THE OPIMIAN Q&A
Alexander Sichel tells us about his family winery, the history of his estate and his wines.
How did you and your family get started in the wine industry? Have you always been a wine lover?
The family business was established seven generations ago, in 1883, in Bordeaux.
I grew up in Margaux (a village outside of Bordeaux) surrounded by vines and understood the importance of wine in our culture.
Wine represents a place in time, cultural traditions, values, and know-how that are passed on from generation to generation. I inherited my family’s passion and wine quickly became a pillar of my life.
What attracted you to the Vallée de Cucugnan in the first place?
Two things attracted me to the valley of Cucugnan. My grandfather planted these vines in the late 80s. He passed away in 1998, but I still feel a strong connection with him today.
Continuing a project, the vision that he had, is the main source of motivation.
Furthermore, I believe with every cell in my body that these mountains have the potential to produce some of the greatest wines in the Mediterranean belt.
That is what’s special about the Valley. because of our mountainous climate, we can leave the grapes on the vines longer. The longer you leave grapes on the vines before harvest, the more they absorb and reflect the place they come from, and eventually the more unique the wines will be.
How many people work at Domaine Peter Sichel? Which winemaking techniques do you use?
Five of us work in the vineyard or in the cellar on a daily basis. Most of our work is manual. No chemicals are used in the vineyard and we favour organic farming, as well as moon cycle influences and herbal teas to protect and help our vines.
In the cellar, we are very delicate, there’s no recipe, just a lot of attention and precision. the backbone of our reflection is to try to capture these mountains and put them in a bottle.
What is one of your favourite varietals to work with and why?
It is a fascinating grape. Depending on the choices you make, it can offer a very wide spectrum of different styles. Open a bottle of Montanha (Lot 4426 Montanha, IGP Pays de Cucugnan, 2022) and you’ll be amazed to see how delicate, light and vibrant Grenache can be. You could almost mistake it for pinot noir.
If you open a bottle of Altura (Lot 4427 Altura 350, AOC Corbières, 2017) you’ll see how smooth Grenache can be after a few years.
Have a sip of Amassa (Lot 4430 Amassa, IGP de Cucugnan, 2019) and discover how incredibly profound, dense and complex this grape variety can be.
It’s too early to talk about, but the Grenache from the 2022 vintage that is currently ageing in the cellar smells like fresh roses…but more on that next year!
What do you enjoy most about being a winemaker?
Cucugnan is a village of 130 people, it’s completely isolated. Imagine these mountains, a place that hasn’t changed in 700 years, in the heart of natural reserve.
Through the authenticity of our wines, I like to think that you can get a glimpse of our Valley, and travel here whenever you open a bottle of wine. That’s what I love the most about being a winemaker.
What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out?
Hail, frost. In our global warming context, these episodes happen more often. These weather events can lead to us losing our entire crop in a couple of hours.
Moreover, vines are plants that have a memory, so the following crop is also affected.
Two of your wines were chosen as ‘Coups de Coeur’ (Altura 360 and Amassa) by our Masters of Wine; could you tell us more about these special wines?
To fully understand Amassa, you must imagine that this plot is planted high up the mountains and surrounded by thousands of hectares of forest. There is no house, no farm, no fields in the surroundings; just a small plot of Grenache lost in the middle of a dense forest. You are tasting Grenache that was harvested on October 31 and November 1st, 2019. Grenache that is picked this late in the season but managed to keep all this freshness in the south of France is a unique experience. Only 800 bottles were produced.
The 2017 was a great vintage for us and for Altura. It’s just a fantastic wine to drink today. it is very subtle, and in its prime.
Do you have a tasting room that Opimian Members can visit, should they be in the region?
Absolutely. Please visit us!
You can talk directly to me via Instagram @domaine.PETERSICHEL. If I don’t reply instantly it’s most likely that I’m in the vines and don’t have signal on my phone . We have beautiful landscapes but cell service is average!