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So Chic, So Listrac: Fourcas Hosten
BY NEAL MARTIN | JULY 29, 2021
The Bordelais have always been the epitome of chic – in the way they carry themselves, in their deportment, in how they dress irrespective of age. They cannot countenance shabbiness. Perhaps at home they slob around in tatty jogging bottoms and flip-flops, but the boulevards of Bordeaux are a veritable crisscross of catwalks and luxury boutiques. Perhaps then, it is unsurprising that fashion houses have been lured to Bordeaux and acquired some its most famous châteaux.
Another lesser-known connection between luxury brands is Hermès and Fourcas Hosten, though it is important to distinguish between corporate and family ownership. Fourcas Hosten is like Rauzan-Ségla and Canon insofar as they are both personally owned by the Wertheimer family, not Chanel; likewise, Fourcas Hosten is not owned by Hermès but by two of its board members, Renaud and Laurent Momméja.
It was time to discover more about this Listrac estate, and so, following a tasting of recent vintages, I smartened myself up (alas, no Hermès pocket square) and spoke to Renaud Momméja and winemaker Eloi Jacob.
Renaud Momméja, co-proprietor at Fourcas Hosten.
“For my brother and me, the adventure began almost 15 years ago when we purchased the property,” Momméja told me via Zoom, coming across relaxed and affable. “My brother Laurent and I wanted to invest in something with a sense of history, and we were both great amateurs of fine wines. Our grandfather had been fascinated by Bordeaux. In fact, he was a good friend of Steven Spurrier when he was in the retail business in Paris. My grandfather was a customer and became a very good friend. When I met Spurrier in Bordeaux in 2006, he knew that we were relatives, but he was unaware that we were his friend’s grandchildren. I lived with my grandfather in Paris for two years and I remember that every day at every meal, they drank 1976 Léoville–Las Cases. That was the time you could drink great wines at a good price. That was how we were raised and why we wanted to invest in a property.”
“We had the opportunity to buy after Peter Sichel put the property up for sale. We visited and thought it was the perfect place. The terroir was very interesting, but the property at that time was not in a good shape. I was attracted by the unusual composition of the vineyard in two distinct plots: the clay-limestone soils on the Listrac plain located at a peak of 43 meters above sea level, and the Pyrenean gravel on the Fourcas plateau. That was a good foundation."
Château Fourcas Hosten.
Ransacking my shelves of wine literature, I found little about Fourcas Hosten. “Hostein” is mentioned in the Tastet et Lawton archives in the mid-18th century, though at 310 livres per tonneau, it fetched a relatively low price compared to others. The estate belonged to Monsieur Hostein until 1810, whereupon it was sold to the Saint-Affrique family, who owned the Moulis property of Gressier Grand-Poujeaux. Baron Bernard de Saint-Affrique was the residing proprietor at the turn of the 20th century, and production was around 100 tonneaux per annum, although this figure dwindled to about half that amount by the 1940s. Fourcas Hosten passed through generations of the Saint-Affrique family, which is perhaps why so little was written about it. There were no seismic changes until 1971, when Fourcas Hosten was sold to Peter Sichel, from a different branch of the family than the one that owned Château d’Angludet. Sichel rebuilt the chartreuse that lies opposite the Romanesque church in the town of Listrac-Médoc, but since he resided in New York, responsibility for winemaking was handed to Patrice Pagès of neighboring Fourcas-Dupré. Then, in 2006, Fourcas Hosten changed hands once again, to the Momméja brothers.
Manually spraying the vines.
“First, we had to invest in the winery so that it could express the terroir,” Momméja explained. “The cuvier had been built in the 1990s. It was equipped with huge tanks, so we could not ascertain the performance of each plot. We bought about 40 tanks from 25 to 100 hectoliters in size, designed for each parcel, in order to create a more precise blend. This gave us better knowledge of the terroir, which we used to restructure the vineyard from 2010 to 2020, finding out which plots had to be renewed, which grape varieties to plant and so on. We have replanted almost 50% of the terroir.”
This unorthodox approach is fascinating. Incoming owners tend to invest and reconstitute the vineyard first, following the adage that great wine is made in the vineyard. Fourcas Hosten reversed this approach, redesigning the winery not only to improve the wine (in tandem with a reduction in the use of SO2 and a vertical press that replaced a horizontal press in July 2018) but more importantly, to enable them to accurately map the vineyard and ascertain its performance by parcel.
Since 2010, Fourcas Hosten crews have plowed between rows to encourage deeper roots, sown barley between rows of Cabernet Sauvignon to enhance biodiversity, used sheep manure from the company Ovinalp and cow manure from Bochevo as fertilizer, and planted over a kilometer of hedgerow. All this has taken place as they made radical, structural changes to the vines.
“When we pull out vines, we rest the plots for three years, sometimes longer. It’s a hard decision to pull up a vineyard. But despite the replanting, the vineyard blend is approximately the same [40 hectares of red vines comprising 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 2.5% Petit Verdot and 2.5% Cabernet Franc, planted at 10,000 vines per hectare]. Currently, around 40% of the vines are less than 10 years old, most of them planted in 2014. The fruit from these vines goes into the Grand Vin. We had 10 hectares of Cabernet Franc on gravel soils that we pulled out because it was so difficult to achieve full ripeness there. Those vines were replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Franc now comes from the limestone soils. There were also Merlot vines on gravel soils that will be replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Eloi Jacob, winemaker at Fourcas Hosten, previously worked for the Adams family at Fonplégade and L’Enclos.
“For the rootstocks, on the gravel soils we use 101-14 and some Riparia, as they are not too vigorous,” Jacob told me. “There is some clay intermixed, so this helps in dry conditions. Here, we planted Cabernet Sauvignon and some Petit Verdot. On the clay-limestone soils we use 101-14 where there is less limestone, 420A for the white varieties, and a little Fercal as the limestone is high in calcium. It is the same limestone as the plateau in Saint-Émilion. We are one of the only Listrac estates with two soil types.”
“The way the vineyard was pruned prior to our purchase of the estate was designed to produce high quantities, and so this had to be changed,” Momméja continued. “We use mixed Guyot pruning to reduce the yield and respect the flow of sap in the vines. The Cabernet Sauvignon is simple Guyot. Eloi [Jacob] joined in 2020 to oversee the biodynamic conversion, which one-third of our vineyard is currently undergoing. His job is to expand this across the entire acreage, and this will be finished in 2021 [when they can apply for ECOCERT certification for the reds, a year earlier for the whites]. He is an expert. But I think it is harder to convert from using chemicals to organic, than to convert from organic to biodynamic.”
“We have worked with Renaud and his brother to find the tools to go completely biodynamic,” Jacob explained. “They had already built a new farm with a room to cultivate cuttings. We have everything necessary to perform well and we just have to put it in practice. It’s exciting to see the full potential in the vineyard.”
I asked about the challenges when Bordeaux suffers a lot of rain, as it has in recent vintages, including 2021.
“It is a hard memory. Every vintage is very challenging, but you have to stop crying and adapt your ways of working. The last four years were difficult viticulturally as we had frost and mildew. We have to react at the time. For example, we are expecting frost this coming weekend, but we are ready – we have a fan in the vineyard. I think there will be changes in the next decade because of the climate. We have to find a way to work with our vines under new climate conditions, which is very challenging. I hope that using biodynamics will give the vines their own strength and immunity to defend themselves. At the moment, we have the questions but not the answers.”
Biodynamic moutons in the vineyard.
Fourcas Hosten Blanc
One of the most interesting aspects of Fourcas Hosten is their recently introduced white. Momméja told me that it was one of the first decisions they made after acquiring the estate in 2010, partly as a break from the routine of producing a red. Obviously, this necessitated a different mindset throughout the entire team. “Planted in 2012, there are two hectares for the white, which is mostly Sauvignon Blanc with one-third Sauvignon Gris and Sémillon [more precisely, 67% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sémillon and 13% Sauvignon Gris]. This vineyard had previously been one hectare of Merlot with a lot of missing vines, and one hectare lying fallow. It became a kind of laboratory, as the vineyard tends to mature earlier than the reds, and we used it to study soils to find the best cépagement. It will be certified in 2020 for the whites and 2021 for the reds."
Barrel aging cellar at Fourcas Hosten.
I tasted a selection of recent vintages, as the estate’s own library is sadly lacking in older bottles. It is clear that there has been an improvement in vintages since the Sichel era, though I admired the chutzpah demonstrated by the 2009 Fourcas Hosten even if it is pipped by the following vintage, which sports chiseled tannins and a seductive, silky texture that you would associate more with Margaux than Listrac. There was a bit of a bumpy start to the current era, though the 2013 Fourcas Hosten is better than expected, followed by a 2014 that did not quite knit together and a 2015 that I felt was trying too hard, as if trying to prove that all the investments taking place were resulting in a better wine.
That would come with the superior 2016 Fourcas Hosten, which demonstrates far more precision and complexity on the nose compared to prior vintages and a sense of confidence toward the finish. This should age extremely well. While I find the 2017 a little coarse by comparison, the 2018 has more to offer, with an appealing spiciness evident on the finish, though my hunch is that this will be superseded by the 2019 and the recently tasted 2020.
Do not overlook the whites. I found much to admire in both 2018 and 2019, and as I mentioned during our discussion, for me, the key ingredient is that small percentage of Sauvignon Gris, a variety I find suits the Left Bank well, perhaps better than Pessac-Léognan.
This interview and tasting shone a new light on this Listrac estate, demonstrating that innovation and investment are not exclusive to more fashionable appellations, and revealing that Listrac has its own limestone terroir that can be hugely beneficial as growing seasons become warmer. Listrac has the potential to produce fine Bordeaux. This long-term project in place since 2010 is beginning to yield results in both white and red wines, making Fourcas Hosten a name to watch in the coming years. Prices remain very reasonable, so the money you save can be spent on a nice Hermès scarf or pocket square.
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