There’s something wild, almost primal about the wines from Sang Des Cailloux. That’s not to say that Serge Férigoule isn’t a gifted winemaker. Having almost single-handedly injected Vacqueyras into the collective consciousness of wine nerds around the world, he is most assuredly that. But Vacqueyras is sort of like a wolf. You can try to domesticate it, even put a leash on it and parade it around for all of your friends to see, but deep down inside there’s still that dark, savage unknown. That quality is a thread, a connection to the place itself. Serge’s vineyards, though expertly tended, still feel like they could overrun the place at any moment; like they’re just a few days away from returning to their pre-Roman state. To be sure tending them is difficult work. The ground is blanketed with Galets Roulés; grapefruit-sized white quartzite stones polished in the glacier that deposited them there. Yes, the stones protect the vines and reflect heat into the canopy. They also make the place look like a boundary territory. The kind of recent discovery that might feature on the cover of National Geographic. The site - known as the Plateau des Garrigues is made all the more dramatic by the jagged mountain range ringing it on the not-too distant horizon. I’ve walked the vineyards early in the morning. Watching the mist receded into those mountains has the eerie and wonderful effect of separating the place from the noise and bustle of civilization.
The wildness of the vineyards puts a lot of pressure on the old vines that manage to claw their way towards the sun. Yields are naturally very low here. Around harvest the grape clusters, weighty and perfectly formed, seem barley able to contain their ripeness. Cooled by the morning fogs and the mountain winds, ripened by that southern French sunshine, suspended within them in perfect tension you’ll find sweetness, acidity, and bitterness. Having recognized the site’s potential to produce world-class fruit, Serge has been farming organically and biodynamically for years. His hands off approach to the vineyards insures that nothing severs the connection of the wine to the place. The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, and naturally fermented. The wine is raised in barrels ranging from 1 to 3 years of age.
The wines are wild, intense, bursting with the energy of the place. The nervous streak of acidity that rips through them makes them feel alive in the glass. Wild rosemary and lavender, the smoke of a distant campfire, struck flint, cracked black pepper, just ripe red cherry and plum - the depth is always a surprise.
I’ve been buying these wines for 20 years. They’ve always surprised me. Every year they get better, more connected to their home vineyards, more vibrant and lifted. It’s unusual to be surprised by something so familiar. The price, too, is surprising. Serge’s notoriety has soared over the last decade. And while the prices of many less famous, less worth domaines around him have also soared, he’s kept his pretty constant. The wines of Sang des Cailloux are wonderful right away. Cellar them for 5 years and they become magic. Cellar them for 10 years and you’ll know what great old wine is all about.