..... and fiercely independentAlain Brumont runs his winery the way he’s lived his life. A consummate risk taker with a bit of a stubborn streak,
….. he parted ways with his father in 1980 over disagreements on how the family vineyard should be run and set out on his own. Brumont is an abject perfectionist, his father, not so much. Though lacking funds and having to do an end-run around roadblocks put up by his father via the Credit Agricole, Brumont bought his own acreage. He simply went to another bank that appreciated his work ethic. This was the beginning of a brand that would compete with and then dominate fellow vintners in South West France’s Madiran district.
Brumont’s personal life is as turbulent and risky as his wine ventures. When he was young he was a talented downhill skier but quit when he realized his risk-taking tendencies might well shorten his lifespan. A dreamer and workaholic, Brumont proved difficult to live with and is now on marriage number three, one aspect of life that he wishes had turned out differently.
A concentrated tenacity led Brumont to push the envelope in his winemaking, sometimes bending and blending the rules. His successful 1985 Cuvee Prestige won world acclaim, but according to French law it was an illegal wine because the grapes came from vines only two years old. Brumont also resorted to subterfuge to buy more land for his ventures. The locals did not approve of his methods and were jealous of his success. When word of a possible buyout got round, these same locals got the government involved to block the sale. Brumont created front companies using employee names to get around the block. Today some 300 hectares are planted in vines. Chateau Montus, a dream bought on a wing and a prayer, is the most recognized winery in the Madiran district and still going strong.
The Tannat Grape – Going Global One Country at a Time
Take an artist’s palette and mix the darkest blue, the richest purple and toss in a hint of glossy black and you have the exquisite color of the Tannat grape. This is the amethyst shaded fruit that forms the basis of some of Alain Brumont’s most successful wines. The color is transferred to the wine, a deep purple hue that is infused with tannins and aromatic intrigue. Wine made entirely of Tannat grapes has up to 20% alcohol, higher than the norm. It’s also loaded with antioxidants and credited with being heart healthy. The grapes originated in South West France, notably in the Madiran district. Tannat grape wine was first produced in the 17th century and was so valued that French Kings accepted it as tax payments.
Basque immigrants from the Madiran area took the grape with them to Uruguay sometime in the 19th century. It is now the national grape of that country. Tannat grapes also made it to California during that same century, thanks to Professor Eugene Hilgard from the University of California at Berkeley. He brought home cuttings from vineyards in South West France and planted them in the university vineyards. California vintners showed little interest until over 100 years later. Wineries in Central California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, seeing the success of the South American wines, started growing the Tannat. Today, Bonny Doon Vineyard and Tablas Creek Vineyard both use the grape in blended wines. In 2002, Tablas Creek Vineyard got the approval to put Tannat on the list of grapes that may be used to create varietal wines.
Grape Growing – Alain Brumont Style
The vineyards are planted using rules created and enforced by Brumont himself. Grapes are planted in a high density setting, roughly 7,500 vines per hectare. Vines planted closer together produce smaller bunches which exaggerates the qualities of larger bunches. The rows must also be oriented so that the sun reaches both sides of the plants during mornings and afternoons. This bathes the vines in equal amounts of heat and light, producing an even development and enhancing the sugars.
Considerable work goes into selecting the buds that will be allowed to develop into grapes. This labor intensive process involves going from vine to vine and eliminating all but an average of 5 to 6 bunches per vine. Leaves must also be periodically thinned out. Brumont’s vineyards are thinned out in June and July. A final thinning in August removes all leaves above the developing grapes. The latter thinning reduces the plant’s sugar production, thus the alcohol content of the finished wines.
While the grapes are developing they are constantly being checked by hand. The bunches are periodically shaped to promote even growth. When the grapes are ready, usually sometime in September, they are harvested by hand and placed in a single layer in waiting crates to prevent bruising. Brumont hires roughly 30 people during the growing season to care for and harvest the vineyards.
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Alain Brumont’s Wines – Perfection in a Glass
Alain Brumont produces wines using the Tannat grape on its own and by blending it with other varieties. One of his most notable wines using just the Tannat grape is the Chateau Montus XL, a result of an experimental aging process. Brumont aged the wine for 40 months in 600-liter oak barrels. The 1996 vintage can be cellared for between 15 to 20 years to complete the aging process. If you can get your hands on a bottle you’ll find an infusion of scents including cocoa, mocha and even a hint of cigar boxes. Other notable Tannat wines include the 2002 Chateau Montus Prestige and the 2001 La Tyre-Madiran. All three are rich, bold and considered meditation wines. They are always enjoyable on their own or with some delectable cheese, chocolate or a fine cigar.
Another noted vintage is the 2004 Tannat-Merlot Les Menhirs. The Merlot grape softens the flavor of the Tannat while not affecting the depth. Another Tannat-Merlot pairing is the 2011 Tannat-Merlot – Vine de Pays Des Cotes De Gascogne. The 2009 Château Montus pairs Tannat with Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2009 Torus-Madiran combines Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
The creative mind of Alain Brumont was, and still is, combining different varieties of grapes to come up with new tastes.You just have to sit back and watch what happens next.