Picpoul from Pinet and California and a seaside pairing with #Winophiles

Picpoul de Pinet and Bonny Doon Vineyard Picpoul

Picpoul or Piquepoul is a grape of the South of France. While it is used as a blending grape in the Rhône, when you travel to Occitanie on the Mediterranean Sea you find it made as a single varietal wine. It is a wine of place, pairing perfectly with the briny oysters and other seafood of the coast. Picpoul translates to “lip stinger”, is named for it’s bright and tingly acid.  It is one of the oldest grape varieties in the Occitanie Region of France.

Languedoc-Rousillon in Occitanie

Occitanie Region of France map

Occitanie Region of France

While we have been diving into Rhone grapes lately, and picpoul is a grape of the Southern Rhone, it is more well know in Languedoc-Roussillon, a wine region in the south of France that is west of the French Riviera and runs around the Mediterranean Sea to the border with Spain.

Until 2016 the Occitanie region was referred to as Languedoc-Roussillon, and Midi-Pyrénées. The new name for the region comes from the Occitan cross which was the coat of arms used by the Counts of Toulouse and used in the 12th and 13th centuries. This new larger region encompasses the area they ruled.

Map of the Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

The Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

Within this region you find Picpoul-de-Pinet. This area around the Étang de Thau has moderate daytime temperatures due to the sea breezes and being close to the lagoon keeps the night time temps from dropping too much.

Étang de Thau

Photo of Oyster beds on the Thau Lagoon

The oyster beds on the Etang du Thau

The lagoon (étang) itself is 7,500 hectares and spans an area along the Mediterranean that runs 21 km along the coast and is 8 km wide. It is one of the largest lagoons off of the Mediterranean Sea. It is also a spectacular place to see flamingos, who stop in to eat in the lagoon around the village of Frontignan. You will also find many oyster and mussel farms in the region.

Picpoul-de-Pinet

Pinet is a commune in the Héralt department in the Occitanie region of Southern France. The small community gives it’s name to Picpoul-de-Pinet.  The vineyards here are among the oldest on the Mediterranean and grow on the edge of the Thau Lagoon.

The Grape

Picpoul vines grow well and are early to bud out in the spring, which does make it a little susceptible to frost. It also ripens late and it has a tendency toward mildew. The grapes themselves are oval and tend to drop off easily. I have heard that vineyards used to lay pans out under the vines to catch the grapes as they fell.

Picpoul comes to America

I first discovered this variety at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, the winery noted for bringing this variety to the US. This is one of the 13 varieties of grape allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Tablas Creek did not bring this grape in initially with the first 8 varieties that they brought from the Rhône, but after seeing how well suited the land and climate were to this grape imported it and planted an acre in 2000. Since then they have added another acre, grafting some roussanne vines over to picpoul blanc. As in the Southern Rhone, they use picpoul as a blending grape in their Esprit de Tablas Blanc. About every other year they do a varietal bottling. Sadly, I did not have a bottle for this tasting.

Bonny Doon’s Picpoul

When we were traveling and tasting last year and stopped by Bonny Doon, we found that they also had a picpoul. Randall Grahm, the winemaker, sources the grapes from Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. We  shared a little about this area and vineyard last year in our “Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (Speed Dating for Food and Wine)

Arroyo Seco

Arroyo Seco is an AVA in Monterey County. The AVA covers two towns, Soledad and Greenfield. The area sits in the Salinas Valley 40 miles from Monterey Bay, which brings dense fog and howling winds during the growing season in the Eastern and Central Portions of the AVA. Named for the “Arroyo Seco” a seasonal waterway that brings in water from the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. The Western portion of the AVA runs east to west in a narrow gorge that is sheltered from the Monterey Bay fog and winds and has higher daytime temperatures. The AVA covers over 18,000 acres and is one of the smallest AVAs in California and has about 7,000 planted acres. Find out more about this region at http://www.arroyosecowinegrowers.com/

Beeswax Vineyards

Beeswax Vineyard was established in 2000 and has 24 acres of organically farmed wine grapes with blocks of pinot noir, grenache blanc, roussanne and picpoul blanc. This tiny vineyard is in the Salinas Valley toward the southern end of the AVA and is nestled into the Santa Lucia foothills.

Arroyo Seco Appellation map courtesy the Arroyo Seco Winegrowers

A conversation with Randall Grahm on picpoul blanc

I had an opportunity to speak with Randall Grahm the infamous winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards about picpoul.  He was gracious enough to take a few moments out of his busy morning for a chat on the phone.

Randall told me they originally brought picpoul in to add to their Cigare Blanc which is a white Rhône blend. The blend for the Cigare Blanc with the roussanne and grenache blanc was becoming more alcoholic and the acid was dropping. They grafted over some of the roussanne to picpoul hoping to add some of the acid that picpoul is known for, to the blend. “It seemed like a good idea, and we used it for one vintage, but found it did not play well with the roussanne and grenache blanc”, Randall said. It did, however make a great wine on it’s own, and has been well received. 2017 makes their 6th bottling of this variety.

We spoke about Beeswax Vineyard, the vineyard in Arroyo Seco where they source the grapes for this wine. They have had a good relationship with this grower and were involved in the layout and planning for the vineyard 14 years ago.  As I mentioned, they grafted over some of the original roussanne in this vineyard to picpoul which is where we get this wine. Randall also mentioned to me when we spoke that they have recently grafted some of the Beeswax vineyard roussanne over to clairette blanche, so watch for that from Bonny Doon in the future.

As to the wine making behind the Bonny Doon Picpoul,  “It’s a pretty low tech wine, whole cluster pressed with no skin contact and batonnage post fermentation for texture”.  Randall says the 2017 Vintage is a bit of an anomaly, in that it has riper aromatics and is more articulated. In this vintage you get floral notes where you normally find only flinty minerality. Randall only made 1500 cases of the 2017 Picpoul, so you should hurry and get some.

Picpoul in California

It is estimated (and only estimated because there is so little of it) that as of 2016 there were only 30 acres of picpoul in California. In addition to Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon, I found a few other California wineries that have produced picpoul blanc including Forlorn Hope (Napa), Broc Cellars (Berkley), TH Estates, Adelaida (Paso Robles), and Acquiesce (Lodi). If you are aware of other US wineries producing picpoul, let us know in the comments!

The Wines

Mouline de Gassac Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

The Mouline de Gassac Picpoul-de-Pinet we chose, grows in limestone soils on a 5 hectare vineyard that is organically farmed. The soil here is clay and limestone close to the Thau Lagoon.  This is an unoaked picpoul.  40,000 bottles were made and the alcohol sits at 12.5%.

Bonny Doon 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

We had two bottles of this wine.  The first we indulged in last September when we did our “Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (Speed Dating for Food and Wine)” post.  As I posted then..

“This wine was mouthwatering and bright, with a light straw yellow color. You get minerals, ocean and a floral note when you stick your nose in the glass and then tart green apple and stone fruit pits in your mouth. There is in the background this little bit of beeswax. It is a lovely and subtle wine.”

This wine comes in at 12.7% alcohol

It is worth mentioning the beautiful art on the label of the Bonny Doon Picpoul.  The artist is by Wendy Cook a calligrapher in San Francisco.  She has also done the labels for the Bonny Doon Viognier and roussanne and you can see more of her work at www.bellocchio.com

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul from Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

We did our initial tasting with the 2016 Bonny Doon Picpoul and had a bottle of the 2017 in route.  While it didn’t arrive in time for our pairing.  We did taste it after to see if we could pick up on the differences in the vintage that Randall mentioned.

This wine opened with sweet honeysuckle on the nose with lighter minerals in the back that grew to slate as it opened.  The nose was enchanting.  As with the other picpoul we found notes of beeswax also, but the sweet floral notes were the star.  We ended up pairing this will some linguine and clam sauce for dinner which was a great pairing.

This 6th vintage of Picpoul has an alcohol level a little lower than it’s predecessor, coming in at 12%

We have to thank Bonny Doon for including us in their food pairing notes for this wine! I went to check suggested pairings on their site and this is what I found.

“This wine is utterly brilliant with the briniest oysters you can find or Dungeness crab. Other ideas include Grilled Octopus with Lemon, Moussaka, Sardines a la Plancha, Grilled Sardines with Frisée & Whole-Grain Mustard Dressing. We also love these more doon-to-earth ideas from our friends over at CrushedGrapeChronicles.com: Iberico or Manchego cheese, herbed goat cheese, smoked oysters, anchovies, capers, olive tapenade, calamari.”

 

The Pairing

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

The last time we tried a pairing, we didn’t prepare very well, although it did lead to some amazing discoveries that were noted in the pairing notes above. This time, I planned ahead. We found briney oysters and Dungeness crab as Randall suggested and made Croquettes de brandade, which is a popular pairing in Provence and Languedoc. The croquettes are made with potatoes and salt cod.  We rounded things out with a salad of frisee with a whole grain mustard vinaigrette.

If you are interested in making Croquettes de brandade (they were delicious), we did a separate post on how to make them along with a little video.

The Experience

Picpoul comparison

Picpoul comparison

Michael poured a glass of each of the wines and the first thing you noticed was the difference in color.  The Picpoul-de-Pinet was a deeper golden color and on pouring, produced tiny bubbles on the bottom of the glass.  The effervescence dissipated when you swirled the glass.  The Bonny Doon Picpoul was much lighter in color, just tinted with a bit of light straw that had a touch of green.

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On the nose the  Picpoul-de-Pinet smelled instantly of the sea, followed by citrus and lemon.  The Bonny Doon opened with slate and was a bit more mouth filling, and I never know if it is just my brain playing tricks on me, since I know that this wine comes from Beeswax vineyard, but I get beeswax on the nose.

Picpoul is a wine of place.  Sip it on it’s own and it’s fine, but it is truly meant to pair with food.  With the oysters, Dungeness crab and the croquettes, it paired perfectly.  Close your eyes and picture the Etang de Thau, or the California coast in Davenport, across the street from the Bonny Doon tasting room.  Smell the sea, taste the oysters, sip the wine.  That is the experience.

Bonny Doon beach

Bonny Doon beach

You can find more information on all things wine, on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The #Winophiles

On the third Saturday of each month, The French #Winophiles convene and share posts about a particular grape or region. Today we are focusing on the Picpoul varietal hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures.

If you’re reading this soon enough, hop on the Twitter chat on Saturday, April 21st at 8am Pacific time. Search for the hashtag #Winophiles to follow along or peruse the tweets later. And be sure to check out the following articles prepared by these amazing writers on their take on picpoul!

The Picpoul Posts

You can find more information on all things Grapes, on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

17 thoughts on “Picpoul from Pinet and California and a seaside pairing with #Winophiles

  1. Enjoyed your article Robin. I also looked into where Picpoul is being grown besides France- hadn’t seen Napa. Great tip on the Randall Grahm Clairette Blanche. And Picpoul with the salt cod fritters sounds delicious!

  2. Great post! So much background on the history of Occitanie, as well as Picpoul’s journey to California. Your croquettes sound like a nice match with the wines, too. I’m inspired to find a few of the American bottles to compare/contrast with the French ones. Cheers!

    • I always find it fascinating to do the comparison between French and American wines. You get such a great opportunity to see the differences, soil and climate can make. And the croquettes were easier to make than I expected.

    • Thank you Jeff! I hope to! I love the great education I get with all the posts. You dive in deep to write a piece and then learn even more as you read all the other pieces. Fascinating perspectives!

  3. Great article! I saw the buzz all day. You did a great job in bringing attention to Picpoul. I love it and I never drink enough of it! Thanks for the reminder.

    • It’s on the rise! While there are just a few acres, I was surprised at the number of wineries I found were producing it. I did find the California picpouls to be a bit more round and mellow than the Picpoul-de-Pinet. At the fabulous price for these wines, you can easily pick up one from California and one from France to do a little comparison. And I think someone mentioned to me that there is a vineyard in Washington growing Picpoul, and that, I find fascinating.

  4. o Now that I have discovered Picpoul from France, I need to track down some from California. I think my next Picpoul pairing will be oysters and Dungeness crab.
    Great post and so happy you joined the French #winophiles.

    • Thanks Jane! It was a great time doing this post and the twitter conversation with the french #winophiles. And oysters and Dungeness crab are the way to go!

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