I have known Justin Howard-Sneyd MW for the best part of two decades, first as the wine buyer for Sainbury’s supermarkets, then as head of the wine team for Waitrose. The Domaine of the Bee website tells the story of how a family holiday in the Roussillon region of the South of France inspired a radical departure: to become vineyard owner and proprietor of his own wine estate and brand along with his wife, Amanda.
Justin evokes one starry night in 2001 when “The combination of the sharp night air, the smell of woodsmoke, and the closeness of the stars left a deep imprint that left me sure that I would return.” A second family holiday to the region in 2003 sealed the deal, when English-born winemaker Richard Case suggested they buy a four-hectare vineyard he had found. A new company was set up, bringing on board Philippe Sacerdot, described as “Chief financial person who knows proper stuff about running a business.” Thus was born, Domaine of the Bee. Pictured left to right: Justin, Amanda and Philippe.
Based close to Maury with its famous slate soils and small patches of limestone from the nearby cliffs, the vines are between 60 and 100 years old; gnarled, free-standing bush vines whose roots search deep underground for moisture.
They also give naturally very low yields, the ‘La Coume de Roy’ site “uneconomically low,” according to Justin, and bottled as a single vineyard cuvée, ‘Les Genoux’, in the best years.
Grapes are Grenache Noir, of course, the main grape of Maury wines and this region, along with Carignan and Grenache Gris. For white wines, Grenache Blanc is the mainstay, though some unidentified varieties are part of the old mixed, ‘field blend’ plantings. The best parcels of Grenache are fermented in open-topped 500-litre new oak barrels, the rest of the Grenache fermented in stainless steel tanks before ageing in 225-litre or 500-litre barrels, approximately 1/3 of which are new, depending on the cuvée.
This really is a fine portfolio of wines: modern in their boldness, freshness and uncluttered clarity of aroma and flavour, yet expressive of this region and the varieties too. The wines do have limited availability in independent retailers including The Sampler, Hanging Ditch and Villeneuve Wines, and the innovative BiB Wine Company has some in bag-in-box format, but there are two ways to buy direct from the Domaine too: first is regular online purchases via domaineofthebee.com/store, and the second is to join their club: choose three, six or 12 bottles to be shipped direct to you once per year, and you benefit from a 20% discount on those and all wines purchased from their online store.