The Story of Domeniul Catleya - On Marcel Proust's Footsteps

The Story of Domeniul Catleya - On Marcel Proust's Footsteps

Located in the wine region called "Dealurile Olteniei și Munteniei", Domeniul Catleya is a boutique winery in Romania, owned and managed by Laurent Pfeffer.

After completing his studies in viticulture and oenology in Bordeaux in 2003, Laurent did a 4-month internship at Bujoru Viticulture and Winemaking Research-Development Station, located 80 km north of Galați. On this occasion, under the guidance of the technical director of this center, Nicolaie Bîrliga, Laurent discovered Romania, its culture, its history and was able to appreciate all the potential of this country and especially the potential for the production of quality wines.

This experience brought the idea to return to Romania to look for a suitable terroir for the production of high quality wines and to create a wine estate.

That's how Laurent arrived in Corcova, Mehedinți county, where he created Domeniul Catleya, a boutique winery with 14.5 hectares of vineyards.

"Catleya" is the name of an orchid, a symbol of love in Marcel Proust's book "In Search of Lost Time".

Corcova has a rich past. In the height of the Belle Époque, Prince Anton Bibescu, Marcel Proust and their friends were tasting Corcova wines in Paris, while evoking the pear flowers from that mythical place. Bibescu, a prince of Romanian origin, was the one who decided to expand his vineyard on the most beautiful and rich hills of Corcova. Helped by the French agronomist Sauget, he gave those wines their qualities and reputation.

Proust, Bibescu's admirer and good friend, wanted to join him in Corcova, but illness prevented him from traveling. However, this place remained present in his writings, even Bibescu inspired one of the main characters in the novel "In search of lost time".

In 2007, together with 3 other French wine enthusiasts and in love with Romania, Frédéric Vauthier, Dominique Pfeffer and Raymond Claude, Laurent founded Domeniul Catleya and chose the Catleya orchid to symbolize the wines obtained from the replanted vineyards of the old lands of Prince Bibescu.

Of the 14.5 hectares, a total of 4 hectares are planted with Merlot variety.

"Our initial idea was to plant only Romanian varieties, but we quickly realized that it was [and still is today] complicated to buy quality vines grafted from Romanian varieties, vines without health problems. For this reason, we decided to start with a plantation of international varieties that are also grown in Bordeaux, an area we know very well, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. We planted more Merlot because it is a versatile variety, from which you can make fruity rosé wines, as well as lighter or more tannic red wines." says Laurent Pfeffer, oenologist and soul of Catleya Wines.

The wines signed by Catleya are made only from their own crops and from 2021 the winery and vineyard are in official conversion to organic agriculture.

The following grape varieties are planted at Domeniul Catleya: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Fetească Neagră, Fetească Regală, Fetească Albă.

All year around Catleya team works in the vineyard in a reasonable and minimalist manner to help it produce the best grapes possible. The treatments, essential to protect the vine against diseases, are limited to a minimum and using exclusively with biological products. Work such as pruning and the maintenance of the soil is done by hand; the harvest is also done by hand, with the grapes being transported in small boxes to keep their integrity.

We had the opportunity to talk to Laurent Pfeffer about the grape varieties he likes to work with the most, the harvest year he considers to be the best at Catleya, as well as the newest wine release, "Steaua fără nume" ("The Star without a name" in translation).

Which grape varieties do you like to work with the most and why?

Laurent: "I'm a Fetească Neagră fan. It was a totally new variety for me when I arrived in Romania and after 10 years of working with this variety both in the vineyard and in the winery, I discovered how subtle and soft it can be. For the Fetească Neagra plantation that we have at Catleya, we wanted to do something different: we planted the vine at a density of 10,000 cuttings per hectare, as is done in the most prestigious domains of Burgundy and Bordeaux. The more you increase the density, the more competition is created between the vines and the grapes on each bush will be fewer but of higher quality."

Tell us a few words about the wine "Steaua fără nume", a Fetească Neagră 2019 released in 2023 that does not fit into the 3 wine ranges you have at Catleya (Freamat, Perfect Simplu and Epopee).

Laurent: " "Steaua fără nume" is a collection wine made only with Fetească Neagră grapes.The grapes come from the vineyard planted at a density of 10,000 vines per hectare to achieve a decrease in the quantity produced in favor of the aromatic and tannic quality of the grapes. To emphasize the expression of the terroir, we used wild yeasts and lactic ferments. The harvesting and destemming were done manually, berry by berry, the grapes fermented for a period of 4 weeks in 3 Romanian oak barrels of 400 liters. The wine was then aged in the same barrels for 2 years.

The name is a tribute to the writer Mihail Sebastian, the author of the play „Steaua fără nume”, written in Corcova when he lived for a while in the mansion of his friend, Anton Bibescu. "

If you had to choose only one year of the harvest since you have been making wines at Catleya, a year that you consider to be as close to Perfection as possible (for a certain grape variety, in your region) which would it be and why?

"I would choose 2019 with the Fetească Neagră variety and especially the selection of grapes from this variety with which I created the first edition of „Steaua fără nume”. It was a very good year in Corcova, without any climatic extremes, and the good autumn weather gave us the chance to pick the grapes exactly when we wanted, with exceptional maturity, especially the phenolic maturity," says Laurent.

Throughout his work, Laurent has reliable help: his wife, Anne-Cecile, and their two little girls aged 9 and 11. We asked them what it's like to live close to their vineyard and how their lives have changed since moving to Catleya.

You have chosen to live in Romania, close to your vineyard, the place where you spend most of your time. Would you change anything? How do you manage to divide time between life at the winery and family time?

"I worked for 11 years in Bucharest before moving to Corcova. The completion of the building renovation for our winery in 2019 was the deciding factor for the move. From the apartment in Bucharest to the house on the hill is a big change, but I wouldn't change it! Since we live in Corcova (our girls are 9 and 11 now), we can fully enjoy family life.

At the winery, I take care of the administrative side and Laurent takes care of the production, we intersect on the marketing and promotion side."
says Anne-Cecile.

I saw that you have organized some events at the winery. Do you want to promote winery tours?

Anne Cecile: "Since 2019, we also welcome new groups throughout the year at the winery and especially during the harvest, when amateurs can participate in the harvest and make the wine themselves.

In 2021 we built a tasting pavilion in the middle of the vineyard, a light, semi-open structure made entirely of wood. Thus we can offer tastings in the heart of the vineyard.

We welcome groups from 6 to 30 people. The tour includes a visit to the winery and tasting of 5 wines with platters of cold snacks (charcuterie and artisanal cheeses). We recommend booking at least 3 days in advance."

Having said that, we wish you to try and discover all the wines from Catleya Wines collections:
  • Freamat, the first collection and the best seller of Catleya winery, offers modern and fresh blends, which are easily suitable for a family lunch or an evening with friends.
  • Perfect Simplu is, first of all, a tribute to Oltenia, the region where the winery is located. It is also a range of monovarietal wines, designed and vinified to highlight the typicality of each variety.
  • Épopée: wines from the Épopée collection are made only in excellent years, in small quantities, from the best grapes of that year, with all the care, experience and skill of the oenologist.
You can discover Catleya wines both in restaurants and specialized wine shops, as well as in the winery's online shop. Keep an eye on the Special Offers here in Winesday App mobile app, because every month you will find a special offer from Catleya. At the same time, when you are traveling through the country and you are curious to see with your own eyes how the vineyard is cared for and how the wine is made at Catleya, stop for a winery tour (don't forget to book in advance, you have all the details here in the app on Catleya Wines account).

Carmina Nițescu & Winesday App

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