Art and Expertise

Grape juice in great vintage

Art and the issue of winemaking: turning grape juice into wine!

Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian is one of the oldest estates in the Languedoc and now a benchmark amongst French wines. It covers 32 hectares round Pézenas which was officially designated an appellation on 29 April 2007. The terroir was thus classified as “grand cru”, the top of the new three-level ranking of Languedoc AOC wines.

Bébian land was planted with vines as early as the Roman times.

The history of Bébian has been closely tied up for centuries with Pézenas, a town of art, culture and wine. Known as the “Versailles of the Languedoc”, Pézenas is still home to many craft workshops which line its streets alongside magnificent town mansions. It is an extremely lively place and all year long its old stones echo to the sound of the festivals, concerts and plays held here.

Bébian s fame began in the 1970s when the estate underwent a radical overhaul. The old Mediterranean stock (cinsault, carignan) was jealously conserved and was joined by the “noble” varieties of syrah, grenache, mourvèdre and the other traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties of roussanne, marsanne, clairette, counoise, bourboulenc and grenache gris.

Since 2004 Karen has preserved the same philosophy of full, sensual wines which make Bébian unique in the Languedoc.

“Welcome to the Prieuré de Saint-Jean de Bébian website. Our aim is to describe our estate, work ethic and wines as fully as possible. We hope you will find the information useful and instructive and that you enjoy your visit to the world of Bébian.”

The maturing process starts as soon as malolactic fermentation is over.

Prieuré is matured in barrels which are renewed by thirds, i.e., 1/3 in new wood, 1/3 in 1-year old barrels and 1/3 in 2-year old barrels.
Mainly Burgundy barrels of 2.28hl and half-hogsheads of 6hl.

Barrels: origin, heating, quality, traceability, etc.
Made of oak from the Tronçais and Bertranges Forests by François Frères, coopers in Saint-Romain/Beaune. The wood is only lightly heated to refine the wine without altering the natural taste of Bébian by too much oakiness.

18 months maturing
Some varieties will mature for 18 months, others for only 6 months followed by another 6 months in stainless steel vats.

The syrah for La Chapelle is matured in barrels already used 3 or 4 times while the grenache and cinsault go in concrete vats to promote slight micro-oxygenation.

Racking and blending

The batches of wine are tasted regularly by Karen and our consultant oenologist François Serres so that we can decide if the wine needs racking. This means we empty the barrels and remove the deposit which has built up since they were filled. They are then rinsed, sterilised and filled again. Racking helps to air the wine.
At the end of the maturing process, which varies with the vintage, the batches are tasted again one by one and test blends are run. This is a key operation which will give the final wine its personality.

Final step: bottling
Prieuré is not filtered; La Chapelle only very lightly.
Bottling is done once only in the year, 18 months after the harvest.

The configuration of our winery with 3 levels naturally underground means the wine can be bottled by gravity and pumps are not required. The wine retains its integrity. For all our wines we use heavy “bourguignonne” bottles of the “Seduction” range by O-I.


The art of turning grape juice into wine

This is the domain of Karen who works here day in day out.

Belt sorting
After an initial selection on the vine, the bunches of grapes are sorted again in the winery. They are spread out on a conveyor belt so that the sorting people can reject those which do not meet our quality criteria (skimpy bunches, foliage, etc.).

The bunches that pass the test carry on to the destemmer which strips the berries from the stalks.
After destemming, the grapes are tipped into vats.
Depending on the wine to be made, the harvest is either totally or partially destemmed. La Chapelle and Autre Versant are entirely destemmed.
For Prieuré, the syrah and grenache are fully destemmed and the mourvèdre 80% destemmed.

Alcoholic fermentation.
After the maceration phase, the natural yeast of the vine sets off alcoholic fermentation. This consumes the sugar and turns it into alcohol, releasing heat and carbon dioxide in the process. Yeast cannot control temperature and can be killed when it is warmer than 35°C; this would stop alcoholic fermentation. All our vats are equipped with temperature control to keep conditions right for the yeast to survive.

Pumping over
When carbon dioxide is released, all the solids (skins, flesh, pips) rise to the top and form a “cap” on the surface. In the course of alcoholic fermentation, the clear juice at the bottom of the vat is regularly pumped up over the cap to extract the tannins (colouring and structuring substances) from the grape skins.
Only red wines are pumped over.

Draining and pressing
When alcoholic fermentation is over, the clear juice at the bottom of the vat, known as free run juice, is drained off by gravity into another vat and the cap, now called “must”, is pressed.
White wines are pressed immediately, within an hour of harvesting, each variety separately.

Malolactic fermentation
After alcoholic fermentation, the bacteria which are active in the grape juice right from the start turn the malic acid into lactic acid. The tartness evolves into flavours that are softer and pleasanter in the mouth. This fermentation adds flesh to the wine and stabilises it.
At Bébian, this process is done in barrels for syrah and in the vat for the other varieties.