Traveling the wine route from Pic-St-Loup to Tavel, you will find yourself in the Gard, an area in the Languedoc where Ludovic Engelvin tends his vines around the village of Combas. Engelvin is a brooding man who looks more like a rockstar than your typical vigneron. Appearance aside, he is sure to produce some of the purest, most mouthwatering Grenache you can find in this sunsoaked corner of France. Englevin’s story is similarly atypical. He says himself that he “started from zero,” having no family history of winegrowing, no estate to work with, his family didn’t even really drink wine at all. He eventually found himself in the wine world almost by happenstance, drawing inspiration from his grandmother’s vegetable garden where he fell in love with the flavors, aromas, and traditions of the countryside. He knew that he wanted to make wine, but decided to start by studying to be a sommelier for two years and working at the Michelin starred l’Oustau de Baumenière in Provence.
A welcome change of scenery followed with an internship at a winery in Rioja, Spain. Ludovic was now well on his way to becoming a winemaker in his own right, but his role there didn’t involve any significant time in the cellars, something he knew he wanted. An important meeting with Didier Dagueneau, the renowned winemaker from the Loire who produces some of the finest examples of Pouilly-Fumé you can find, was formative for the young upstart. Here, he learned the skills he would later apply in his own cellar and his vision of what he wanted his wine to be was sketched out before him. Domaine Dagueneau has become a benchmark in the world of organic and biodynamic viticulture, and Ludovic remembers at the time of his training that people were barely talking about organics, much less biodynamics. It was Dagueneau who instilled in him the value for a better agriculture, and Ludovic knew exactly how he would undertake his next project.
At just 25 years of age, Engelvin returned to his native Languedoc with newfound know-how and bright ambition. He took over three hectares of vines in Vicq-le-Fesq on calcareous soils situated on the local hillsides in an enclosure surrounded by virgin forest. Engelvin knew he had landed something special. He recalls, “It was the poor man's spot. At one time, everyone was fighting for flatland down in the village, silty, easier to work. Up here, it’s all stones.” These tougher soils help with drainage, temperature regulation, and force the vine roots deeper into the bedrock to seek nutrients, just a few reasons for the stunning purity of the Engelvin wines. The vines are planted half to Grenache and half to Mourvèdre. Engelvin has also acquired three more hectares in nearby Souvignargues dedicated entirely to Grenache. A biodynamic approach with little intervention is key to guaranteeing success vintage after vintage. Herbal tisanes and essential oils replace the use of synthetic herbicides or phytosanitary products, and since 2013 Ludovic allows a local and endangered species of sheep to graze in his vineyards for part of the year, contributing natural fertilizer and eliminating the need for intrusive tillage.
Engelvin says that “Wine is the soil. It’s what makes it unique, and what can’t be replicated.” In this vein, he seeks to make wines of clear identity that express their terroir. He favors gentle infusion over extraction to preserve the finesse and delicacy of his fruit, and he forgoes all additives save for miniscule doses of sulfur to stabilize the wine. Tasting his wines is a brilliant experience, and the grace and balance that he draws from such a hot, arid climate is astounding. Ludovic relies on a naturally intuitive approach that lends itself to surprising pleasure every time you’re able to pop the cork on one of his bottles. These are wines that just sit well with you, no other way around it. Not to be missed!!