If asked the reasons for visiting a domaine then enthusiastic consumers, wine merchants/importers and journalists would exhaust my list of the obvious. The day after picking late harvest grenache at his Domaine Ribiera, Régis Pichon invited me to join him on a visit to meet Jean-Luc Barral. Jean-Luc is one of the two brothers who founded Domaine Leon Barral in Faugères back in 1993, calling it Leon after their grandfather. The purpose of the visit was to see some equipment.
The equipment in question has origins in Brazil and is used as a means of controlling grasses and "weeds". The French seem to call it a rolofaca. At Leon Barral there is no ploughing. In winter cows, horses and even pigs roam the vineyards to keep the vegetation in check. When the vines are active the roloafaca is used to gently break up vegetation and enable it to mulch into the soil. Rather than a traditional tractor a caterpillar version is used to avoid over compacting the soil - the tracks have a considerably greater surface area than tires.
The vines, starting to take on autumn colours, are on Faugères schist of course. The trunks are all well below knee hight so picking and pruning must be excruciating. Look carefully to see bones lying in amongst the lumps of schist.
In the winery the large traditional wooden press was being cleaned after a morning of pressing - look for the figure standing at the back for a sense of scale.
In 2010 construction of an extraordinary new chai started and is still ongoing. A chronological gallery of pictures is on the Leon Barral website. How long has this car been there?
Finally we were shown the black pigs feeding on the vines by a stream and oak forest of 18 ha where they roam. The organic waste from households in the village also goes to them.
Jean-Luc bonds with the contented hog who services 18 sows.
A treasure trove of sustainable viticulture. No ordinary Domaine, no ordinary visit, and not a glass of wine in sight.
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