Jessica Servet Portrait – Winemaker at Hegarty Chamans

Hegarty Chaman is a winery co-owned by Sir John Hegarty and his partner Phillipa Crane. Since purchasing the property in 2002 they have invested heavily into the vineyard and winery in order to produce some of the finest examples of red and white wines from the Minervois Appellation in the heart of Southern France.

Once known for its gutsy rustic red wines dominated by the Carignan varietal, Hegarty Chamans have planted more Syrah and Grenache producing more elegant examples of red wines from the south. Robert Parker describes their Black Knight cuvee as “dynamic and riveting…a terrific wine that’s worth seeking out.”

FINE+RARE are proud importers of Hegarty Chaman’s top cuvee “Black Knight”, believing it to be one of Southern France’s finest examples of old vine Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The winemaking duties and the running of the property is down to Jessica Servet.  Last week we caught up with Jessica to try and understand how this modest Minervois property has managed to produce such exceptional fine wines in a region more associated with rusticity and power.

What do you feel are the most distinctive traits of wines from Minervois and how do you try to capitalise on this?

AOC Minervois sits on the western side of the Languedoc Roussillon. Many of the interesting vineyards have elevation – some in the foothills of the Montagne Noire have slightly cooler conditions than on the baking flat plains .

There are influences of the garrigue (scrubby bushes, fragrant wild thyme, juniper, lavender and fennel) which are rich in aromatic oils that leach into the limestone soils and these aromas can be found in these wines.

The four winds (Cers, Marin, Tramontane and L’autan) blow around the amphitheatre that the Chamans vineyard sit in and are a strong factor in shaping the wines’ profile. Winds help dry moisture off the grapes helping to prevent disease and the surrounding woods create a natural windbreak for the vines.

What can Minervois AC bring to the world of fine wine? – what personally do you think is its potential? Why should people be excited about them?

The best of the old world traditions and the best of the new world thinking. Together this creates more accessible wines but with complexity and structure.

Hegarty Chamans philosophy is about not following the crowd. Can you identify what you believe the crowd to be doing and what are you doing differently?

Chamans has south facing vines and elevation, surrounded by garrigue and woodland, giving us the opportunity to create distinctive, terroir based wines. We prune for quality, not quantity, producing between 25/30hl per ha. The AOC (which we’re part of) allows up to 48hl/per ha. Everything we do is focused on quality.

I appreciate grape growing and winemaking is made up of a multitude of tweaks and processes, but what do you think are the biggest determining factors that dictate the wines’ style and Black Knight in particular?

We are looking for elegance in our wines and take special care not to over-extract – something that is too often a problem in warm sites such as Minervois. We look to produce aromatic, well structured and characteristic Minervois wines – elegant and not over-extracted. We use large format 325hl barrels to have integrated and restrained oak influence, a silky texture and deep, nuanced flavours.

You talk about bottling only at certain times of the year depending on the cycle of the moon. Can you explain the philosophy behind this?

We work with the Pierre Masson’s Calendrier Lunaire (Moon Calendar) and adopt biodynamic principles in the vineyard. As the wines are unfiltered, we bottle on a descending moon when the juice is more stable and settled – to allow the wine to age well in bottle.

Biodynamics continues to be adopted more and more amongst fine wine producers. Working biodynamically – what are the biggest challenges for you?

It costs more to produce wine biodynamically because it’s more labour intensive. The preparations (dried plants) have to be dynamised in warm rainwater and sprayed on the vines or soil within two hours of energising. It requires us to be proactive as the principle is to work in harmony with nature rather than against it and we don’t have an armoury of chemicals available under the Demeter regulations – we believe working this way is better for the land and people who drink our wine.

Do you have to sacrifice yields to maintain the biodynamic / organic principles?

No we don’t. The strong winds in the region helps keep disease down to a minimum.

How do you cope with the heat in the Languedoc? How do you manage alcohol levels, phenolic ripeness? Have you seen the effects of climate change in recent years / vintages?

It is always a challenge! I think everyone is seeing the effects of climate change.

There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ year anymore. Fractured limestone in our soils allows the vine to grow its roots deep into the cracks allowing the roots to gain nutrients from a soil that is ‘alive’. The clay subsoil acts as a reservoir for winter rains allowing the vines to survive hot, dry summers. We find that working biodynamically means the vines are stronger and, just like a human, if you’re physically stronger you’re able to resist illness.

Can you tell us more about your Black Knight cuvee? How is the fruit selected / treated during winemaking?

Black Knight is only produced in years when everything is in balance – the fruit has to be perfectly ripe and healthy. We hand harvest our grapes from our best selected parcels with additional selection on the table de tri to ensure the fruit represents our premium grapes.

Since the first vintage, how have your wines developed from the early days to now?

As we have understood the vineyard more, we’ve been able to produce wine with more complexity and elegance.

What are the biggest things you have learnt about winemaking / grape growing over the years?

All years are different and by making wine you learn all the time. I’m still a young winemaker and am excited that I‘m on this journey.

How has the recent harvest been for you? Is 2018 looking like a good vintage in Minervois?

Yes it is! There was enough rain during the season to plump the grapes with juice and to help our younger vines progress. Frost is an ever present danger in the spring, but we were only touched at the edge of some parcels and were fortunate not to be hit with hail, which was tough for many producers where vines were pounded with hailstones. An Indian style summer in September with cool nights and warm days allowed us to start picking the Marsanne and Roussanne on 9 September. We are still in the process of vinification but I’m happy with the freshness and acidity.

Do you get much vintage variation?

Every vintage is different, but we try and produce a consistently high quality wine. We seek quality over quantity.

See our range of Hegarty Chamans wines here