Owner | Tom Lubbe (pronounced ‘lubba’) and his wife Nathalie Gauby, plus Sam Harrop MW. Tom Lubbe was born in New Zealand, but grew up in South Africa, establishing The Observatory in the Swartland region. Nathalie Gauby is the sister of Gérard Gauby (see Domaine Gauby). Sam Harrop is from New Zealand and is a trained oenologist.
Logo | Three small trees, which represent the three partners.
Background | Tom and Nathalie met when Tom came to gain work experience at Domaine Gauby in 1999. Despite never having trained as an oenologist Lubbe had been winemaking for Louise Hofmeyer’s Welgemeend winery in South Africa. He had decided to ask to work a harvest for Hofmeyr because she was fermenting her wines with wild yeast. When Lubbe asked Hofmeyer to help him gain some work experience with a European winery with similarly hot, dry conditions to South Africa and which worked with native yeasts she suggested Domaine Gauby in France’s Roussillon. Both Welgemeend and Gauby were working with the same UK agent, Richards Walford. Lubbe’s 3 month work experience in Roussillon eventually lasted three years, involving both Domaine Gauby (2000-2002 vintages) and the Domaine Gauby-Richards Walford partnership Le Soula (2001-2002) until, in 2003, he and Nathalie created Domaine Matassa. In 2001 Tom had bought his first vineyard–see Matassa Rouge, below.
Polyculture | 2 hectares (4.9 acres) of olives (heritage Roussillon varieties). Hops (to flavour beer).
Vineyards | 2003 6hectares (14.8 acres). | 2004 12 hectares (29.6 acres) of which 3 hectares (7.4 acres) are owned by Domaine du Haka (a partnership between Sam Harrop MW and Tom Lubbe); another 3 hectares are rented en fermage from George Gauby (Gérard & Nathalie Gauby’s father), and Gérard Gauby’s sister Katy; and another 6 hectares (14.8 acres) belong to Nathalie. | 2007 13 hectares (32.1 acres).
Vineyard sites | Jasse | In Calce on grey-red schist. Contained both Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains and Muscat Blanc à Gros Grains. A Gauby family vineyard which Domaine Matassa took on in 2004, used for Cuvée Nougé (white wine). However, missing vines, and low yields (4hl/ha in 2004; 8hl/ha in 2006) from those (often diseased) vines which remained meant Jasse was grubbed up and other Muscat vineyards on the same grey-red schists were found to continue Cuvée Nougé.
Biodynamics | Tom Lubbe uses certain Biodynamic preparations–Horn manure 500–for example, but is mainly focussed on using plant-based sprays and compost teas (rich in fungal micro-organisms), and cover crops (see below) to produce grapes which will then allow him to make wines with wild yeasts for fermentation and with low or zero levels of sulfites (see winemaking, below).
Cover crops | Tom Lubbe says he is working towards ‘permanent ground cover between the rows’. To get there, rather than using composted animal manure–which is in short supply in these arid parts–he is sowing cover crops, leaving them in situ for between two or ideally three years before ploughing them in and re-seeding again (= semi-permanent cover cropping). Over a dozen different seed types are sown, and in various combinations according to soil type. The cover crops help gradually build organic matter and thus soil humus. Cover crops also shade the soil, and by lowering average temperatures in the vineyard help foster grapes with potential alcohol levels 1º to 2º lower than they otherwise would have been, and with lower pH (greater acid strength). Lubbe’s aim is to eliminate ploughing completely.
Certification | 2010 First vintage with full organic certification.
Winemaking | Tom Lubbe is allergic to sulfites. He sums up his approach to making wines with no added sulfites (NAS) wines as ‘starting off by creating deep or complex vine root systems using a combination of cover crops, compost, and compost teas. This reduces the risk of vine stress, from excess heat or a lack of water. Having created a buffer for them, the vines are then better equipped to produce balanced juice, meaning juice with both lower levels of potential alcohol [lower sugars], and lower pH [meaning juice with sufficient acid strength for a healthy fermentation into a wine which needs far less protection with additives like sulfur dioxide]. Finally, the winery, its tanks, barrels, hoses, pumps and so on must be kept clean, clean meaning clean but not sterile. As regards winemaking I stopped destemming in 2008 and I sold my destemmer. This means I don’t destem grapes for white wines, orange wines or red wines. Stems add to a healthier, cooler fermentation and give more purity. In 2008 I also stopped foot-treading [‘pigeage‘] grapes during fermentation. I foot-tread some grapes only to get some juice out of them when putting them in the vats (‘foulage’) before fermentation. I keep the top of the tank closed during fermentation, which may be three days before pressing on a red wine or thirty days before pressing on an orange wine. We have mostly done away with the use of sulphur. Some wines will get a miniscule–meaning 5 to 10mg/l of sulfites–but this is done after malolactic fermentation rather than right before bottling which is a worst of both worlds scenario. Adding sulfur dioxide much earlier in the winemaking process mean our wines are never bottled with any free sulphur. So, I don’t ritually add sulfur dioxide after malolactic fermentation finishes these days either as it has mostly become a non-event, with low or zero levels of malic acid. When I have added sulphur dioxide to wine after malolactic fermentation has ended it has been for protection as the wines could be fragile [prone to oxidation] after this [malic to lactic acid] transformation. But this is really no longer the case due to the work we have done in our vineyards [see above]. We have not bottled a wine with more than 10mg/litre total–legally zero–sulfur dioxide since 2008, so the quantities have been fairly tiny when we have used it, and it [the sulfur dioxide] will certainly be more integrated if you add it to the wine earlier, rather than later, meaning just before bottling. Using sulfur dioxide before bottling is generally to avoid mousiness but I have found that tends to work through fairly quickly if one is careful with oxygen at bottling and the wine was healthy to begin with. Alternatively, longer aging in barrel seems to be a way of avoiding mousiness, as the wines become more microbiologically stable. I generally prefer to avoid the extra wood influence these days and let the wines work through the mousiness in bottle (if it shows up),’ Tom told me at Real Wine Fair April 2016 and in a follow-up perso communication, February 2018.
Cuvée Nougé | See Vineyards–Jasse, above. | 2004 Côtes Catalanes Blanc. 40% Macabeu, 30% Muscat Blanc à Petits et Gros Grains, 30% Viognier. Picked early but ripe, cool vintage characteristic accentuated therefore, basket-pressing, juice was tank-fermented with native yeasts. 3,500 bottles. Broad, refreshing, generous white with plenty of subtlety and minerality, a hint of roughness and wildness in there too, but delicate and finishes long and well when tasted in Sant’Angelo in Colle, March 2006. | 2005 Côtes Catalanes Blanc. Macabeu, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Viognier. Cool year. Basket pressed. 2,500 bottles. Crisp lemon, mineral, thick texture, nice length at Domaine Matassa, Saturday 12 May 2007.
Cuvée Marguerite | Named after Nathalie Gauby’s grand-mother, one of the last people there to speak Catalan as her first language. Viognier and Muscat Blanc à Petit-Grains. Very old vines and fermented in concrete. | 2006 Côtes Catalanes Blanc Bottled last week. 50% each Muscat d’Alexandrie and Viognier. Creamy oak, slightly oxidised style, powerful, ripe, needs to settle tasted at Domaine Matassa, Saturday 12 May 2007. | 2010 50% Muscat d’Alexandrie, 30% Muscat à Petits Grains, 20% Viognier. Bone dry. Delicious when tasted at the Real Wine Fair 2012. | 2015 Pigeage. Skins and stems. Close tank for 30 days. Clean orange wine style (even if not my style) tasted at the Real Wine Fair 2016.
Cuvée Alexandria | 2008 Cuvée Alexandria, Côtes Catalanes Blanc | ‘I had tasted and been impressed by their other cuvées but had never tasted their version of the Muscat of Alexandria grape that is so widely grown for vins doux naturels in Roussillon. Impressive, certainly the best dry Muscat of Alexandria I have tasted. Real vitality, a great ambassador for natural wine,’ (Jancis Robinson MW, 14 Mar 2011). | 2015 Quite phenolic. Not too Muscat-like at the Real Wine Fair 2016.
Matassa Blanc | 2003 Côtes Catalanes Blanc 80% Grenache Gris (from Calce on schist and, I think, a little limestone) + 20% Macabeu (from St Paul de Fenouillet on sandy granite). 7 casks of Grenache Gris and 2 casks of Macabeu = 9 barrels in total. 100% MLF for the Maccabeu = 30% MLF total. 35ppm free sulphur at bottling. Filtration required as the wine underwent only partial MLF. Bottled off lees. 30% new oak. | 2005 Côtes Catalanes Blanc 70% Grenache Gris, 30% Macabeu. Staggered picking between 14-25th August 2005. Pick early morning to retain freshness. Whole bunch pressed. Wild ferment in foudre. Lees aged. Spiky wood on nose, carried onto palate, intense, acid but ripe fruit, good texture at Domaine Matassa, Saturday 12 May 2007. | 2008 Côtes Catalanes Blanc Crisp, saline, very dense at the Natural Wine Fair 2011. | 2008 Côtes Catalanes Blanc 70% Grenache Gris, 30% Maccabeu 8,000 bottles. Herby and very Mediterranean, wild with fantastic minerality at the Real Wine Fair 2012. | 2014 Côtes Catalanes Blanc Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Macabeu. Schist. Basket pressed. Aged in Stockinger vats. Very nice freshness at the Real Wine Fair 2016.
Coume de l’Olla Rouge | 2015 Côtes Catalanes Rouge | Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris, Macabeu. Concrete. Nice punchy red fruit at the Real Wine Fair 2016.
Romanissa | Romanissa means ‘where rosemary grows’. From schist on the Col de Calce. | 2004 Côtes Catalanes Rouge.70% Grenache Noir, 15% Carignan, 15% Mourvedre. Has a nice edge to it, vanilla too tasted at Domaine Matassa, 12 May 2007. | 2006 Côtes Catalanes Rouge. Very young still, lots going on at the Natural Wine Fair 2011. | 2009 Côtes Catalanes Rouge. 90% Lladoner Pelut, 10% Carignan. Delicious at the Real Wine Fair 2012.
Matassa Rouge | Sourced from the first vineyard Tom Lubbe purchased, in 2001. Located in the Fenouillèdes. Hillside plot. 450-500 metres. Granite soil. 90% old vine Carignan (60% Carignan from 1899 + 40% field blend) + around 10% Grenache Gris vines interplanted. Later ripening (3-4 weeks) than the vines near the winery in Calce. | 2005 Côtes Catalanes Rouge.22 months in 500 litre casks. A warm autumn meant even ripening. Picked by early October. Intense berry, nice grip and sweetness, agreeably un-Carignan-like at Domaine Matassa, Saturday 12 May 2007. | 2009 Côtes Catalanes Rouge. Whole bunch pressed and fermented together. No sulfur. Nice, wild and not at all like Carignan when tasted at the Real Wine Fair 2012. | 2014 Côtes Catalanes Rouge Needs time to settle when tasted at the Real Wine Fair 2016.
10 Rue d’Estagel, F-66600 Calce (Pyrénées-Orientales), France
Tel+33 (0)18.104.22.168.08 (home) or +33 (0)22.214.171.124.13 (office)
Isabelle Legeron MW, Natural Wine, An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines grown naturally (2014, Cico Books, London & New York), p149.
Jancis Robinson MW, ‘A range of natural wines’, www. jancisrobinson.com 14 Mar 2011.
Natural Wine Fair, Borough Market 15-17 May 2011.
Real Wine Fair 2012, London, Tuesday 22nd May.
Real Wine Fair 2016, in Tobacco Dock, London 17-18th April.