The Fillons Of France
Live, Laugh, Love, Leave a Legacy - Stephen Covey
During a recent trip to France’s Languedoc region, I was privileged to meet the Fillons. This inspiring young family who, in pursuit of their dream to craft fine wine, took stock of their lives, and made a drastic series of decisions that resulted in a profound change to their life.
Domaine Le Clos du Serres is located in the breathtakingly beautiful area of St Jean dela Blaquière in the Larzac foothills, twenty-five miles northwest of Montpellier. “Serres”translates as “hills” in the local Occitan dialect.
Clos du Serres was purchased by Béatrice and Sébastien Fillon, who in 2006 both left booming urban careers to pursue grape growing. They were looking to buy affordable wine acreage that they could develop, a blank slate that they could make their own. After visiting twenty properties, they settled on a remote, tiny appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) in Terrasses du Larzac. Fifteen rocky parcels of old-vine vineyard (including some hundred and ten year-old Carignan vines) was a somewhat unusual choice for a budding winemaking family. However, the location suited the Fillon’s objectives perfectly.
Born in St Etienne, Sébastien grew up in rural Loire Valley and was familiar with agriculture. His life’s path took him to becoming an engineer, yet he never forgot his love of the land. It was a less natural change for Béatrice who grew up in Montpellier; yet she, like her husband, fell in love with winemaking craft and the non-hurried lifestyle.
They left a busy city life behind to focus on family and a quality of life unobtainable in the hustle and bustle of the urban merry-go-around. Béatrice and Sébastien wanted their two daughters, ages six and eight, to grow up in a pristine and unspoiled environment. They also wanted to build a lasting legacy for their children, and ultimately set an example for them by demonstrating how they created tremendous value with their bare hands. In the process, they were aiming to create a communal legacy for a sleepy, remote Larzac.
With deep passion and pioneering spirit, the Fillons set out to show the whole wine world that this AOC is truly special. Why not? No one raved of Côte-Rôtie fifty years ago. To see the region’s recognition now, one would assume it had been that way forever.
Set against the natural backdrop of pristine, hauntingly beautiful Larzac country, their winery was originally founded in 1998. The estate covers an area of about thirty acres spread over fifteen different tracts. The majority of the vineyard is planted to Syrah with the remaining dedicated to Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault. The vines varies from six to over one hundred years old.
Its geographical confluence of varied exposures, well-drained, diverse soils (shale, sandstone, rock and red clay) and climatic conditions are ideal for grape growing. Hot sunny days are interspersed with cool nights. Cooling breezes caress the valley enabling the soils to hold in moisture. The growing season is lengthy, allowing the fruit to fully ripen. Dramatic diurnal temperature shifts encourage the grapes to ripen slowly, but steadily; an important factor in attaining the complex aromatics evident in their wines.
The Fillons practice minimal intervention and biodynamics. Instead of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, they use composted manure, grape sediment, and crushed vine shoots, which greatly contributes to the overall health and longevity of the vines. They practice rigorous green-harvesting. Yields are miniscule and tightly managed. All of the grapes are hand-harvested, de-stemmed, and fermented whole. Pump-overs are a daily practice, and the maceration lasts for up to three weeks.
Lots from different parcels are separated and undergo individually vinification. Judicious use of oak, used mainly for structure, yields softer, more palate pleasing wines.
The Terrasses du Larzac was recognized as an AOC Coteaux du Languedoc in 2004. The wines made here have the generous fruit flavor profiles typical of Languedoc, with the exuberance and bright acidity inherent to Larzac.
Robert Parker quickly acknowledged this by awarding one of the wine from the “Pioneers of Languedoc,” 91 points. The Fillons are convinced that other prominent producers will soon flock to Larzac due to its exceptional terroir. They are building a tasting room to welcome future tourists to the region.
As we were chatting in her kitchen, Beatrice was distracted by a loud thunder outside. The next thing we knew was torrential downpour, the likes of which I had never seen. She rushed outside to pick up a few items and came back moments later, soaked to the bone. It was fascinating to witness the nature’s fury. The heavy rain somehow symbolized a cleansing of sorts, a purification of mind and heart. The Fillons’ hearts and vision is as clear and pure as the fresh autumn rain, complete with its inevitable culmination of thunderous success ensured by the impassioned, authentic approach of a family that is determined to forge the path all their own.