Head of Marketing at The Society, Matthew Kirk, reveals more about the art of blending one of our most popular reds
The deep south: rugby country!
Maybe it's a coincidence that the abbreviation for The Society's French Full Red (FFR) is the same as the initials of the Fédération Française de Rugby or maybe not, given that we are in the heart of the rugby-loving South of France. At the Cases de Pène co-operative we met Lionel Rodenas, Maître de Chai or chief winemaker and started with a discussion about rugby, notably the split between rugby à treize or à quinze (Rugby League vs Rugby Union) which seems to be based on where you were born.
We were with Lionel to finalise the assemblage (sounds a much better word then the normal English translation, 'blend') for The Society's French Full Red based on the 2014 harvest. Marcel made a first visit in November 2014, shortly after the fermentation had finished, to taste through the different cuvées by grape variety and by vineyard.
Although Cases de Pène is a co-operative with many, many grape-grower farmers as members, they still are able to vinify and trace different vineyards separately. This visit in January was to taste through the individual cuvées after a few months maturity/settling down and put together an assemblage which gives the right fruit, structure, alcohol and overall balance for the FFR.
The entrance to the co-op - all welcome for tastings
Pick a bottle, any bottle .... no not that one! Lionel getting ready to blend with Marcel
Consistency is key
This is one of members' favourite wines, and we aim to provide consistency of the taste of the wine across the vintages, which given that different grapes do better or worse dependant on the weather, is why Marcel and Lionel spend a lot of time and several visits getting it just right.
The 2014 vintage was generally a good but short harvest due to shortage of water, though the Agly Valley didn't suffer as much as many.
The blending process
The video below shows only one run-through of the blending – Lionel and Marcel had six different cuvées to taste from across the primary grapes that make up the blend: grenache, carignan and syrah. We started with an even split across the grapes (1/3 each) and then adjusted to get the right balance of fruitiness, structure and weight – and just pure taste of course!
I lost count but there were several different iterations before both Marcel and Lionel were happy with the final product and even as an amateur, I was able to see the evolution and improvement in the different blends. Even though they both agreed on the final assemblage, this will be re-sampled and sent to Stevenage for Marcel to re-taste. Or maybe I could get Lionel to bring it and we could go to a rugby match together as I am also a Rugby League follower!
One thing that was brought home to me particularly during this visit, and was typical of the whole trip, was the mutual respect that experienced winemakers such as Lionel and Marcel have for each other. It is a respectful and serious way of working whether on wine assemblages or on volumes and prices.
Note - this blend of The Society's French Full Red will replace the current blend which is based on the 2013 vintage in spring/summer 2015. Cases de Pène is also the source of another member favourite, Château de Pena. This, the top wine from the co-op is usually a blend of carignan and grenache with a little mourvèdre, given a little more ageing than our Society wine.
Find out more about the Cases de Pène coop in our Grower Profile