Stocking the cellar

As we settle into our new life in Orthez, top of mind was to refill our cellar.  So one of the first field trips we planned was to one of our favorite local winemakers,  Domaine les Pentes de Barène in Tursan, about 45 minutes from our house.  If you are a white wine fan, you may recognize the name, as their wines have often been featured on the wine lists at Le Pichet and Cafe Presse, and I wrote about our first visit there a number of years ago.

It was  a pleasure to see winemaker Gaëlle Vergne again and to taste her dry white from 2021, which is labeled under the Tursan appellation, and her sweet white from 2020, which bears the name “Le Doux de Barène” and the IGP Landes.  The sweet white was only recently bottled after spending an extra year on wood for richness.

The ravages of climate change have definitely been felt in the SW of France.  Gaëlle said that last year was very difficult, with spring frost that threatened the flowering vines, and a very hot, dry summer, that saw such a lack of water that birds, deer and rodents were invading the field, seeking the water in the grapes to quench their thirst. She also talked of intense rain the previous winter that caused a landslide that actually swept away about 100 of her vines – Pentes means “slope” and les Pentes de Barène are indeed on a very steep slope facing the Pyrenees.

It is a privilège to be able to support independent artisans who are doing everything right:  Domaine les Pentes de Barène is the smallest producer in Tursan, organic, bio-dynamic and still manages to turn out excellent wines at a very fair price. Hopefully Michael and Marcel will continue to feature their wines at Le Pichet!


“Independent winemaker: Authentic wines and personalities”

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Domaine de la Graveirette “Ju de Vie” rosé 2018

New to the wine list at Café Presse and Le Pichet! The “Ju de Vie” rosé from Domaine de la Gravereirette is ideal for summer quaffing or as a match for summer dishes.

Le Domaine de la Gravereirette is located in the heart of Provence, along the sunny southern reaches of the Rhone river, between Avignon and Arles. Winemaker and owner Julien Mus works his 20 hectare property using organic and bio-dynamic methods and is Demeter certified since 2015. His 2018 rosé is made with a blend of Grenache and Syrah grapes, for a wine that is both summer refreshing and mouth filling enough to pair with tomatoes, chicken, pork or oily fishes (sardines, mackerel or salt cod, anyone!).

The summer is short, try it while you can, including during Happy Hour, when all our bottles are available to enjoy here at Take-Out prices!

Cafe Presse Happy Hour from 4pm to 6pm everyday

Le Pichet Happy Hour from 3pm to 5pm Monday to Thursday

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Now on the wine list at Le Pichet

Located near where the geological zones of the Bordelais and the Languedoc converge, the tiny wine region of Cabardès has always been a bit of an anomaly. Here, the vines of the two regions coexist and combine to make some very interesting wines.  Find out for yourself when you try this recent addition to our wine list: 
Maison Ventenac “Il etait un fois…” Cuvee Jules 2016 Cabardès
Made from Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, it is full of dark fruit and spice, with a dense, smooth finish
Maison Ventenac is certified sustainable by Terra Vitis  and is in the second year of a three year conversion to full organic.  And its just yummy!

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M de Pentes de Barène


M Tasting Oct 2017 (2)

In May of 2017, I wrote a post about a wonderful visit we had to Domaine les Pentes de Barène in Tursan, an tiny wine growing region in the SW of France.  I mentioned that our host, Gaelle Vergnes, had given us two bottles from their first ever bottling of a sweet wine, which they make uniquely from the petit manseng grape.  They call this wine “M de Pentes de Barène” and the entire 2016 production was only 250 bottles.

Sweet wines from this region have the capability to age for a number of years, so, accordingly, one of those bottles is currently slumbering peacefully in a cool spot in our house in Orthez. The other made the trip back to Seattle with us.

Madame Vergnes recommended that this wine not be tasted before August of 2017, so we obediently resisted the temptation to crack it open until this month.  We had our first taste in the company of a platter of the Jambon de Bayonne, the iconic ham from the SW of France.  Délicieux!

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Domaine les Pentes de Barène

A few of the very limited supply of bottles from Domaine Les Pentes de Barene

A few of the very limited supply of bottles from Domaine Les Pentes de Barene

If these bottles look familiar to you, it may be because you have ordered one before at Le Pichet or Cafe Presse, where this white wine from the Tursan region in  southwest France is one of our favorites.  I have certainly drunk more than my fair share of this versatile, mouth filling wine recently.  Domaine les Pentes de Barène is a white that has dry acidity to pair well with seafood but also the body and richness to be a great match with a roasted chicken or even pork.

I recently had a chance to visit the Domaine les Pentes de Barène and was surprised to find out just how tiny it is.  At just over 1.5 hectares (about 3.7 acres), les Pentes de Barène is officially the smallest domaine in the Tursan AOC. Owners Daniel and Gaelle Vergnes are the entire staff and together produce about 5000 bottles a year, with nearly every step done by hand.  That includes hand harvesting in multiple passes through the vines to insure that only mature grape bundles are included, and even hand filling, corking and labeling every bottle. Continue reading

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Winemaker visit in Jurançon

I took advantage of an old friendship to arrange a visit with a winemaker in the region of Jurançon, which is only 25 minutes or so from the house in Orthez.  Our good friend Gerard Boisseau is a wine professional of impressive stature and a long-time agitator for biologique (organic ) and biodynamique  wine making.  So it was no surprise that he recommended a visit to Chateau Lapuyade – Clos Marie Claire, where winemaker Jean-Joseph Aurisset produces certified biodynamic wines.

Chateau Lupuyade

Without belaboring the explanation, biodynamic farming is basically an extension organic farming’s prohibition on the use of chemicals and manufactured fertilizers.  To this, the biodynamicist adds farm methods that spring from received peasant knowledge, including working in harmony with the cycles of the moon, the use of plant and mineral “teas” to support the growth of plants and fight maladies, allowing weeds to grown among the vines to encourage biodiversity and a balanced environment, in short viewing nature and all its elements as allies to work with instead of enemies to be battled against.

Jean-Joseph inherited his vineyards and his metier from his grandfather, and it was he who added the “Clos Marie-Louis” to the chateau name in honor of his grandmother.  Today, his two daughters, aged 14 and 16, help in the vineyards and in the cave, even producing their own barrels of wine, but Jean-Joseph stresses that they haven’t yet made up their mind if wine making will be there future (although he makes no secret of his desire to one day pass the chateau on).

Like many small wine domaines that follow biodynamic methods, Chateau Lapuyade is really a working farm. In addition to 8 hectares of vines, the property also includes forest land, pastures and fields of grains and hay for livestock.  The family also make their own jambon de Bayonne, foie gras conserves and dried sausages and Jean-Joseph works part time in his farm-equipment business.  The farm runs on the work of the entire family, including Jean-Joseph’s mom, who graciously offered us a few plates of foie gras toasts, sliced sausage and ham to accompany our tasting.  Even the in-laws lend a hand, being especially adept at the preparation of nettle teas that are a vital part of the biodynamic methods.

Jurancon 2015 4

The farmhouse and vineyards at Chateau Lapuyade. Notice that the vines are trimmed very high, to help them better negotiate the frost that comes with the Bearnaise winter.

Jurancon 2015 3

A field of gros manseng vines.

In Jurançon, the wines are traditionally whites, both dry and sweet, made from gros manseng and petit manseng grapes.  Both of these at Chateau Lapuyade are excellent, especially the sweet Cuvee Marie-Louise, which is made from grapes left on the vines until well into December and aged in old oak barrels for 3-4 years before release (the chateau purchases used oak barrels from Chateau d’Yquem).  Last year the chateau produced only 600 bottles of this cuvée.

Tasting in the cave which formerly was the berger which housed livestock.

Tasting in the cave which formerly was the berger which housed livestock.

Jean-Joseph also makes a not very common Jurançon rouge, from tannat and cabernet franc grapes, a wine he claims is just to amuse himself, and for home drinking.  I found it a  nicely balanced, medium body wine, ideal with the local specialty confit de porc, pork loin slow cooked in porc fat and served with roasted potatoes tossed with chopped parsley and garlic.

Some other astuces described by Jean-Joseph;

*Spraying with teas made from ferns foraged on his property helps ward off mildew on leaves for grapes.

*Before his conversion to biodynamic farming practices, Jean-Joseph decided when to harvest based on chemical analysis of the sugar content of his grapes.  Now, as soon as he sees the birds begin to eat the grapes, he knows it is time to harvest.

His biodynamic teas are all made with spring water from a natural source at 1500 meters altitude in the Pyrenees.

*He never undertakes any activity involving nature, meaning just about everything on the farm, during a new moon.

*Applications of fermented seaweed around the base of the vines activates  their energy.

You get the idea.




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Photos of the Desvignes Family

Bob Peterson is a fantastic photographer, a great friend of Le Pichet and Cafe Presse and a personal friend of mine.  He and his wife Lynn are also fellow francophiles who have traveled extensively in France for work and pleasure.  After reading the recent post about the Desvignes Morgon that we are serving at Le Pichet, he sent along these photos of his visit to the Desvignes home in 2009.  Hope you will enjoy them.

Father and Daughter Winemakers ©Bob Peterson

©Bob Peterson

Louis-Claude and Claude-Emmanuelle Desvignes ©Bob Peterson

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August 2011 Wine feature: Desvignes Morgon

Wine Feature:
2009 Domaine Louis Claude Desvignes “La Voute Saint-Vincent” Morgon

Currently available in limited quantities on the wine list at Le Pichet and
to take home with you.  Special take-out wine prices apply to go bottle purchases,  including 10% discount on orders of 6 or more bottles with pre-order.

Please call Le Pichet for availability and special August pricing for this wine.

A perfectly roasted chicken may be my favorite thing to eat bar none.   It combines absolute simplicity of preparation, an absolute minimum of  ingredients and and an absolute reliance on the quality of the star attraction, the chicken…it encapsulates in a single dish the ideal esthetic of simple, well prepared food.  Because it is so simple, there is no hiding any imperfections in technique or in the quality of product.  Because it is so easy to do (although some people, including some professional cooks, still contrive to do it badly), one can find wonderfully delicious roasted chickens in a wide range of settings.   Whether it is purchased from the rotisserie in front of a Paris butcher shop and enjoyed on a sheet of Continue reading

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