We catch up with Sébastien, one-half of the Danjou Banessy brothers, to learn about their much anticipated latest release. Known for their lively, elegant, softly textured, and refreshing style from the l’Agly valley in the Roussillon, we talk about “the translation of the weather in the wines” and how they capture acidity and freshness while maintaining a hands-off approach in the face of the ever-changing climatic conditions.
The family-run estate has been making natural wine for over 50 years. Sébastien explains how their grandfather rejected the use of chemicals in the vineyard after catching a blood disease when he experimented with chemical treatments that were so popular after the Second World War. Since then, the philosophy is “no products in the vines, no products in the wines that’s it.”View Wines
What can you tell us about the 2020 and 2019 vintage?
The 2019 vintage was very hot from mid-June throughout the summer, whereas the 2020 vintage was very cool and rainy, especially in spring when we had a lot of rain, which makes the wines quite different in style. The 2020 is more like the 2018 - an easy-drinking straightforward style, while the 2019 is more serious.
We find that cooler vintages in the south of France are easier to drink straight away. When the vintage is very hot and dry, the wines will take a bit longer to be appreciated. The balance will be reached in a few months or years. When it's a cool vintage, the wines are more refined, more balanced. This is the translation of the weather in the wines. Our craft is about adapting to vintage conditions.
What can you tell us about the climate in Espira in the l'Agly valley, and what influence does this have on the vines?
We have noticed that it's not just warming up - as with the 2020 vintage, which was cool. What we have witnessed is that everything is more extreme. It's no longer 30 or 32 degrees; it's 40-42, and it lasts for a long time; when it rains, it's too much rain, or the droughts are more severe, and the Tramontana wind can blow 100 miles per hour which can break vines that are growing in the spring. Now it hasn't rained for three months! This hasn't happened before. These climatic episodes last longer and longer and are more violent and more extreme, making it difficult for us to adapt because it's too fast and too violent. This is why we are working with a long-term vision - constructing things for future generations. Like in Burgundy this year, two weeks before the frost, it was 30 degrees; two weeks later, it was minus seven. This is a complete deregulation of the climate. We were not affected by the frost, but I'm sure that it will happen one day. Everything is troubled; that is what we can notice.
You are known for your hand-off approach in the cellar; what can you tell us about your work in the vineyards?
Yes, 90% of the work that we do is in the vineyard, but the work that we do is not always the same as it is weather dependent. However, there are two very important things that we always do every year. From Oct-March / April, the vine is sleeping, but the soil is not, so during this period, we grow seeds such as broad beans, peas, wheat, rye, corn, mustard and radishes in the middle of each row of vines to help enrich the soil.
We also plant a lot of trees, which we started in 2016, and we plant them everywhere because the weather is only going to get hotter and dryer. The trees help to bring humidity to the soil - they act as a water pump. We plant about 1,000 native Mediterranean trees such as olive, fig, pomegranate, and Laurel trees that are well adapted to the soils. The trees also provide invaluable shade and protection from the Tramontana wind. So planting trees and taking care of the soil is planning for the conditions that we will have in 20-30 years. I don't think it will get any colder, so we do it for the future generations.
“Today, the most complex thing is to be simple. I call it “simplexity” it’s so complicated to be simple.”
Permaculture is an important tool for you. What can you tell us about this?
Yes, we are totally into the idea of permaculture - using a plant to grow another plant - our aim is to grow healthier dynamic vines. However, we do not keep the seeds all year long - the rebirth of the vine happens in April, so we want all of the energy to go into the vine, which means that we can't grow beans simultaneously. Permaculture helps us with soil regeneration - mustard seeds and radishes make deep holes in the soil, while others grow horizontally - reaching out in all directions - and so they help to aerate the soil underground, each one of the plants bringing something positive to the mix.
We plant varieties that are adapted to grow in the winter months, just before or just after the harvest in September. Beans do very well in Autumn, and then we eat them in spring.
What can you tell us about your winemaking philosophy?
What we are trying to do, is very simple, but it's also very difficult. That is to do as little as possible in the cellar. The aim is not to intervene - but of course, we have to, to a certain extent. Otherwise, we'll make vinegar. To make wine, we have to make some small adaptations to take care of the grapes, and we taste every day. But the most challenging thing to do is not to intervene - but to wait and see.
We aim to make wines that express a sense of place. In the l'Agly valley, there are many different soils and rock types - the only type that my brother and I are yet to find in the area is Granite. So we don't want to blend wines from the different soils. Our job is to express the different soil types. This is why we say "one vine belonging to one wine."
"Acidity is very important, it's like the backbone, it gives elegance to the wine."
How do the different soil types affect the taste of the wines?
Les Terres Noirs - 100% slate (black earth) gives delicate wines that don't give much colour.
Sand - weather dependent - if it's a rainy year, it will give more freshness.
Limestone - gives a dry chalky minerality.
Basalt volcanic soils - give a wild, unexpected, more rock and roll influence on taste.
What is your favourite food & wine pairing?
I love wine and food; for me, the best wine moments have been with food. The 2020 Supernova orange works beautifully with raw fish and sushi - the citrus zest complements the acidity really well! This wine also pairs well with apricots and rosemary. Apricots are coming into season now - so it's perfect!