Alain Brumont and Fabrice Dubosc
Gros Manseng, Sauvignon Blanc, Tannat, Merlot, Petit Courbu, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
The story of Alain Brumont is the story of Tannat and how such an irascible, tannic grape could be tamed without betraying its true character. It happened through the will of a man…a man of many telling nicknames (France’s Angelo Gaja, the Che of the Vines, the Garibaldi of the Southwest, Madiran’s Fighting Bull)…with an unrelenting attention to detail and nature that is illustrated by his childlike fascination with a new vineyard insect, even after four decades in the fields, as we saw during a visit in July 2019.
In the 1970s, Madiran wines were slipping into irrelevance. Vineyards were either ploughed under or switched from the native Tannat varietal to international varietals. Alain’s father Alban was one of a few winegrowers still in the area, but Alain parted ways with him and the family’s Chateau Bouscasse because of his lack of ambition and vision. In 1979, after pursuing greater wine education in Bordeaux, he returned to Bouscasse to claim an inheritance of 17 hectares. He acquired the run-down estate of Chateau Montus in the following year.
Forty years later, as of 2019, Alain owns 350 hectares and rents (with full control) another 250 hectares in the area. A short hand for understanding the expanse of holdings: Chateau Bouscasse, which is in the western part of Madiran and blessed with iron-rich limestone clay with sharp rocks, is most akin to Right Bank Bordeaux. Chateau Montus, which is in the eastern part and graced with red clay and big round rocks, is more similar to the Left Bank.
The key to Alain’s success was seeing the potential of Tannat and relentlessly pursuing realization of that potential. He has sacrificed a lot. He’s on his third marriage. He gets very little sleep (no more than 5 hours each day). He has set aside other passions like skiing.
What were Alain’s innovations in taming…rather, elevating…the Tannat grape to its grand heights? He rejected the practice of micro-oxygenation that others in the appellation had embraced. Such premature oxidation undermined the long age-ability emparted on Tannat by the grape’s tannin; undercutting the very essence of the grape. He doubled the density of his vineyards to 7,000 vines per hectare (for comparison, the most common density in Bordeaux is 3,000 to 6,000) and reduced yields with three green harvests, resulting in smaller, more flavorful grape bunches. He has embraced new oak because, he posits, “Tannat eats wood”…but he would be horrified to actually detect oak in his wines.
Alain continues to experiment (with new varietals), continues to challenge his wines (by putting them up against the world’s greatest wines in his famous “Icon Tastings”) and continues to see his wines arise in prominent settings (most recently, in September 2019, his 2011 Chateau Bouscasse Madiran was poured for world leaders at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France).
Alain’s efforts would not be possible without a strong team, of course. His lead winemaker, Fabrice Dubosc, has worked for Alain since 2001; before then, he had worked with Guigal in the Rhone and Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux. The vineyards are managed by Alain’s stepson Antoine Veiry, whose youthful age of 25 years belies his serious, determined demeanor and extensive experience among the vines (11 years).
Alain’s vineyards will have the increasingly-accepted HVE sustainability certification as of the 2017 vintages. They use organic treatments to minimize pests. Grass is planted in alternating rows, mixed with an abundance of other greens and flowers (and even wild strawberries!), to help with aerations and to add nitrogen to the soil. The winery prefers to protect against mildew using biocontrol methods rather than copper treatments.