillfully handled it produces enchanting, aromatic wines: well structured, darkly colored, low in acid and with very soft tanins. Typical fragrances and flavors include red and black fruits, black pepper, licorice and flowers – violettes and peonies are most frequently mentioned although the wines from Flotis lean towards dried roses and tea rose.
However it’s not all roses and silky tannins, Négrette can also be an enfant terrible. It requires acidic soils low in calcium to produce at all; yet if not severely pruned its natural fecundity leads to uneven ripening or worse – rot. Late to flower, it needs hot, sunny summers to mature but suffers terribly in drought. The thin skins are known to burst in heavy rain. Most problematic is that after phylloxera, when grafted onto Vitus labrusca rootstock, the vines became terribly susceptible to a laundry list of maladies – coulure, downy mildew, odium and botrytis among them. These weaknesses pose significant challenges for any vigneron; enormous hurdles for those working organically. This is not a grape to be left to an unskilled or inattentive vigneronne.
Of course winemaker Katia Garrouste is neither unskilled nor inattentive. The health of her vines is impeccable thanks to the work mentioned above. She shows a thoughtful and restrained approach in the cellar. Once de-stemmed the grapes enter the cement tanks by gravity. Only spontaneous fermentations are used and macerations are gentle – pumping over every other day is sufficient. Malo, like alcoholic fermentation, is spontaneous and the wines are clarified by gravity. No fining or filtration. “My only tools are a press and a pump” she said laughing with a sweep of her hand showing the absence of any other equipment or gadgetry in the chai.
Cuvée Jeanne comes from a single parcel of Négrette on boulbènes with a subsoil of containing marl, iron and other metal oxides. Found at the bottom of a gentle slope, the soil here is naturally deeper and more fertile. Yields are generous and the resulting fruit is juicier, fresher; showing more red fruits than black. Elevage lasts 18 months in cement tank. The cuvée is named for friend and painter Jeanne Lacombe who generously presented six paintings to be considered for labels. Rather than choose just one they’ve opted to use all six in series. Collect them all!