We love things that are a little bit out of the ordinary, something that challenges the norm. You may have guessed this after our piece on natural wine and how it is forging its own identity. It challenges the ‘conventional’ methods of making wine that has been dominant over the last 60-70 years.
I recently met Aymeric and Jordan Amiel, two brothers who run Domaine des Amiel in Languedoc, France. These guys have a very clean approach, they don’t follow antiquated appellation laws and they make fucking delicious natural wine.
After a very busy few weeks for us all, Aymeric and I managed to put some time aside to talk.
This is the story of Domaine des Amiel.
The Amiel Family have roots in the same village for over 500 years and in the late 1800s the family started making wine. They would make it in bulk in order to sell to the bigger wine merchants, but in the 1950s their grandfather made the decision to stop making wine and sell the grapes on to a wine making cooperative.
Their father didn’t take up the family business and their grandfather died of cancer in 1993. Aymeric mentioned that his grandfather’s cancer, like many of the farmers in the area, was linked to the chemicals that they had been using on the crops. Their father didn’t want to part with the land and decided to preserve the vineyard until Amyeric and Jordan were old enough to decide whether they wanted to carry on with the family business.
Aymeric studied business and then specialized in wine and spirits when doing his masters in Burgundy and decided that he wanted to travel and make wine for a living so he embarked on doing several harvests abroad, in California, Chile, Argentina and South Africa until 2012 when he decided he was ready to take on his own winery and carry on the family business. He called his brother and they discussed working together. Jordan’s background was not in wine, he studied Chinese medicine but jumped at the idea of working together and taking over the family vineyard.When they first started, the vineyard had already been converted to hold organic status, so there weren’t any synthetic herbicides or pesticides being used on the vines or in the earth. However the vines themselves had been grown for the purpose of selling to the cooperative so it was producing very high yields due to being more of an ‘industrial’ vineyard.
In addition to the vineyard’s organic status, Aymeric and Jordan made the decision to start farming and producing their wine using biodynamic principles. Most of all they tried to increase the life as much as they could by using biodynamic preparations and enhancing the biodiversity.
Aymeric says this is an important issue for him and in viticulture in general. “With the mechanization of work, we can farm bigger parcels of land but this tears it up and destroys more land and eco systems because more trees have been torn down, ditches/ponds and lakes have also been filled in.” So upon the creation of their own winery they replanted trees and plants as they believe that this is key to a nourishing environment, not only for the vines but for themselves as well.
Although Aymeric and Jordan do this for a job, it is also a lifestyle. Aymeric stated, “I don’t want to work and live in an environment which is polluted and unhealthy.”
To increase the bio diversity they replanted patches of grass and the trees that had been torn up. To this day they have planted almost 1,000 trees in and around the vineyard.
Aymeric states “Biodynamic is beyond organic and also like a philosophy. You can’t just focus on grapes, you focus on the soil and the environment as a whole. It’s a lifestyle/philosophy and you have to believe in it”.
In the beginning Domaine des Amiel removed rows and rows of vines in order to plant trees which actually cost them time and money, so to someone who doesn’t embrace this lifestyle, or for a purely capitalist driven entrepreneur this may seem crazy but the Amiel brothers believe in this philosophy so they follow it.
To a large extent, Domaine des Amiel adapt biodynamic principles to their environment but a lot of the literature written on it originated in Austria and Germany, a completely different climate to the warm meditarrenean one of Languedoc. To follow this advice completely word for word may not necessarily work the best for them. For example, Aymeric mentioned, “Some preparations are recommended to be undertaken when there is 20mm of rain, but in Languedoc 20mm is a lot of rain so sometimes we will do these preparations when they have 2mm or 5mm. We’re doing the same thing, but just adapting it to our environment.”Their winemaking theory is simple: they try to make the wine as natural as possible. Their target is actually to make it 100% natural, so ideally not using any suplhites, but the most important thing to the Amiel Brothers is that the wine is good so that everyone can appreciate it. “It’s not just for natural wine geeks”, as Aymeric puts it. So, they may add some sulphites. This is done for bacterial and stability reasons, also to avoid oxidation and it is never done with more than 30 mg per litre.
“The key difference is that even in organic wine, 99% of the time you will have added yeast, enzymes, fining agents, nutrients, filtration processes. None of this will be found in natural wine.” So for Aymeric, if they add only a small portion of sulphites to the wine then it’s still classed as natural wine. It’s difficult to label (as mentioned in our previous post on natural wine) but most growers will agree or share a similar ideology with this sentiment.
Aymeric believes that winemaking and the adding of suplphites shouldn’t be systematic, so if you add sulphites every time then it isn’t natural, just like if you never add sulphites to your wine. “This means that you don’t think, try or experiment. You need to experiment and find the right fit for the wine. Everyone has their own approach but as long as they are transparent to the consumers, it’s fine.”
When they created the winery, they were under two very deep influences. Two brothers who are young, have been travelling and have made wine in many different countries. They wanted this influence to transcend into their wine and their labels, but they also had 500 years of history/influence from their own family. “It is something very thick that flows into our blood and we wanted to pay tribute to it”.
It was impossible to capture the essence of both influences in the same range, the same label and the same designs, so they decided to do two ranges. One that pays tribute to their family members called ‘The Heritage Range’ and one called ‘ The Brothers Range’.
Every wine in the ‘Heritage Range’ is a tribute to a member of the family and will have their name or nickname on it, and a picture of an object that belonged to the person. Their wine named Yvonne is a beautiful blend of Vermentino & Grenache Blanc grapes, and is affectionately named after their Grandma.
The Brothers range is fun, modern looking, colourful, full of play-on words and they may experiment with the blends. For example, in their wine named ‘Mounto Daballo’, they use Cinsault (Hermitage) and Alicante Bouschet – a grape that has seen a steady decline in planting and in some areas of France is even extinct.Domaine des Amiel have vineyards that are classified as AOC and produced some wines to this status, the rest being IGP, Vin de Pays and Vin de France but after three years they realized that having AOC status didn’t affect their sales, and the appellation accreditation cost them money. It financially didn’t make sense to carry on this way, so in 2016 the two brothers made the decision to produce all their wine under the Vin de France label.
Before they made this decision, they consulted their clients and current customers to check if this would affect them in any way, but they didn’t care. Most retailers and restaurants will arrange their displays/menus by region and not by appellation status.
For the first two years of production, their wine named ‘Peissou’ from the Heritage range held AOC status and they originally wanted it to have this status as they considered the wine a bit more prestigious. However the Peissou was, at that point, made from 100% syrah grapes and, under the AOC regulations of Languedoc, it is forbidden to make a single varietal wine, so the brothers had to tell the regulators that there was a little bit of Grenache added, to make it a blend. To their clients, they told them the truth and after two years they came to the decision that it wasn’t worth it.
The problem is that appellation laws are very administrative and there is a lot of beurochracy surrounding them, so it will take a long time to change the laws. The administration lags behind the actual wine industry, so personally I think it is great to see two young guys who have a clear understanding and place a great sense of importance on heritage and history. It’s particularly exciting to see that they’re using their own creativity to challenge old rules and, in a way, pioneer a new generation of winemaking.
– J A M E S
You can find Domaine des Amiel’s wines at select bars in the U.K. For more information, please follow these links.
Wine Rooms – http://winerooms.london
Bunch wine bar (Liverpool) – http://www.bunchwinebar.co.uk
Primeur – http://primeurn5.co.uk
Noble Rot – https://noblerot.co.uk/wine-bar
The Good Wine Shop – http://thegoodwineshop.co.uk
May the fifteenth – http://www.maythe15th.com