Hautes Alpes / Domaine du Petit Août
Domaine du Petit Août - IGP Hautes Alpes
The Hautes-Alpes is a region that is rarely seen in the United States, located on the eastern side of France between Savoie and Provence. The Hautes-Alpes is an IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée—formerly Vin de Pays) and also the name of the French department whose capital and nearest large city is Gap. The Hautes-Alpes sits next to the Drome department, home of both Clairette de Die and Crozes Hermitage—although both are well over an hour away. With the Alps in the distance, visually this is a spectacular region. The valleys are lined with apple and pear trees, and brightly painted houses precariously stand along the steep sloped hills. The Hautes-Alpes is well known for its cycling climbs, and the Tour de France passes through the mountains of the department nearly every year.
The vines here are some of the highest in France at 600-700 meters altitude. The weather is not as hot as Provence and dryer than Savoie. Near harvest time, there is a huge difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. The soil is composed of well-draining clay and limestone. Some other vineyards contain more stones and sand helping to give the wines a nice streak of acidity.
That grape that sets the Hautes-Alpes apart from other regions in France is Mollard, a red grape that probably takes its name from the French mol or soft. Oddly, Mollard is also French slang for lugey, as in hock a lugey. Mollard is a grape that reaches 12.5% alcohol in hot years, but whose tannins are often ripe at only 11%. The wine normally has good ruby color, with aromas of dark fruit, spice and pepper. If you envision a light Mondeuse from Bugey crossed with Gamay from the Roannaise, you start to get the idea.
Petit Aout (little August) takes its name from proprietor Yann Agostini’s Italian heritage (Agostini is little August in Italian). Indeed Yann’s grandfather left his home near Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy during the second world war and found work in this beautiful valley just south of Gap. He worked as a mason in the region and passed on the knowledge of his trade to Yann’s dad.
Yann began his wine studies in 1997 where he earned an enology degree in Bordeaux and did an internship in St. Emilion. In 2000 he moved to the Lot department in the Southwest where he worked at Domaine Belmont. Yann’s wine trail then led him to Australia where he vinified with Martin Williams in the Yarra Valley. Upon his return to France, he worked in the cellar at Chateau Mont-Redon in Chateauneuf du Pape. In 2002 he returned to the Hautes Alpes and was employed as the head of winemaking at the Cave Coopérative des Hautes-Vignes near Theus. In 2008 he left and began making wine at the nearby Domaine Allemand in exchange for some parcels of vines from which he made his own wine under the name Petit Aout. In 2012, after acquiring the use of several parcels of his own, Yann separated from Domaine Allemand and built a humble winery just outside of Theus.
About 80% of Yann’s vines are rented from other producers: currently there are 4.7 hectares in production, broken into a number of different varieties: Mollard (3.5 ha), Roussanne (1.2 ha), Clairette (.8 ha), Muscat (.4 ha), Cabernet Sauvignon (.3 ha) and Marsanne (.2 ha). Ages of the vines vary greatly, with the oldest being 55 years old and the youngest 5 years old. While always respecting the vineyards, Yann took the plunge in 2014 and began working organically. He uses no artificial fertilizers or herbicides, and only copper and sulfur to treat the vines. Harvest is by hand and most wines are made in fiberglass and stainless-steel tanks.
Yann makes four wines at the domaine, but often experiments with some of his new ideas. Recently one was a wine made with the nearly extinct grape Espanenc and an ice cider using local apples. Both were delicious and we hope that these experiments will lead to larger quantities that we will be able to purchase and enjoy stateside.
Domaine du Petit Août - Sur le Fil: Made with 60% Roussanne and 40% Clairette. Clay and limestone terraces at 600 meters altitude. Hand-harvested grapes in small batches. Direct pressing with skin contact for 48 hours. 90% is aged in 4th use Burgundy casks, and 10% in tank sur lie. Malolactic fermentation is blocked to retain acidity. The wine shows aromas of stone fruit (apricot) along with some citrus pith. Medium-bodied, clean and lively.
Domaine du Petit Août - La Memoire Neuve: Made with 100% Mollard from vines ranging in age from 5 to 55 years old. The grapes are hand-harvested in small batches, then fermented and aged in fiberglass tanks with daily pump-overs. 7 day fermentation period, after which the free-run and press wines are blended. After malolactic, the wine is aged for six months in fiberglass tanks on its fine lees. Bottled after a light filtration. Notes of Morello cherry and black fruit with a savory note of black pepper. Soft on the palate, this is a very versatile at the table.
Domaine du Petit Août - New Rose (Yann claims this name comes from one of his favorite albums by the band The Damned): 100% Mollard from 40 to 50 year-old vines grown at 600 meters along the slopes of Theus. Hand-harvested in small batches, this saignée rosé is then aged partially in 5th use oak and partially in tank with the malolactic blocked. Both parts are then aged for 3 months in tank before bottling. This rosé has good color, and is both bright and rich at the same time. Its cherry and plum notes make it an ideal partner for grilled chicken or Atlantic Salmon.