The 22 hectares of Domaine Brana lie in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in French Basque country. Here the Atlantic has a strong influence on the climate but the Pyrenees offer some protection from rain and typically the region enjoys a long, cool growing season but one blessed with ample sunshine.
Owner and winemaker Jean Brana farms the very steep hillside terraces built when he began working on the estate in 1984. He made a special trip to Switzerland to see how growers dealt with the precipitous slopes of their vineyards and came back to implement the methods he had found, building up the terraces in the process.
Before him the estate concentrated on orchard fruits for distillation into eau de vie but Jean believed that the domaine, founded by his great-grandfather in 1897, could achieve much more and in 1984 he planted the first vines and acquired additional vineyards. At first the grapes were sold to the local co-operative, who dominated production in the area at that time, but within a few years Jean established the first independent domaine in the appellation and has become a leading light. Many others have followed.
Unusually for the appellation Jean focussed on the cabernet franc grape rather than the tannat that is at the heart of many growers' wines, though he respectfully points out that everyone has their own ideas and styles in the appellation. He firmly believes that cabernet franc originated in his region and he wants to make wines that are more approachable than many tannat-dominated wines, with a strong desire to achieve finesse and purity over power.
He practises sustainable viticulture, and points to the amazing diversity of fauna that inhabit his vineyards, from soaring vultures to wild boar, and the bees he keeps to show that his practices are encouraging biodiversity. He has even sited bird houses around the vineyards and has been instrumental in reintroducing the red legged partridge to the area.
The reds see oak but it is used judiciously to avoid dominating the fruit. Since 1989 white wines have been permitted in the appellation and Domaine Brana have planted gros manseng, petit courbu and petit manseng, making them in stainless steel for freshness and purity of fruit flavours.