In Calce, the wind never stops blowing.
A tiny village of around 200 inhabitants, Calce lies at the foot of the mighty Pyrenees, ten miles northwest of Perpignan, within striking distance of the Spanish border. Though technically part of the Languedoc-Roussillon, Calce is not French—it is Catalan. The wines from around this village have about as much in common with the vast sun-soaked enormity of the south of France as, say, Chablis does to the Rhone Valley. And, although Calce has been renowned as a viticultural area since the Knights Templar wrote admiringly about it in the 9th century, wines from this remote corner of southern France are still relatively unknown and underappreciated—even among the most dialed-in of cognoscenti.
Calce is a geologist’s dream. The variety of soils within such a compact wine-growing zone is mindboggling: there is brown slate and black slate; there are deep alluvial gravel deposits full of large, slick river stones; there is iron-oxide-drenched marl of a deep red hue; and, in most of these areas, the mother rock itself lies beneath a mere eight to fifteen inches of topsoil, demanding the tough old vines to plunge down, down, down for precious water. The soils here were formed in the last ice age, when the slate massif of the Pyrenees collided violently with the limestone massif of Corbieres—and Calce encompasses the folds, faults, and striations of that geological episode. Consequently, wines from Calce offer some of the most profound, most spine-tingling, most physically palpable minerality of any wines on the planet.
And that wind… Calce is constantly buffeted both by the fierce “Tramontane” roaring down from the north and by the “Marin” blowing in from the Mediterranean Sea, which lies a mere ten miles to the east—in clear view of much of Calce’s relatively high-altitude vineyard area. These constant gusts keep the vines and the grapes cool, which keeps the acidity beautifully high, and also makes it relatively easy to work here without chemicals, as vine diseases have a hard time gaining a foothold in such an extreme microclimate. Calce is a rocky, hilly, windy, rugged landscape of starkly raw beauty, far removed from the lush decadence of the “south of France” of our collective consciousness, and closer to something almost Tolkien-esque in its vibe of old and brooding natural power.
As one might expect, making wine in Calce is no easy task. There are many ancient, untrained vines here—gnarled, soulful, wind-beaten entities well into their second century of existence, in vineyards of pure rock, stretching their weathered limbs out in all directions and making machine work impossible. Profound but stingy old vines that, even in bountiful years, offer forth barely twenty hectoliters per hectare of juice. It takes an almost superhuman level of dedication, perseverance, vision, and spirit to tend these vineyards, to forge wine from the thick blood of these imposing old vines.
A tiny, maniacally dedicated group of vignerons known casually as the “Calce school” proudly cultivates this difficult land. A few decades ago, the visionary Gerard Gauby began steering his methodology in a more natural direction, working organically, and manipulating the wines as minimally as possibly in the cellar to allow the profound and singular terroir of Calce to express itself as arrestingly as possible. In his wake, a few very small wineries have forged a path of non-interventionism and purity of expression, and it’s difficult to imagine a more intense concentration of thoughtful, committed individuals anywhere in the world of wine.
At the forefront of this movement is Thomas Teibert, founder and owner of Domaine de l’Horizon. German-born Thomas has enjoyed a successful and influential career in wine—as the winemaker for Manincor in the Alto Adige, as the export manager and long-time salesperson for the hugely regarded Stockinger cooperage in Austria, and as a consultant for a variety of small wineries in France and Italy. When he met Gerard Gauby in 2005 and became acquainted with the difficult soul of Calce, he knew immediately that he wanted to make wine there. After all, Calce provides the ultimate challenge, but provides perhaps the ultimate reward—somehow, it is a perfectly logical place for someone of Teibert’s vast experience and ability to want to call home.
We made Thomas’s acquaintance at last fall’s RAW Fair, during which he approached us about the possibility becoming the US importer for Domaine de l’Horizon. After our initial very positive and interesting encounter with both Thomas and his wines, we visited the domaine itself in early February. Nothing could have prepared us for the raw intensity of Calce—its beautifully stark vineyards, its gale-force winds stinging our skin, its looming proximity to the Mediterranean itself. Our meeting with Thomas in his makeshift garage of a cellar, our extensive tour of his old and gorgeous vineyard holdings, and our tasting in his warm and inviting home in the center of the little town, cemented in our minds just how special of a thing we had gained access to. Thomas works fully biodynamically in these imposing vineyards, and his touch in the cellar is unbelievably sensitive and transparent—in fact, it is intriguing and beautiful that someone who so thoroughly understands the scientific mechanisms of vinification and aging would strive to make wines so absent the clunky touch of man.
Quantities are pathetic, indeed—but we know deep-down that the most adventurous, the most terroir-obsessed, the most trail-blazing among you will revel in these wines, just as we have. Wines of this character are rare and special—and still offer real value in a wine world increasingly given over to commodity, status, and collector-frenzy. The initial shipment from Domaine de l’Horizon will reach our shores around mid-Aprilh. We cannot recommend them highly enough for their precise, profound, and thrilling channeling of a truly incredible terroir.
2015 “L’Esprit de l’Horizon” Cotes Catalanes Blanc
Thomas’s “L’Esprit de l’Horizon” Blanc is a blend of 80% Macabeu (from 55-year-old vines) and 20% Muscat, vinified partially in concrete tank and partially in large oak (Stockinger, of course). Clocking in at a beautiful and digestible 12% alcohol, this is a wine of pure minerality—with bell-toll-clear, ringing notes of stones and powdered lime. The acidity is positively vivacious, and the finish is a long decrescendo of honey-tinged citrus fruits and deep rock. A sense of mineral-drenched extract lingers on the tongue for quite some time, almost mimicking tannin in its cling and resonance.
2015 “Domaine de l’Horizon” Cotes Catalanes Blanc
Fermented entirely in large Stockinger barrels, the “Domaine” white wine is a breathtaking achievement of pure minerality. Produced from very old inter-planted vineyards, this wine comprises roughly equal parts Macabeu and Grenache Gris—but these varieties are mere vehicles for the impenetrable stone wall of the wine itself. During our visit, Thomas presented us versions of this wine going back to 2011, and its ability to evolve compellingly and shockingly was blatant and thrilling. We dare you to find a grand cru Chablis that can offer this sort of layered mineral essence and electric resonance after five years of aging.
2015 “Mar y Muntanya” Cotes Catalanes Rouge
L’Horizon’s “Mar y Muntanya” (“Sea and Mountains” in Catalan) combines 45% each Syrah and Carignan with a splash of Grenache, and it’s made partly in cement vats and partly in large oak barrels. This is a wine that shows adamantly just how distinct Calce is from the larger Languedoc-Roussillon region. Thomas employs semi-carbonic maceration to give this wine a certain lift and fruit-driven exuberance, though its easygoing vinification does nothing to hamper its expression of stoniness and garrigue-y depth. Thomas is an admitted lover and admirer of great Burgundy, and this wine has the spirit of a delicious red wine from the Cote de Beaune—and while it perhaps lacks the imposing depth of his more serious red wines (see below), it’s hard to imagine a red wine from this area more satisfyingly delicious.
2014 “L’Esprit de l’Horizon” Cotes Catalanes Rouge
The “L’Esprit” Rouge comprises 60% Carignan and 40% Syrah, from vines between 15 and 30 years of age, and the Syrah—planted by Gauby—is actually some of the oldest Syrah in the area. Thomas leaves about one-third whole clusters during the vinification in order to provide spice, structure, and complexity, and the wine spends one year in a blend of foudres and demi-muids—all used. As with all the red wines, pigeage is performed sparingly, and only by foot—and remontage is employed as the main means of extraction. The end result is arresting in its combination of complexity and light-footedness—a southern French wine of this succulent depth and herb-tinged complexity at only 12.5% alcohol? Well, believe it.
2013 “Domaine de l’Horizon” Cotes Catalanes Rouge
One of the things that’s most striking about the great wines of Burgundy is how similarly mineral and lithe their white and red wines tend to be—as if both were subtle variations on the same underlying burst of terroir, variety be damned. The same can be said tenfold about the “Domaine” red wine at l’Horizon. Produced from two-thirds Carignan and one-third Grenache, from vines between 40 and 120 years of age, the 2013 struggled to achieve a yield of 15 hectoliters per hectare. The nose offers a laser-beam of black cherry intensity, with pungent mineral depth and ultra-high-toned but savory herbal accents. It feels young but tastes great, and, as we experienced in a little vertical with Thomas stretching back to 2008, it will blossom into something staggeringly pure and inviting. If this wine strikes you as expensive, keep in mind the price of Burgundy’s grand crus—which can be tilled by machine, and which routinely yield more than twice what this wine does.