Tom Lubbe, Roussillon
The Godfather of natural wine.
If you get off your train at Hertford, not Hackney Downs or Dalston; if you know Binch, Natty Boy and Newcomer, you’re likely to know Tom Lubbe and Matassa. He’s the darling winemaker of the uber-cool class. Restricted purchase. Limited distribution. Sold out every year.
What’s all the fuss about?
Worms. And Sulphates.
When we last met, we talked worms. For 2½ hours worms, dogs, sulphates, and wine. He’s great company. Generous, opinionated, warm-hearted, open-minded and, yes, profane.
Born in New Zealand, raised in South Africa, for 10 years he made wine with the prescient Louise Hofmeyr of Domaine Welgemeend in Swartzland; she was a pioneer, fermenting with wild yeasts and encouraging low yields. To explore these ideas further, she connected him to a leading estate in Roussillon, Domaine Gauby; 3 months turned into 3 years, a marriage and 2 kids. With Gérard Gauby’s sister, Nathalie.
Tom & Nathalie started Domaine Matassa in 2002, their first vintage made in the front room. In 2004 they bought Gauby’s cellar, and the project really took off: “no chemistry in the vineyards, no bullshit in the cellar”. Certified organic, 2010.
Which brings us back to worms – they bring life to the soil.
These invertebrates perform two functions that are important for winemaking: they digest mineral material that vines cannot absorb into something vines can absorb, and they take mineral matter from deep beneath the surface and turn the soil into a nutrient-rich hummus. This is both flavour and food for the vines.
The diversity of soil micro-biology is complemented by biodiversity of plants and trees – with over 15 different varieties planted in & around the vineyards. These cover-crops provide shade, buffering the vines’ root systems from the fierce sunshine to reduce stress. A happy vine produces fruit with lower alcohol (sugar) and lower pH, i.e. sufficient acid strength for a healthy fermentation eliminates the need for protection against oxidation (i.e. zero or minimal sulphates). Worms & sulphates.
This long-term effort in the vineyard allows less interference in the cellar, it’s just not necessary as the flavour (and stability) is already in the raw juice; garrigue, spice, mineral complexity.
With those raw materials, Tom makes wines he wants to drink in the heat of Roussillon, ‘light reds and dark whites’.
His focus is on indigenous grapes that can thrive in these conditions: near Calce, that commune of independently-minded winemakers, 13 hectares of 60–120-year-old vines of Grenache Gris, Macabeu, Muscat d’Alexandria, Muscat Petit-Grain, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre on schist and marl. And 2-hectares of recently acquired Lledoner Pelut and Carignan on granitic soil in nearby Fenouillédes at 450m altitude. The former provide strength of flavour, the later elegance and minerality.
This mineral energy is harvested early (a lower ABV), hand-picked, no destemming, basket pressed, as Tom says; ‘it’s like making an espresso, the better packed the basket the purer the juice with less bitterness and off flavours.’
A simple process that’s taken 30-years to master.
More often than not, reds & whites are whole bunch fermented with an initial pigéage to get it started. They are pressed halfway through fermentation and finished in 600L Rhone-acquired demi-muid as well as old Austrian oak barrels. They undergo malolactic fermentation providing secondary flavours. There’s a light filtration and no clarification.
Tom has been an incredible mentor to the pioneers of natural winemaking – Craig & Carla Hawkins (Testalunga), Jurgen Gouws, Stefanie & Georg Renner.
There is a global demand for Tom’s wines, from Parisian restaurants and Hackney wine bars to Noma in Copenhagen. We offer all his iconic wines.