For more than twenty years, there have been around fifty of them, all volunteers and from Jean Coussau’s inner circle, who have gathered each year in Magescq in the Landes, for the harvest of La Petite Lagune. This plot of 1,500 m2, nestled at the bottom of the magnificent 7 ha park of Post Office Relaythus offers its own wine from the Pays des Landes to the famous gastronomic table of the two-star chef.
A totally improbable adventure, which was only made possible thanks to the determination of Jean Coussau and the solidarity of his loved ones, who all pitched in to write the unique history of this micro-vineyard. Because La Petite Lagune is also, perhaps above all, a story of friendships around bon vivants, the harvest invariably ending around the prime rib of Chalosse beef, grilled with vine shoots, “all watered down with Petite Lagune, obviously” smiles Jean Coussau.
An “extraordinary” adventure carried out “with a lot of love and good will”
The vineyard’s twenty-first harvest, organized last Monday, was no exception to the rule. “Here, everything is manual and voluntary,” insists Jean Coussau with his South-West accent, in front of a row of tables on which around forty little hands are busy destemming the freshly harvested grapes. “This adventure started almost 25 years ago, in 1999, when my friends and my brother gave me 50 fruit trees and around a thousand vines for my 50th birthday,” continues the dashing starred chef, today. now aged 74.
“It’s an incredible story,” says Philippe Garcia, oenologist-consultant who works notably for Château Malartic-Lagravière (Grand Cru Classé of Graves), and volunteer cellar master at Petite Lagune for twenty years. The initial idea of this gift was to offer it as an ornamental vine, but Jean Coussau immediately wanted to make wine from it, and that’s where everything started, notably with the desire to create a vat room, Lilliputian certainly, but which has everything necessary in terms of thermoregulation and aging in barrels to follow the wine-making processes. » The magnificent 19th century brick building which houses the winery was originally located in Onesse-Laharie, “and it was my carpenter cousin who brought it here to rebuild it identically” says Jean Coussau .
Despite some administrative difficulties at the start, the machine was launched, and the first harvest took place in 2002. “An association, Les amis de la Petite Lagune, was created with people from all walks of life who meet once a year to harvest” continues Jean Coussau. Former rugby international Claude Dourthe is named “president for life”. For this other child of Magescq, it is an “extraordinary” adventure carried out “with a lot of love and good will”, in a land “where there are not many vines. »
Traditions, in this land where we are proud to be Landais, also occupy an important place at the Relais de la Poste. Here, we vigorously defend rugby, hunting, sometimes bullfighting, Magescq being a stronghold of what is called “non-piqued novillada”… Religion animates the discussions a little less, but Annick Coussau, who holds the Relais & Chateaux du Relais de la Poste hotel, and her husband insisted on reestablishing a (short) mass during these harvests, provided by the young and dynamic Father Etienne, a close friend of the family.
Not that we have to rely on God to ensure prolific harvests, but on this land more famous for woodpigeon hunting, the picking of porcini mushrooms or the production of foie gras, than for its wine, you might as well put all the chances on your side. Little known, the wine of the Landes still exists, whether on the slopes of Tursan, in Chalosse, in Vieux-Boucau or even Capbreton, despite a land that is not always suitable. “At first glance, the terrain here is just sand,” recognizes Philippe Garcia. Except that there, in Magescq, at a depth of 1.20 meters, lo and behold, there is a magnificent vein of blue clay, perfect for vines. »
The La Petite Lagune vineyard is made up of 50% Merlot, 30% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. “It’s been done organically from the start, because for years Jean Coussau has felt that the trend is to produce in the healthiest way possible” analyzes Philippe Garcia.
“I’m like in Molière’s play, I’m writing prose without knowing it,” laughs Jean Coussau. I have been doing organic and local farming for 50 years, for example 80% of my vegetable producers are from Magescq. » Not to mention its Adour salmon, its Chalosse beef, its duck foie gras or its wood pigeon, dishes almost all sourced regionally. “It’s common sense, that’s all,” maintains the starred chef.
Two Michelin stars for over fifty years
Common sense rewarded with two Michelin macaroons since… 1972, longevity record in progress. And this high-end gastronomy, made up of great classics prepared to the rhythm of the seasons, once out of fashion it must be admitted, is seducing again. “Before, we had an aging clientele, what reassures me is that for several years we have been welcoming a lot of young people again, on Fridays and Saturdays,” notes the chef. Clientele that Clémentine, Jean Coussau’s niece, will endeavor to retain, who is preparing to take over in the kitchen.
A cuisine obviously concocted to pair with great wines, and at the Relais de la Poste, you will inevitably find what you are looking for among the… 11,000 bottles in the restaurant’s cellar. Perched on his electric bike with which he now travels up and down the entire Relais de la Poste grounds, Jean Coussau goes to open the doors of his den, which he made himself. And between Petrus and other Romanée-Conti, he also releases the latest vintages of La Petite Lagune, which are just as close to his heart.
The microvineyard’s production revolves around a little more than a ton of grapes each year, which yield some 800 bottles of red and 200 bottles of rosé de saigné, close to Clairet. “The wine is served here at the restaurant, and also at Michel Guérard and at Julien Duboué in Paris, friends. We also sell a little in the shop, at 20 euros a bottle,” continues Jean Coussau.
Global warming and Asian hornets
Like other vineyards, the vines of La Petite Lagune suffered the effects of global warming this year. On harvest day, the thermometer read 34°C. October 2. “We experienced excess heat, up to 42°C in the shade, after August 15,” recalls Philippe Garcia. The problem is that the plant had not been subjected, neither in June nor in July, to such temperatures, so it was terrible because it was not used to it. I compare this to skin that has not sunbathed at all, and which suddenly exposes itself without protection to real blows from a blowtorch. »
“We were also in the middle of a maturation period,” continues the oenologist, “this weakened the skins and the Asian hornets got into them. In an emergency we had to install the net, which also serves to protect the vineyard from birds, and we found ourselves with around a hundred hornets trapped underneath, which ended up attacking each other. »
The episode left its mark on the specialist. “This is where we realize that we have been impacted for several years by things that we did not know about before. If the vine is a plant of incredible resilience, the harvest has been subject to these new phenomena for several years. » All the more reason for the friends of La Petite Lagune to take even greater care of this micro-vineyard in the coming years.