A tiny village of around 200 inhabitants, Calce lies at the foot of the mighty Pyrenees, ten miles northwest of Perpignan, within striking distance of the Spanish border. Though technically part of the Languedoc-Roussillon, Calce is not French—it is Catalan. The wines from around this village have about as much in common with the vast sun-soaked enormity of the south of France as, say, Chablis does to the Rhone Valley. And, although Calce has been renowned as a viticultural area since the Knights Templar wrote admiringly about it in the 9th century, wines from this remote corner of southern France are still relatively unknown and underappreciated—even among the most dialed-in of cognoscenti.
Calce is a geologist’s dream. The variety of soils within such a compact wine-growing zone is mindboggling: there is brown slate and black slate; there are deep alluvial gravel deposits full of large, slick river stones; there is iron-oxide-drenched marl of a deep red hue; and, in most of these areas, the mother rock itself lies beneath a mere eight to fifteen inches of topsoil, demanding the tough old vines to plunge down, down, down for precious water. The soils here were formed in the last ice age, when the slate massif of the Pyrenees collided violently with the limestone massif of Corbieres—and Calce encompasses the folds, faults, and striations of that geological episode. Consequently, wines from Calce offer some of the most profound, most spine-tingling, most physically palpable minerality of any wines on the planet.
The estate owns 17 ha of old vines (average age over 70 years, many planted over a century ago), and all of the Domaine’s wines are bottled as IGP Côtes Catalanes.
And that wind… Calce is constantly buffeted both by the fierce “Tramontane” roaring down from the north and by the “Marin” blowing in from the Mediterranean Sea, which lies a mere ten miles to the east—in clear view of much of Calce’s relatively high-altitude vineyard area. These constant gusts keep the vines and the grapes cool, which keeps the acidity beautifully high, and also makes it relatively easy to work here without chemicals, as vine diseases have a hard time gaining a foothold in such an extreme microclimate. Calce is a rocky, hilly, windy, rugged landscape of starkly raw beauty, far removed from the lush decadence of the “south of France” of our collective consciousness, and closer to something almost Tolkien-esque in its vibe of old and brooding natural power.
As one might expect, making wine in Calce is no easy task. There are many ancient, untrained vines here—gnarled, soulful, wind-beaten entities well into their second century of existence, in vineyards of pure rock, stretching their weathered limbs out in all directions and making machine work impossible. Profound but stingy old vines that, even in bountiful years, offer forth barely twenty hectoliters per hectare of juice. It takes an almost superhuman level of dedication, perseverance, vision, and spirit to tend these vineyards, to forge wine from the thick blood of these imposing old vines.
A tiny, maniacally dedicated group of vignerons known casually as the “Calce school” proudly cultivates this difficult land. A few decades ago, the visionary Gerard Gauby began steering his methodology in a more natural direction, working organically, and manipulating the wines as minimally as possibly in the cellar to allow the profound and singular terroir of Calce to express itself as arrestingly as possible. In his wake, a few very small wineries have forged a path of non-interventionism and purity of expression, and it’s difficult to imagine a more intense concentration of thoughtful, committed individuals anywhere in the world of wine.
At the forefront of this movement is Thomas Teibert, founder and owner of Domaine de l’Horizon. German-born Thomas has enjoyed a successful and influential career in wine—as the winemaker for Manincor in the Alto Adige, as the export manager and long-time salesperson for the hugely regarded Stockinger cooperage in Austria, and as a consultant for a variety of small wineries in France and Italy. When he met Gerard Gauby in 2005 and became acquainted with the difficult soul of Calce, he knew immediately that he wanted to make wine there. After all, Calce provides the ultimate challenge, but provides perhaps the ultimate reward—somehow, it is a perfectly logical place for someone of Teibert’s vast experience and ability to want to call home.
We made Thomas’s acquaintance at last fall’s RAW Fair, during which he approached us about the possibility becoming the US importer for Domaine de l’Horizon. After our initial very positive and interesting encounter with both Thomas and his wines, we visited the domaine itself in early February. Nothing could have prepared us for the raw intensity of Calce—its beautifully stark vineyards, its gale-force winds stinging our skin, its looming proximity to the Mediterranean itself. Our meeting with Thomas in his makeshift garage of a cellar, our extensive tour of his old and gorgeous vineyard holdings, and our tasting in his warm and inviting home in the center of the little town, cemented in our minds just how special of a thing we had gained access to. Thomas works fully biodynamically in these imposing vineyards, and his touch in the cellar is unbelievably sensitive and transparent—in fact, it is intriguing and beautiful that someone who so thoroughly understands the scientific mechanisms of vinification and aging would strive to make wines so absent the clunky touch of man.
Quantities are pathetic, indeed—but we know deep-down that the most adventurous, the most terroir-obsessed, the most trail-blazing among you will revel in these wines, just as we have. Wines of this character are rare and special—and still offer real value in a wine world increasingly given over to commodity, status, and collector-frenzy. The initial shipment from Domaine de l’Horizon will reach our shores around mid-Aprilh. We cannot recommend them highly enough for their precise, profound, and thrilling channeling of a truly incredible terroir.
Certified Biodynamic by Biodyvin since 2009
Only copper sulfate, and only rarely, as Calce’s winds (the Tramontane and Marin) impede disease pressure.
Bi-annual mechanical ploughing to maintain healthy soils
A complex patchwork of brown-black schist/slate and limestone, large river stones, and iron-oxide-drenched marl
Holdings of nearly centenary plantings of native varieties: Carignan and Maccabeu, long used in local table wines, and Muscat and Grenaches Blanc, Gris, and Noir, until recently used in fortified sweet wines. The Domaine’s only import, Syrah, was planted by Gauby himself and is the oldest in the region. All varieties are head trained except the Syrah, in Cordon de Royat.
Old vines naturally control yields, no green harvest
Exclusively by hand in small crates
Always entirely estate fruit
All fermentations are spontaneous, and take place in a mixture of stainless-steel tanks, concrete vats, demimuids, and foudres.
Maceration lengths vary wine-to-wine. Pumpovers are much more common than punchdowns, which are administered by foot.
Raised seperately from free-run juice; all white press wine blended into L’Esprit de l’Horizon Blanc.
Spontaneous, most often following alcoholic fermentation
Wines rest in a combination of stainless-steel and concrete tanks along with neutral Austrian-oak vessels of various sizes.
White and Rosé wines spend extended time on their lees to gain complexity and richness, though Tomas does not rely on bâtonnage to artificially beef them up.
FINING & FILTRATION
No fining; plate filtration in some vintages
SO2 is used, but in low quantities: 25-60 mg/l total, 0-15 mg/l free.