Ch de l'Ou, Secret de Schistes Blanc, Côtes Catalanes

Ch de l'Ou painted barrel

An insider pick from Roussillon, as vibrant and bold as this technicolour winery.

From €19.50, $26.99, £25, 36.50 Swiss francs, HK$418

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I met Séverine Bourrier in 2010, having sought her out after tasting her wines at a crowded stand at a noisy wine fair. The day I arrived at her domaine, it was incredibly windy – the wind was literally howling through the pine trees at the winery. We could barely hear ourselves speak. Bourrier, quiet and hesitant, was wearing muddy boots, her hair was tangled from the tempest and she had grime and black grease on her fingers – she’d just been trying to fix their tractor. Back then, she was shy.

Séverine Bourrier
Séverine Bourrier (credit: Ch de l'Ou)

Her wines weren’t, though, and both Bourrier and her wines made a lasting impression on me. I think that windswept visit may have marked the moment it really dawned on me that Roussillon was not Languedoc, and that Roussillon wines were in a class of their own. 

The name l’Ou means egg in Catalan, and a nearby spring, shaped like an egg, was called l’Ou by the Knights Templar, who used to stop there to water their horses. The symbolism doesn’t rest there: fertility, life, circles, connectedness are all an intrinsic part of the Château de l’Ou raison d’être. 

The l'Ou cellar – stoneware amphorae, eggs and barrels
The l'Ou cellar – stoneware amphorae, eggs and barrels
Ch de l'Ou winery
The Chãteau de l'Ou winery and tasting room

Bourrier was born in Bordeaux, but because of her father’s job, she grew up in various countries in Africa (Mali and Cameroon among them), so her start in life was somewhat removed from wine. It was only when having finished school and considering colleges, that a professor suggested oenology. This crazy suggestion (she didn’t even like wine at that point) led to 10 years working in Bordeaux as an oenologist. But the real change came when she met viticulturist Philippe Bourrier at a wine fair. The couple bought a Roussillon property in 1998 and became the first in the region to obtain organic certification. 

In 2008, Bourrier’s mother died, leaving her some money which she invested in 7 ha (17 acres) of isolated mountain vineyard in Maury on rugged black and brown schist. Tucked among garrigue-thick hillsides at 300 m (980 ft) above sea level (relatively high elevation for the region), extreme in every way, the site produces wines of striking, dramatic beauty.

Ch de l'Ou pine forest
The road into Château de l'Ou – pines still standing

When I visited Château de l’Ou this year after an absence of 13 years, I was childishly thrilled that the pine copse at the entrance to the winery was still standing, although the trees have acquired a permanent lean. Other things have changed: the winery has been extended; the tasting room has been renovated. But the biggest change is that the impression of bleakness from that first wintery visit was swept away by an explosion of technicolour. Barrels, tanks, vats, eggs, all painted in electric-punk, unicorn-rainbow colours, pumping an Andy Warhol vibe matched by Bourrier’s flower-patterned boots, mile-wide smile, shining eyes and vivid warmth. Shy? Not this time.

Ch de l'Ou rainbow stripe barrels
Ch de l'Ou rainbow-stripe barrels

Her wines, as I described them in The fresh taste of Roussillon, are as colourful, bold, gorgeous and vividly alive as Bourrier. But it was her Grenache Gris from that dark-schist Maury vineyard which really stole my heart. 

The Secret de Schistes blanc is 100% organically grown, hand-picked Grenache Gris. Bourrier ferments half in stoneware amphorae and half in new 300-litre barrels. After blending the two components, she lets it sit for a couple of months in stainless steel before bottling. Interestingly, Bourrier finds that with her grapes, long ageing in amphora results in a wine that is heavy, too leesy and flat. The wine undergoes natural malolactic (‘I once tried to stop it and it gave me so many problems I nearly exploded with stress!’). 

Secret de Schistes Grenache Gris
The ripe Grenache Gris from the Secret de Schistes vineyard in Maury – check those stones! (credit: Ch de l'Ou)

Grenache Gris from Roussillon is an insider’s wine. Those who know it find it to be one of, if not the most exciting varietal Mediterranean whites. It captures the spirit of Roussillon. And this is just what this stunning wine does. If you’ve ever heard the first few minutes of Eternal Eclipse’s Fate of the Fallen, you’ll know, and feel, the sense of haunting, precipitous tension that this extraordinary sea-green-salty wine pulls you in close with. It’s a stone-whisperer of a wine. Its complexity and structure is like a mosaic set by hand into a cliff face in the middle of a storm. It’s a wine that tastes like music: it reverberates; it resonates. It has the lonely sweetness of Freya Ridings’ Castles. It’s a wine of descant, harmony and minor key. It will age, and it will be beautiful at every age. It’s worth twice the price.

I’d probably choose to pair it with slow-roast lamb shoulder or a richly marbled, rare steak topped with a messy pile of rocket leaves dressed in lemon and peppery olive oil. But throw chopped preserved lemons into herby Puy lentils and top the mix with labneh and you’ll have another gorgeous pairing. This is a powerful white wine, able to take red meat, strong citrus, handfuls of herbs, clouds of pepper, tangy cheese, and roasted veg doused in ample olive oil. 

I’ve deliberately chosen not to showcase a particular vintage. I tasted the 2021 this year but shows that the 2019 and 2020 are also available. I have no hesitation in encouraging wine lovers to buy whatever vintage they can get their hands on. 

Ch de l'Ou Secret de Schiste

The wine is available in France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the UK (from The Pressoir in Somerset and Vinatis), the US and Canada.

All photos unless otherwise specified are provided by the author.