'The Britpack: winemaking Brits in France' - James Kinglake

Domaine Begude
Domaine Begude Domaine Begude, james kinglake

Producer: James Kinglake, Domaine Bégude, Limoux

James and Catherine left London a year later than the Simpsons, in 2003. Similarly they were exhausted by the rat race. “I worked in the City selling European shares for British investors, but found that we were spending most of our disposable income on escaping on holiday. In 2003 we spent a month touring the South of France viewing properties, and found Bégude in a beautiful spot between Carcassone and Limoux, with the Pyrenees as a backdrop.”

Like the Simpsons, they felt the New World was too far, and were attracted by the innovative wine scene in the Languedoc. “Plus, we couldn’t afford to buy in Morey St Denis! I love Burgundy, so Limoux was an obvious choice.” The Kingslakes bought the domaine, with 22ha planted at 320m altitude, for half the proceeds of selling their house in Wandsworth, south-west London.

Today they produce seven wines, using a French/Aussie/Brit winemaking team. “I did winemaking courses at Plumpton, but learned on the job,” says Kingslake. “When we arrived we advertised in the local rag for a winemaker. We interviewed 12 of 40 applicants, and invited three of those to the winery. One arrived in a suit, another said he didn’t drive a tractor; we employed the third, Laurent Girault, who took the time to walk the vineyards, and examine the soil. He had spent a year at Rippon in Central Otago and is open minded – modern French. We also have an Australian consultant winemaker.”

The vineyards had been organically farmed, and the domaine is now going through certification. The focus is on whites, which thrive in the cooler microclimate. “The highest temperature here this summer was 33˚C as opposed to perhaps 40˚C in Minervois. This and the day night drop in temperature give the wines a lovely natural acidity.”

Ripping up 7ha of the 22ha, the Kingslakes planted better clones of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, got rid of the Mauzac, and planted Viognier and Gewurztraminer, bringing total plantings to 29ha. The costs are considerable, says Kingslake. “It costs around 20,000 euros to prepare and plant one hectare. Then every new stainless steel tank costs another 12 or 13,000 euros. We make around 180,000 bottles a year, and we’re just about making a living – it’s not big bucks.”

What advice would Kingslake give those who’d like to take the plunge and buy their own vineyard? “You need a good team you can trust. Don’t be afraid to be bold. And listen to your customers. It’s hard work, but the rewards are there. The biggest plus points for us are the beauty of the place, and the relaxed pace of life.  We had been trying for children for seven years before we came here; Catherine fell pregnant immeidately after the move, and we now have a 7-year-old daughter.”

Try:

Domaine Bégude Etoile Chardonnay 2007, AC Limoux

Gorgeous buttery, cream cracker aromas. Lovely weight, toasty but fresh. Meursault style but at a far lower price. 17pts/20
Price: £157.75 (case of six magnums), Goedhuis.

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