Philippe Wies is a singular presence in the southern French appellation of Maury – kite-surfing adventurer, biodynamic farmer, maker of incredible natural wines. Originally from Alsace, Philippe made a career raising heirloom crops and heritage breed livestock in the southern Ardèche, but gave it all up in 2006 to sail the globe with his wife and young children. After almost two years at sea he was drawn back to France by the wild extremity of Roussillon (or, in the lexicon of the fashionable, Catalogne Nord), and settled in Maury upon discovering an immaculate eight hectares of ancient Grenache Noir, Carignan, Syrah, Lladoner Pelut, Macabeu, Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris.
The vineyard, wedged between the foothills of the Pyrenees and the Massif Central, is dominated by stone and sun and the winds of the Tramontane. It is a landscape that evokes the primitive. And in fact, viticulture here dates to the ancient Greeks. Historically it is a land of religious outcasts and social renegades. A land of troubadours. It is a land capable of producing wines of remarkable character. Sadly, since at least the 1970s, the region’s wines have been remarkable only in their embodiment of industrial homogeneity.
In this respect, Philippe is an iconoclast of sorts. His methods are ancestral in the main. Mostly working alone, he dry-farms by hand and horse, without use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers or any other means of eradicating nature’s presence in the vineyard. Philippe embraces this same philosophy of minimalism in the cellar: employing ambient fermentation in concrete vats and eggs, without filtration or fining and minimal SO2, and finishing fermentation in used oak barrels and large foudre. The resulting wines of La Petite Baigneuse are pure, individualistic expressions of this beautiful place.
This beauty is evident year-round in the vineyard. But March and April astonish. The vines come to life amid cascades of flowering rosemary and sunshine. With the sun comes the hope of summer, along with a reminder that the season of labor is near. But for now, the Pyrenean nights remain raw with cold and the fermentation maintains a slow progress in the cellar.
Now is the time to enjoy friends and family and linger over large meals. To empty the winter larder and celebrate Spring’s gifts of new lamb and wild allium, complemented by wines full of energy and stony terroir. Delicious wines that are crafted to be shared generously over exuberant conversation late into the night.
The arrival of these incredible natural wines inspires us to do just that!
Kyle Harmon, Ancestrel Wines