Take one look at a photo of Bruno Duchêne’s vineyards, and you could be forgiven for mistaking them for the Mosel in Germany (minus the ocean views), such is their bewildering steepness. But actually, we’re in Banyuls-sur-Mer in France’s deep south, in the region known as French Catalonia or Roussillon. Originally from the Loire Valley, Duchêne set up camp here in 2002, acquiring four dry, sun-drenched hectares, all on schist at around 300 metres above sea level. Simply put, they’re downright impossible to farm with a tractor. Yields are notoriously low, and with the exception of the odd trot around with a horse, all the work is done with two arms and two legs.
Before learning how to make wine under the watchful eye of Burgundian maestro Fred Cossard, Duchêne was a wild mushroom distributor and his family made a name for themselves selling farm equipment; it’s safe to say agriculture runs in this guy’s veins. This is about as organic as viticulture gets, with minimal sulphur applications each year and absolutely no copper, and the grapes themselves are minimally handled – think whole-cluster ferments, hardly any punching down, and, of course, no fining or filtration.
Interestingly, his bottlings – La Luna, Pascole and Anondine – represent farming practices rather site compostion/terroir. La Luna is where the grass grows free and easy, Pascole is a hybrid and only partially ploughed by hand, and L'Anodine (magnums only!) is managed entirely by hand.
Grenache is his calling card here, with the occasional dash of carignan, syrah or mourvedre. His La Luna Rouge cuvée is the best way to get acquainted with this youthful, sappy style, jam-packed with savoury herbaceous punch and barnyard intensity. By all means a playful vin de soif in look and feel, but with much more going on. The La Maximus Pascole, meanwhile, exhibits red fruit and flower characters with the grunt of wet earth underneath; while Odin, a carignan and syrah blend, is darker, deeper and more powerful still. But what we really can't wait to rip into are the new additions to the La Luna range, Blanc and Rose. Blanc is a super textural combo of vermentino, xarel lo and chardonnay it's lively, fresh and smells like you're living on coastal-time. Rose is a big vibe with grenache, syrah and mourvedre bringing energy, vitality and lip-smackability in spades - two chef's kisses from us.
Moreish, complex in a strangely delicious kinda way. Everything here spells NATURAL WINE. There's only one major drawback to Duchêne's wines: there's never enough to go around. Sooooo as they say, if this winemaker is on your list to try, don't delay.