Château Cabezac

At virtually the eastern-most extreme of the Minervois region in southwest France, there is a winery in the village of Bize-Minervois called Château Cabezac (  It is housed in a yellow building that combines Mediterranean architectural touches with some medieval parapets and an inviting terrace where you can sip your wine under skies that seem always to be blue.  You may encounter some confusion because there is also a Château de Cabezac just down the road which is an actual castle renovated today into a hotel.  It is not associated with the winery.

Photo courtesy of the winery.

 Cabezac makes sprightly, fruit-forward wines that are respectful of the terroir.  Most of their wines are from the traditional Rhône-style grapes:  Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan in the reds and Roussanne, Muscat Sec and Grenache Blanc in the whites.  With thirteen wines to choose among, you can have quite a tasting.

The tasting room is handsome and airy, made largely of wood.  When we were there it was not very busy, but that was a weekday in late September.  We understand from our server that it can be quite bustling at times, which makes their terrace even more valuable.  We received quite an education in Cabezac’s viticulture and winemaking philosophies.  We also learned that the same proprietor has properties in Calvados and Champagne, producing the wines and spirits associated with those regions.  Alas, they were not available for tasting.

Cabezac takes its tasting program quite seriously.  Of course, you can just drop by as we did and have a standup tasting of four wines (although we found that “four” is more of a concept than a limitation).  They also offer half-day and full-day tastings that include more extended explanations and tours.  Cabezac also has a program for corporate clients to host tasting events there.

Cabezac is a relatively young winery, established in 1997.  The proprietor, Gontran Dondain, has invested in wine making in a modern, sanitary manner.  We found that these practices at Cabezac are exemplary of a trend that has, happily, swept across Languedoc.  Improved winemaking practices are being followed across the Languedoc region.  When you visit Cabezac tasting room, you’ll find a window that allows to view the production facilities.  They are gleaming and spotless, indicative of the investment and the care that has gone into this winery.  We have observed this in many other leading wineries in the region.

Where once wines were thin in the mouth and harsh in the throat, today Languedoc wineries such as Cabezac are producing wines that, in our opinion, are comparable with many of those from the Rhône valley (excluding the top-most in that region).  Many of the new generation of Languedoc wineries have adopted bio and vin methode nature growing techniques.  Although Cabezac is not among these, they did tell us that they are scrupulous about their growing methods.

Sadly, Château Cabezac’s wines cannot be found in the United States, to our knowledge.  It does make a worthwhile stop if you are wine tasting in southwest France.


Organic? Biodynamic? Natural? What’s Going On?

As you’re enjoying the rustic air of Wine Country, you might want to know how well the grapes were raised and harvested and then what was done to the juice in the industrial processes of crushing, fermenting, aging and bottling.  Vignerons and wine makers are as concerned about sanitary and healthful practices as anyone – in fact, more so than many of us – and they have responded in a number of ways.  But many of the terms in use in the world of wine today can be very confusing.

Making wine used to be rather simple, at least in concept:  Plant vines; Nurture grapes; Harvest and process grapes; Repeat.  Now there are considerations that are intended to make the wine better that are either advanced or trendy, depending on your perspective.

  • Organic wines – We are all used to seeing organic fruits and vegetables in the supermarket. Grapes are fruit so there’s no reason why some of them might be raised organically.  In practice, what does that mean?  In a sense, it’s a return to the simple principles of olden times.  Specifically, organic grapes are raised without a lot of chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.  Now, we’re not fond of drinking a glass of bug-killer, but then we’re not too happy about knowing that little critters have been gnawing on the same grapes that went into out glasses.  At least in theory, crops should be certified as being organic but we’re not sure that all organic winemakers go through this step.

Some biodynamic wine practices. Photo courtesy of Bibendum Wine.

  • Biodynamic wines – Makers of these wines follow the same organic practices but then go quite a bit further. Evidently an Austrian fellow in the beginning of the previous century espoused some theories about agriculture that proponents call advanced and detractors think of as just plain whacky. Among these are following astrological observations and burying cow’s horns filled with manure in the vineyards.  We’d be thoroughly in the detractor category except that some of the biodynamic wines we’ve tried have been pretty good, so maybe there’s something there.  (Just to confuse matters, French winemakers who raise grapes organically, but not biodynamically refer to their wines as “bio”.)

The logo for French “natural” wines.  Courtesy of

  • Natural wines – These wines place less emphasis on how the grapes are raised but rather focus on what happens to the juice once it is crushed out of those grapes. The winemakers don’t add yeast to force fermentation but rely on the natural yeasts that settle on the grapes in the vineyards.  Some makers of natural wines add a little bit of sulfites to preserve the wines, but much less than the producers of most commercial wines.  Others add no sulfites at all.  In the United States, there are no formal rules for natural wines but the French government has recently set a designation for vin méthode nature the prescribes methods and practices.

We at Power Tasting applaud any methods being applied to make better wine.  We have found that these practices have vastly improved winemaking in areas that used to be known for “rustic” (i.e., low quality) products.  But we are not fans of cultish ideas that are more about lifestyle philosophy than winemaking.

Green Wine Tastes Good

Of course, we don’t mean wine that’s green in color.  Nor red wine with heavy accents of green pepper; those don’t taste good at all.  Nor the vinho verde of Portugal, whose green-ness means that it is young.  We are talking about wines made using sustainable agricultural methods and in many cases eschewing pesticides, fertilizer and additives.  When we visit wineries around the world to try some of their wines, we know nothing about their farming practices and not much more about how their wines are made.  To be honest, we don’t care.  What’s important to us is what’s in our glasses.

But with a little bit of contemplation, we do realize that what the farmers are doing contributes to our enjoyment and in several ways to our enjoyment in the future.  If they don’t care for the land there won’t be wine from their fields in years to come.  If they aren’t respectful of the climate, they may not even have any wine this year; the fires in Napa and Sonoma counties are proof of that.

The best agricultural practices would be unavailing if the wine weren’t good.  Our experience tells us that when the vineyard manager and the winemaker collaborate on sustainable and sanitary winemaking, the results are worth the effort.  Simply put, making wine well produces well-made wine.  While we are unaware of any scientific evidence in support of this proposition, we do have a lot of anecdotal support.

For example, the Famille Perrin Côtes-du-Rhône Réserve Rouge is a widely available, inexpensive red wine.  It’s the kind of wine found on many a French table every night (and ours, from time to time).  The same house also produces a Côtes-du-Rhône Nature for a few dollars more.  It’s only recently available in the United States, but we have tasted and compared the two wines in Québec and it is clear that the Nature is far superior.

The indicator of biodynamic certification

Perhaps not coincidentally, Perrin also owns Tablas Creek Vineyard in California’s Paso Robles.  They are proud to declare that they are certified as biodynamic and organic winemakers.  According to their web site, Tablas Creek uses:

“a mobile flock of 150+ sheep and alpacas to weed and fertilize the vineyard, interplantings of hundreds of fruit trees around and within the vineyards, compost made on site from prunings and grape must, applications of compost tea from the on-site compost, natural pest controls including 39 owl boxes around the vineyard and sections of native vegetation left to attract insects and predators, and our own hives of bees to support all these different plant species”.

Now, we’re not quite sure how much difference sheep, bees and owls contribute to the winemaking process.  But we are certain that, to our taste, Tablas Creek makes the best Rhône-style wines in Paso Robles.

We believe that specific farming and winemaking practices are not in themselves the reasons why being eco-friendly results in better-tasting wine.  It requires more attention to detail, to sanitation, to taking good care of the environment in the field and in the factory.  This seriousness of purpose finds its way into the bottle and ultimately into our mouths.  This is no secret formula, but it does taste like it works.



Sustainable Sonoma

Readers of Power Tasting don’t need to be told that Sonoma County in northern California is a mighty nice place to visit.  Its size and vineyard diversity make it one of the best places to sample many of California’s finest wines.  However, Sonoma’s commitment to sustainability in its vineyards and wineries does offer a different reason to visit there.

The symbol found on bottles of sustainably made Sonoma wines

A lot of this is a matter of survival for the winemaking industry in the county.  It isn’t newsworthy that northern California suffers from many multi-year droughts. In fact, they are in one right now.  If the growers did not pay attention to water and land conservation, it would not be long before the quality of the wines would suffer.  And that would be the most positive result.  The worst case would be the inability to grow wine grapes at all.

The trade organization, Sonoma County Winegrowers, is justly proud that 99% of the vineyard acreage, more than 60,000 acres, in the county are independently certified to be sustainable.  The group established a goal in 2014 to make Sonoma County the premier sustainable winegrowing region in the world.  Their interest was not pure environmentalism.  While there are some massive properties there, the majority of vineyards are family owned and operated smallholdings.  Accordingly, they are not only preserving a crop but also a way of life.

Look carefully and you can see the hoses dripping water onto the vines.  Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism.

How does all this make Sonoma County even more of a place to visit?  It’s difficult to watch water not evaporate or land not get parched.  We believe that every wine tasting visitor spends at least a little time looking at and admiring row after row of vines.  Now, when you go to Sonoma County, look a little more closely.  Do you see hoses running through the vineyard for drip irrigation?  Or maybe nothing to water the vines for those growers who prefer dry farming?  In the heat of the middle of the summer, are the canopies over the vines thick with leaves to inhibit evaporation?

Most of this doesn’t matter to your main purpose: trying wines.  But it should matter than it’s a concern for the grower and the vintner.  So when you get to the bar, maybe ask a few questions about what that winery is doing in the sustainability effort.  You may stir up a bit of controversy.  For example, the dry farmers think the irrigators are irresponsible, while the irrigators think the dry farmers are nuts.

So when we visit, let’s tell them that we appreciate what the Sonoma growers are doing to preserve both winemaking and the local community over the long haul.  They are the ones making the investment and we are reaping the benefits.  Letting the growers know that you’re grateful may elicit just the kind of personal interaction that makes traveling through Wine Country so rewarding.