When the Pyrenees thrust themselves up to the Earth's surface about 500 million years ago--long before the Alps--the result was a chaotic terroir where chalk, clay, schist, and sandstone formed layer upon layer, studded with rocks of all sizes and shapes. Consequently, there is little uniformity from valley to valley. This is the geological heritage of the Jurançon, an approximately 1,500-acre appellation for white wine tucked up against the Spanish border in the Basque/Bearnaise country of southwestern France.
One of the most favored locations for vineyards is La Chapelle de Rousse, where the hills resemble ampitheaters (conques--literally, "sea shells") and the vines are planted on terraces. The soil here is called "poudingue," a kind of crushed chalk, very dense, and laced with galets--big pebbles that washed down from the mountaintops ages ago. This is where Jean-Bernard Larrieu grows about 24 acres of gros manseng, petit manseng, and just a bit of courbu. For generations, his family grew fruit here--mostly strawberries--and sent their grapes to the local co-op.
When he took over the property in 1985, he concentrated on winemaking. Over the years, his operation became organic in a system he describes as one "which respects the plant, its physiology and its environment; a system of culture which allows our grape varieties to express the minerality of the poudinque, the freshness of the Pyrenees, perhaps the softness of ocean (not so far) and surely the passion of our job."
Jean-Bernard also embraces modern techniques: He ferments at high temperatures and uses temperature-controlled stainless in the winery.
2009 Larrieu "Lapeyre" AOC Jurançon Sec: This is made from 100% gros manseng, showing a beautiful pale gold in the glass. It opens with aromas of peach and citrus with a hint of sweet herb on the nose; in the mouth, peach and apricot amped up with near-electrifying acidity. This is a steely, nervy wine--the first sip sort of shocks you into a heightened state of alertness. Clean, citrusy finish. Available locally at Table Wine Asheville. You might want to call Josh to make sure he still has it in stock: 828-505-8588.