In the early 2000s, we received an unmarked sample bottle from our friend Didier Dagueneau, who asked us to give him an honest assessment. It was a splendid Chardonnay, stony and pure, which reminded us of the whites from some of Burgundy’s chalkiest soils. When Didier explained that this was not a Burgundy, but a wine made by his friend Pierre Fort in Limoux, we jumped at the chance to meet him and see the property for ourselves. Pierre had been making wine in the Loire, but had just recently returned to his native village in Languedoc-Roussillon. When we finally met Pierre and his wife, Marie-Claire, and learned more about their work growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the foothills of the Pyrenees, we were all the more enchanted.
The Forts live in the village of Roquetaillade in the steep hills above Limoux, due south of Carcassonne. They farm four hectares of Chardonnay and one hectare of Pinot Noir, among them a 40-year-old vineyard handed down from Pierre’s family, that he himself had planted as a teen. At 480 meters altitude, the cool air tempers the warm Languedoc sun. Particularly interesting is the limestone and clay bedrock of the vineyards, filled with 50-million-year-old fossils resembling that of Chablis. The Forts live the true, hardworking lifestyle of French paysans—one where time is regulated by nature, and technique and execution are the thoughtful response to observation. They follow no particular viticultural dogma, but they choose organic methods, as they believe nature has the solution to all of its problems. While the winters can be heavy in rainfall, summer droughts crack the earth during the growing season. In essence, this means the Forts do not need to plow, as the cracks aerate the soil on their own. They plant an abundant cover crop between vineyard rows, which feeds the soil with organic matter, promotes the circulation of air and water and fixes the nitrogen to the soil—a natural fertilizer. They harvest by hand and sort the grapes while picking.
Fermenting and aging are done in large puncheons, 450- to 600-L oak barrels, which are the magic size for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown outside of the Côte d'Or. The whites are stirred occasionally on the lees. That is as complex as it gets, as the Forts focus on making their wines in the vineyards rather than the cellars, and each vintage presents its unique set of conditions. Since Limoux is best-known internationally for its sparkling wine, not much of the still wines actually leave the region. We are fortunate to represent the wines of one of the appellation’s finest producers, and we can tell you from experience that they make excellent wild cards in blind-tastings of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Burgundy!
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