Mas des Capitelles

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Mas des Capitelles began in 1999, when ninth-generation vigneron Jean Laugé began bottling his own wine after a lengthy stint at the local co-operative, where his father—a driving force in the creation of the Faugères appellation in the early 1980s—had served as president. Encouraged by his sons Brice and Cédric who had recently joined the family enterprise, Jean adopted organic viticultural practices, achieving Ecocert certification with the 2011 vintage. More recently, biodynamic preparations have also been incorporated—or, perhaps better, re-incorporated, as these ancestral methods were surely known by the long line of Laugés who worked this land in bygone generations.

  Today, Mas des Capitelles encompasses 30 hectares of mostly very old plantings on south-facing hillsides of pure schist. This acidic and well-draining soil, in the dry climate of Faugères, results in miserly yields—typically 20 to 30 hectoliters per hectare at Mas des Capitelles—and can impart a certain bare-knuckled intensity to wines born from it. However, the moderating influences of high altitudes (250 to 280 meters, making for relatively cool nights) and cooling winds blowing down from the Massif Central keep the wines from feeling gloppy or overly heat-marked. The domaine’s two most important varieties, Carignan and Mourvèdre, thrive in these cruelly poor soils and enjoy the relatively lengthy hang time they need to fully express themselves, and the sidemen Syrah and Grenache achieve intense spiciness without becoming outlandishly ripe. Aside from a small handful of younger plantings, the Laugés’ vines range from 40 to 100 years old, and are trained low to the ground in the ancient gobelet (bush-vine) manner—a practice which serves to further limit yields and thereby maximize expressiveness in the resulting fruit, and which of course makes machine harvesting impossible.

The Laugés work thoughtfully and naturally in the cellar, aiming to harness the power of their terroir without exaggerating it. Fermentations happen spontaneously, in various types of neutral vessels (fiberglass, enameled tank), and semi-carbonic maceration is used in small proportions on a case-by-case basis to contribute freshness and moderate the tannins’ natural ferocity. They favor long macerations of 30 days or more, employing barrels judiciously and adjusting proportions of oak in the elevage based on the fruit in front of them rather than on a recipe. Even the domaine’s most basic wine sees two full winters of aging, and the rest of the lineup spends at least 24 months in cask. Filtration is avoided entirely, and sulfur is employed in as minimal of a dose as possible; the resulting wines soar with energy even as their flavors are anchored in the dust and spice of this assertive terroir.

Faugères “Vieilles Vignes”:  Mas des Capitelles’ workhorse “Vieilles Vignes” is built on the backs of Mourvèdre (50%) and Carignan (25%) from vines up to 80 years old, with Syrah (25%) completing the blend. After a 30-day maceration with a small proportion of semi-carbonic whole clusters in the fermentation, one-fifth of the cuvée was aged in oak and four-fifths in fiberglass and enamel vats, with bottling taking place after 14 months. An exuberant nose of blueberries, violets, and warm dust evokes the sun-scorched slopes of the appellation in visceral fashion, and the palate sizzles with an almost spiky minerality, framed by rich but firm blue and black fruits. The balance of refinement and wildness is extraordinary, with neither trait calling too much attention to itself.

Faugères “Vintage”: Mas des Capitelles’ “Vintage” bottling showcases some of their extremely old Carignan plantings, with 40% of the blend coming from 80-year-old Carignan, and 30% each from Mourvèdre and Grenache. After a month-long maceration with a small proportion of semi-carbonically-fermented whole clusters, “Vintage” spends 24 months aging 80% in used French oak, with the remainder—Grenache exclusively, which takes less kindly to barrel—in fiberglass and enamel vats. Here, a ripe, softly brooding nose presents a tug-of-war between herby earth tones and velvety dark-red and black fruit, and the palate, while substantially structured, buffers its tannins politely but not ingratiatingly. This is consciously released after a few years of bottle age and will benefit from even more.

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