Producer Spotlight: Château Montus and Bouscassé

Date: 09-07-2024

The below article was originally published by Nicolas Greinacher on Vinous.

Tasting the latest releases from Château Montus and Bouscassé felt like reconnecting with a forgotten era. Both wines originate from the Madiran AOC in Southwest France, a region nestled roughly two hours away from Bordeaux by car. This secluded area faces the Pyrénées Mountain range, which acts as a natural border between France and Spain and lies about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean.

I recalled that Tannat was the predominant grape variety in this region, renowned for producing deeply colored reds with robust tannic profiles. Antoine Veiry is the new winemaker and soon-to-be owner of both estates. Veiry inquired about my last tasting experience with these wines. After some thought, I remembered I had indeed encountered Château Montus approximately 15 years prior, but since then, there has been an undeniable hiatus.

But let's begin from the start. Alain Brumont, Antoine Veiry’s stepfather, played a pivotal role in establishing both estates as prominent figures in the world of French wine over 40 years ago. In 1979, Brumont inherited Château Bouscassé, his father's 17-hectare vineyard. Just a year later, he acquired Château Montus, conveniently located just 15 minutes away.

Nineteen eighty-five marked the debut of Montus Prestige, the inaugural Madiran crafted solely from Tannat and meticulously aged in new oak barrels - a deliberate effort to tame the intense tannins of the variety. Veiry, now 30 years old, entered the scene in 2003 alongside his mother, Laurence. "At nine years old, I never imagined working in a vineyard. It wasn't a passion of mine. I hail from my mother's side, a family of farmers, but not specifically grape growers or winemakers. Alain Brumont instilled in me this love for vines. And then, this fascination with wine, which became a revelation for me," Veiry reminisces.

When Veiry was around 14 years old, he began working in both vineyards and cellars. As years passed, he embarked on internships in prestigious wineries, collaborating with luminaries such as Anselme Selosse (Champagne Jacques Selosse), Hervé Bizeul (Domaine du Clos des Fées) and Guillaume Pouthier (Château Les Carmes Haut Brion), among others. Veiry returned to Château Bouscassé and Montus full-time in the summer of 2018. Today, he oversees both viticulture and winemaking, while 78-year-old Alain Brumont remains involved in a supportive role. I was eager to sample the 2019 vintage releases representing the wineries' most recent offerings.

The 2019 Growing Season

A mild and relatively dry spring heralded an early onset of the growing season. "Despite the early kick-off we experienced towards the end of March and the beginning of April, the dryness of the spring didn't lead to marked vegetative growth. This allowed us to execute all the necessary tasks across our vineyards as planned.

We pay particular attention to grape counting, given that Tannat is a variety known for its large clusters and high yields. Hence, having a wider time frame enables us to sort, adjust and tally the bunches we intend to keep for each vine. In 2019, the vintage allowed us to manage the volume of harvest per vine precisely," Veiry explains. Although June and July brought dry and hot conditions, there was no impediment to ripening. August then brought a welcomed change, with 15 days of rainfall.

September saw temperatures dropping with very cool nights, which proved beneficial in preserving acidity. Alongside Tannat, Madiran’s primary grape variety, Veiry also tends to significant proportions of Cabernet Franc, with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. "Cabernet Franc is a variety I grew particularly fond of during my time at Château Les Carmes Haut Brion. It complements Tannat wonderfully, and since both varieties ripen simultaneously, they can be harvested almost concurrently," Veiry elucidates. Grapes from Château Bouscassé, with its clay and limestone-rich soils, are typically harvested around 10 to 12 days before those from Château Montus, which thrive in pebble and clay soils. All harvesting, whether for black or white varieties, is done manually.

Winds of Change

Since Veiry's arrival in 2018, vinification processes at both Château Bouscassé and Montus have undergone significant adjustments. Focusing on red wines, fermentation temperatures have generally been lowered, now ranging between 22 to 26 degrees Celsius (71.6 - 78.8°F). Before fermentation, grapes undergo cold soaking for two to five days, with the skins remaining in contact with the juice for up to 45 days post-fermentation. Punch-downs are now a thing of the past, and pump-overs, if used at all, have become rare occurrences. Thus, while extraction is still performed, it's approached with much gentler techniques compared to previous methods.

Oak management has also significantly changed. Previously, the red wines of Château Bouscassé spent 18 to 24 months in barrique. The new regime, however, involves only 12 months in barriques, followed by an additional 24 months in 80-hectolitre foudres. A similar adjustment has been made at Château Montus, with perhaps the most notable adjustment affecting the XL. Previously, this wine spent 40 months in new oak barriques. Since the shift, it undergoes just one year in new oak barriques followed by 36 to 48 months in the larger foudres. For further details, readers may consult the accompanying tasting notes, which include information on new oak ratios.

In order to lower the oxidation rate, Veiry modified the sizes and cooperages of barrels. "Previously, oak imparted a pronounced sweetness to our wines, in addition to softening the tannins, of course. Nowadays, I aim for barrels to contribute to smoothing tannins solely. We use thicker staves, going from 22mm to 27mm, which promotes a more reductive approach. Additionally, we've expanded our horizons beyond France. Austrian oak now accounts for over 50% of our total, with the remainder sourced from France and Italy," Veiry explains. Veiry confirms that micro-oxygenation is not employed here, despite being a common winemaking practice in Madiran to help soften Tannat's tannins.

All wines undergo additional bottle aging before being released, which is why the 2019 vintage is the latest to hit the markets. This marks the final stage of preparing the wines to suit consumers' palates, eliminating the necessity for lengthy cellaring before uncorking. Sixty percent of the wines are sold internationally, with Canada, Japan, Korea and Sweden being the largest export markets. When asked about Canada, Veiry smiled and explained, "Alain Brumont doesn’t speak English. That’s why he first went to French-speaking Canada in the 1980s, where he could market the wines in his own language. So, to this day, Canada remains our largest export market.

Tasting the Wines

Tasting the complete range of reds from Château Bouscassé and Montus side by side dispels any preconceived notions about Tannat being solely deep, dark, concentrated and intensely tannic. Veiry has evidently put in the effort and crafted wines that are refined, expressive and flavorful. Showcasing mainly black fruits with ferrous undertones and varying degrees of aromatic oak influence, these wines embrace the characteristics of the Tannat grape while skilfully balancing its inherent traits.

I'm genuinely intrigued by what the future holds here. With the promising array of wines Veiry has produced in the 2019 vintage, coupled with his youthfulness at just 30 years of age, the future seems bright. He appears adept at identifying key areas for improvement and is unafraid to implement necessary changes. And let's not overlook the performance of the white wines I sampled during this tasting. The aromatic and lively Château Montus Blanc Sec, made entirely of Petit Courbu - an old Basque variety - comes highly recommended.

To view Nicolas Greinacher's full tasting notes, view here (paywalled).