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Luc Bauer

Les Grangeons de L’Albarine

VigneronLuc Bauer
LocationArgis (Ain)
Size of Domaine3 ha
TerroirAlpine climate. Jurassic limestone, limestone scree, glacial moraine, clay-limestone. Gentle to steep slopes on the Jura mountain foothills. 225-400m altitude.
ViticultureCertified organic (Ecocert), practising biodynamics.
View Les Grangeons de L’Albarine wines ↓

We first read about Les Grangeons de L’Albarine in an article published by French newspaper Libération in 2017. Luc Bauer was described in the same breath as gifted vigneronne Loreline Laborde of Les Granges Pâquenesses – so we took notice. When we prepared for our summer 2019 tour of the region Luc Bauer was the first name down our list.

From his childhood in the Monts du Lyonnais (south of the Beaujolais), Luc developed a profound love and respect for nature. Eager to work the land, he became an agricultural engineer but grew disillusioned after his experience in cereal production, an industry where profitability ruled over sustainability. His introduction to wine came quite late, courtesy of his Alsatian wife Clémence and her family whose enthusiasm for the local production was contagious.

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The Coteau d’Argis at the foot of the Roche de Narse
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View over the valley atop the lieu-dit En Paradis

Luc quickly became hooked by the 'terroirist' approach of the best vignerons and decided to join Macon-Davayé’s wine school in 2008. After graduating, he worked a few years in the Maconnais with growers such as the Bret Brothers, fervent advocates of biodynamics, and Philippe Jambon who’s been at the heart of the natural wine movement since the late nineties.

In 2011, he had the opportunity to snap up two steep parcels on the historical Coteau d’Argis, a beautiful south-west facing slope overlooking the Albarine river at the foot of the Roche de Narse – a small rocky mountain with dramatic 200m high limestone cliffs – an area officially protected for its rich biodiversity. Covered with limestone scree that reflects sunlight during the day and releases heat at night, this open valley basks in sunshine from dusk till dawn and acts as a sun trap, allowing the grapes to reach optimum ripeness in an otherwise cool area.

The valley is a place of incredible beauty teeming with wildlife and the Albarine river, whose limpid, mineral-rich water attracts a large number of fish, is a particular draw for Luc who is a keen fly fisherman

The previous owner replanted some parts of the abandoned slopes (2002-2006) before passing the baton. Luc took over extremely motivated: undertaking the mammoth task of clearing more land – the steepest plots are sometimes on 35 degree slopes where no machines can go – building terraces, and planting more vines.

Nowadays Luc farms 2ha on the Coteau d’Argis but keen to work with a diverse range of terroirs, he also owns and rents around 1ha in various parts of Bugey: Combernand (Cluse des Peintres) on flat land of glacial moraine, the south-facing Clos de Beauregard overlooking the Rhône on iron-rich limestone scree, and a clay-limestone plot at the foot of the Grand Colombier (Bugey’s highest peak at 1,531m).

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The latest plantation (2019) – lieu-dit Champ Long
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A historical plot that had not seen vines in 60 years

Bauer means farmer in German, it's a fitting name for someone who describes himself as a paysan-vigneron – Luc feels proud and honoured to perpetuate Bugey’s rich rural tradition which has been in steep decline through the 20th century. The name of the domaine is a reference to times gone-by when the natives’ main aspiration was to own a 'grangeon' (a stone building that housed all farming equipment and often a press) so they could work the land and make wine. There were many grangeons above Argis in 1905 when 100ha of vines were still recorded. And while it is impossible to change the course of history, Luc hopes that his efforts will inspire others to walk in the footsteps of previous generations.

Cartesian in nature, Luc likes to understand how things work so he was reticent when he first encountered the practices derived from Goethe and Steiner’s work. While he could see the positive effects of the various biodynamic preparations, not knowing why and how they worked was the source of frustration but he slowly gave in and accepted that certain things must for now remain a mystery. He follows the lunar calendar, and uses a variety of tisanes, 'purins' (liquid manure), and decoctions made with local plants to treat and stimulate the vines. To avoid soil compaction and improve its aeration and drainage, all the tasks are done either by hand or using a 'chenillard' (ultra-light crawler tractor).

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Luc wants to make wines that express their terroir with clarity and precision. Most of the cuvées are the expression of a single grape on a single parcel, although he also experiments with blends for some of his reds. The grapes are harvested by hand and a pied de cuve (specific to each parcel) is made a couple of days prior for a strong start to fermentation. White varieties are slowly whole-bunch pressed and transferred to demi-muids as well as sandstone amphoras for vinification and ageing. For the reds, the length of cuvaison and proportion of whole bunches is adapted to suit the vintage, variety and terroir, the aim being to make wines that offer a lot of pleasure in their youth when, by contrast, the whites are built to age. The wines aren’t filtered and made 'sans soufre', barring the occasional addition of a small 10mg/l pre-bottling – based on the wine strength following a classic 'test à l'air'.

Our first visit at the domaine will stay in our memories for years to come – we looked at each other as we started tasting the wines, puzzled that such a talented vigneron had remained under the radar, and ecstatic at the thought of working with him. His wines made from altesse are unlike any we ever tasted and show this noble variety belongs with the very best France has to offer.

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10_Vine_Trail_Grangeons_de_L'Albarine Coteau d'Argis, lieu-dit Le Château

Les Grangeons de L’Albarine Wines

Les Grangeons de L’Albarine

ALTIESSE EN PARADIS 2018
Vin de France
100% Altesse (14% alc.)

Lieu-dit En Paradis is on the western side of the Coteau d'Argis – the SW-facing vines were planted from 2002 to 2006 (by the previous owner) at the foot of the Roche de Narse on 30-35 degree slopes; the soil is poor with extremely rocky limestone scree (from the Bathonian age, middle Jurassic) lying over grey marl – "on paper, this is top terroir that can produce the finest mineral white wines, but hey time will tell!", comments Luc. Fermentation and 12-month ageing in a mix of sandstone amphoras, old barrels and demi-muids, followed by 6 months in cuve, the only addition of SO2 (10mg/l) occurs then, before bottling without filtration. This is altesse like no other or at least unlike any we've tasted before, the mouthfeel is packed with fine bitters and mineral salts, forming an almost tannic impression on the gums and the tip of the tongue – not to be missed by all the savagnin and chenin aficionados out there. For drinking now to 2025.

Les Grangeons de L’Albarine

LE GRANGEON DE MANO 2019
Vin de France
100% Chardonnay (13.5% alc.)

Mano is the proud owner of one of the last 'grangeon' (see profile) standing on the Coteau d'Argis – the stonewalled hut sits right at the bottom of Luc's steep chardonnay plot. Located east of the lieu-dit En Paradis (see Altiesse wine), and only separated from it by woods, the vines grow on the exact same terroir in the foothills of the Roche de Narse. Vinified and aged as per the Altiesse En Paradis, this wine is perfectly poised and, not surprisingly, it combines Burgundy's refinement with Jura's intensity; a class act that is up there with the best chardonnays from Pierre Fenals or the Labet family! For drinking now to 2025.

Les Grangeons de L’Albarine

MONDOUZE LE CHÂTEAU 2019
Vin de France
100% Mondeuse (10% alc.)

0.4ha in the lieu-dit Le Château on the eastern part of the Coteau d'Argis – in the continuity of En Paradis and Le Grangeon de Mano – where the steep slope is facing due south. The vines were planted in 2007 from a massal selection done at legendary domaine Prieuré St-Christophe (old strains of mondeuse). Luc practises severe pruning (two buds per shoot) to lower the yields of this otherwise generous variety. The grapes undergo a 10 days whole bunches maceration, followed by 12 months élevage on fine lees in 228 and 500ltr barrels, the wine is bottled unfiltered with the addition of 1g/hl SO2. This is mondeuse at its best – the colour is a gorgeous shade of purple, light on its feet and extremely digeste at 10% alc, it still manages to display concentration and texture with black cherries and bright violets aromas, complex peppery flavours on the palate, and the salivating finish makes you reach for another sip immediately.

Les Grangeons de L’Albarine

ALTIESSE DE BEAUREGARD 2018
Vin de France
100% Altesse (11.5% alc.)

The Clos de Beauregard is a south-facing slope in the village of St-Sorlin-en-Bugey (30min drive SW of Argis). The 70yo vines are planted on a mix of limestone scree and iron-rich clay-limestone soils, directly overlooking the Rhône at 300m altitude. Vinified and aged in demi-muids (5-6yo) for just over a year, no filtration and homeopathic dose of SO2 added pre-bottling. It is full on the attack, with delicious sun-gorged stone fruits and citruses, fine bitters and salivating umami flavours on the finish – another fine example of altesse that shows this noble variety belongs with the very best France has to offer. For drinking now to 2025.

Les Grangeons de L’Albarine

TUTTI FRUTTI
Vin de France
60% Altesse, 40% Aligoté, Chardonnay, Chasselas (12.5% alc.)

110yo organically-grown roussette from Seyssel – a famous Savoie cru dedicated to the altesse variety, the AC seats on both banks of the Rhône at Bugey's eastern border – bought 'sur pieds' and harvested by Luc himself. Vinified and aged in 228ltr barrels for 11 months, it was then blended with leftover wines (from the different assemblages), and given an extra 6-month ageing in cuve before bottling 'sans souffre'. Fruit-forward with enticing flavours of white peach, this is a fun wine that delivers pleasure with enough depth of flavours to satisfy anyone!

Les Grangeons de L’Albarine

COMBERNAND LA CLUSE DES PEINTRES 2019
Vin de France
50% Chardonnay, 50% Aligoté (12.5% alc.)

The lieu-dit Combernand La Cluse des Peintres, is in the village of Rossillon halfway between Argis and Belley. 40yo vines of chardonnay and aligoté on glacial moraine soils – formed when the glaciers melted down, depositing a thick and compacted layer of rolled pebbles. Vinified in old demi-muids and bottled without sulphur, it’s rich and textured thanks to a spot-on élevage that added weight and breadth, there's dynamism on the palate lifted by a bright vein of acidity. Both grape varieties can also be bottled separately (under the same label) depending on yields in a particular vintage, and Luc's feel for the wines during élevage.