‘We’re not in the habit of tasting old vintages of Corbières,’ says Louis Fabre, who founded his Languedoc estate in 1982 and, until 2020, oversaw the five domaines which form the Famille Fabre portfolio.

The reason he’s not in this habit, though, is more to do with the culture of wine he’s been brought up in, rather than the ageability of the wines. ‘We’re in a region where we think our wines don’t age well, that they have to be drunk quickly,’ he says. ‘But it’s all in our heads and even I sometimes struggle to think otherwise.’

 

 

The arrival of the next generation, in particular Louis’ daughter Clémence and her husband Louis-Jacques Ramin, who took over the running of the family portfolio in 2020, is changing that.

Louis-Jacques, who comes from a finance culture, doesn’t have that ‘psychological glass ceiling’, says Louis. So the time had come to taste through 30 years of history, culture and change, through the lens of the new generation.


Scroll down to see tasting notes and scores for 20 vintages of Château Fabre Gasparets


 

 

 

alt

Louis-Jacques Ramin (left) and Clémence Fabre (right).


A cuvée, not a château

Château Fabre Gasparets is the most iconic wine in the Famille Fabre portfolio – but don’t go looking to drop by the cellar door.

‘The actual château was sold about 15 years ago,’ says Clémence. ‘My father made some very audacious decisions, such as converting to organics in the 1990s and agroforestry, and economically he was obliged to sell some of the buildings.’

Boutenac is the only official cru within the sprawling 8,079-hectare mass of the Corbières appellation in Languedoc. Covering 220ha, the Boutenac vineyards fan out around the pine-littered Massif du Pinada, which peaks at 273m.

The vines that contribute to the Château Fabre Gasparets cuvée are dotted across the northeast flank of this massif, nestled among the garrigue within the smaller peaks and troughs between the villages of Boutenac, Luc-sur-Orbeiu and Gasparets.


 

Château Fabre Gasparets: the wine

Grape varieties CarignanMourvèdreSyrah

Winemaking Syrah and Mourvèdre are destemmed, with regular pump overs; Carignan is whole-bunch fermented

Ageing 12 months, part in French oak and part in concrete egg-shaped tanks

 


Life and vine intertwined

Château de Luc is another of the family’s five domaines, and the home in which Louis and his wife Claire brought up their family.

In the cellar, there is a chunk of stone. ‘It is a fragment of a sarcophagus that my parents found in the garden when they started work to restore this building,’ says Jeanne Fabre, Clémence’s sister, who runs the wine tourism operations at Famille Fabre and is also president of the organisation committee of Millésime Bio, the world’s largest organic wine fair.

‘Carved into it are depictions of vines, as well as the Alpha and Omega signs’. It dates back to the time of the Visigoths. ‘The history of the vine has always punctuated our architecture, our landscape and our economic life in the Languedoc.’

Jeanne also highlights a ledger of revenue and expenses dating to 1800 and belonging to a farmer – by the name of Fabre – in the village of Gasparets, where Château de Luc is located.

More than simply quaint historical anecdotes, it explains how the domaine and surrounding area were once dedicated to polyculture.

‘I exchanged a sheep skin for a tool at the Lézignan fair; I sold this many litres of olive oil; I harvested my wheat,’ Jeanne reads aloud from the ledger.

The landscape was much more varied, the economy more diversified. Crops were rotated and therefore soils were healthier and more alive than those farmed under the prolific monoculture of today’s wine production.


 

Famille Fabre: key facts

Earliest recorded family history 1605

Foundation of current company 1982, by Louis Fabre

Vineyard area 360ha

The domaines

Château Fabre Gasparets acquired in 1711 (Corbières Boutenac)

Château Coulon acquired in 1816 (Corbières)

Château de Luc acquired in 1870 (Corbières)

La Grande Courtade acquired in 1950 (IGP Pays d’Oc)

Tour de Rieux acquired in 2016 (Minervois)

 


‘Never will we manage to go back to the balance we once had,’ says Jeanne. ‘Today we are in the kingdom of monoculture.’ But now the family has embarked on a path of diversification, ‘to compensate for this lack of biodiversity’.

‘We see the land is in difficulty because of this monoculture. It’s now up to us to make decisions that are a bit radical, to quickly turn things around.’

Along with the family’s 360ha of vineyards, there are 80ha of fields filled with chickpeas, barley and wheat. André Fabre, the youngest of Louis and Claire’s children, has spearheaded an ambitious agroforestry plan, planting kilometres of hedges around the vineyards to increase biodiversity, as well as apple and quince trees (he’s a budding cidermaker, too).

Having founded his family company in 1982, Louis started converting his vineyards to organics in 1991. The new generation is forging ahead with a strong sustainability agenda.

alt

André Fabre, one of Louis and Claire’s five children, is passionate about fruit trees and has recently launched his own range of (delicious) ciders.


 

Key dates

1953 Louis Fabre, current winemaker and owner, is born

1982 Louis Fabre creates the Fabre estate

1991 Organic conversion begins

1996 Bernard Rehs joins and remains oenologist for 27 years. André Fabré Jr is born

1998 Stephane Yerle joins, specialising in micro-oxygenation

2002 Collaboration with St-Emilion cooper Fombrauge stops. New barrels brought in, and part of Château Fabre Gasparets is aged in concrete tanks

2005 Boutenac cru is created

2011 Grenache removed from the blend to give more freshness and ageing potential

2012 First year all Famille Fabre wines are certified organic.

2015 The vintage served at Clémence and Louis-Jacques’ wedding; Clémence and sister Jeanne, the 16th generation, join the company

2020 Clémence and Louis-Jacques Ramin take over Famille Fabre

 

 


Tasting 20 vintages across three decades

alt

The line up featured 20 vintages between 1994 and 2020. The idea was to see what changes in the climate, blend and winemaking methods have brought to the style of the wine over time.

The tasting was both a privilege and a stark reminder of the impact of ongoing climate chaos. This was perhaps most clearly observed in two areas. Firstly in the increasing alcohol levels:

1994-1999 12.5%
2002-2006 13.5%
2007-2014 14%
2015-2020 13.5%-14.5%

Secondly, the removal of Grenache from the blend from 2011. ‘Grenache can bring really jammy, pruney notes, but we wanted a wine that kept a lot of freshness. So from 2010 we started to reduce the Grenache in the blend,’ explains Clémence.

And, indeed, the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 showed bags of charm and approachability.

The removal of Grenache and an increase in Carignan has meant many more recent vintages balance their higher alcohols with Carignan’s fresh acidity. Syrah also used to be a more important component of the blend, but today it’s kept to 20% or less.

Vinification and ageing techniques have changed over time, too. In the early 1990s, carbonic maceration, little extraction and 100% ageing in old barrels was the norm. The late 1990s saw a change towards more extraction and Louis says this was when they started to work on the reaction between the wine and oxygen.

‘We realised Carignan needed to be worked a bit more: not too light in extraction and with a bit more oxygen,’ he says. This is also when the family started working with oenologist Stephane Yerle, who specialises in micro-oxygenation and organics, and makes his own wine at Vila Voltaire in St-Chinian. New oak was also introduced in the 2000s.

The wines from the first decade of the 2000s, although still delicious to drink, are bold and burly, with an overall feeling of extreme ripeness, dark chocolatey richness, char and toasty oak.

alt

Amphora used to age Carignan. Credit: Famille Fabre

2017 was the first year that the Carignan was aged in small amphorae, and this particular vintage sings with vibrant fruit, unmarked by overt woody notes.

A key focus of the tasting was the levels of rainfall during each vintage, measured from October to October. Some of the exceptionally dry years (1998, 2002 and 2007), however, still show remarkable freshness. In fact some of my highest scoring wines came from very dry vintages. The effect of Boutenac’s deep stony soils, that allow the roots of the ancient Carignan vines to plunge deep in search of water, perhaps?

Best broached at least three years after release, Château Fabre Gasparets is an ageworthy wine and goes some way to put Boutenac in the much-deserved spotlight. The oak is still present in some vintages, but what linked these wines together was a seam of fine acidity aligned perfectly to bright, ripe fruit.

And as Louis says: ‘We’re working on making wines that are much more modern, are ready much earlier, and have much less power.’ They’ve clearly got a keen eye on the next generation of drinkers.

 


Château Fabre Gasparets: 20 vintages from 1994 to 2020

Wines are listed in order of vintage: oldest to youngest

Famille Fabre, Château Fabre Gasparets, Corbieres, Languedoc-Roussillon, France 1994

Famille Fabre, Château Fabre Gasparets, Corbieres, Languedoc-Roussillon, France 1994
+ Add to My Wines

Lifted aromas showing some volatile notes of shoe polish alongside spiced cranberries and dried cherries. This is a little folded in on itself, not fully expressive aromatically. There’s still a great sweetness of fruit on the palate, however – a real surge of cherry goodness. It’s light in structure now,…

Points90

Famille Fabre, Château Fabre Gasparets, Corbieres, Boutenac, Languedoc-Roussillon, France 2020

Famille Fabre, Château Fabre Gasparets, Corbieres, Boutenac, Languedoc-Roussillon, France 2020
+ Add to My Wines

A very youthful, bright and fruity aromatic expression – this had just been bottled at the time of tasting. The tannins are tight but ripe and refined. The wine is flecked with a delicious sweetness of fruit, and it’s bold and powerful, supported by fresh notes of menthol, eucalyptus, juniper…

Points94