Poor weather actually helps things in Languedoc.A cooler and wetter year like 2013 makes for richer fruit characters in wines. They taste like they came from further north.
The Languedoc is such a vast district, and only just being properly mapped for wine. You could drive across it for days … and indeed we do. So much beauty; the bright low sun making the bright yellow vine stems glow and tinting pink the far, but ever-present, snowy Pyrenees. Farmers are out in the vines pruning. Thin white trails of smoke rising into the blue sky.
So many miles! There's a lot to check on, lots to discover and the remoter valleys are where you find the most interesting things happening.
I first came here over 40 years ago and fell for it. Still adore the place. It was a problem area back then. Rioting was popular. Similar to rugby, but more anger and no referee. The poor farmers lived on what they could grow, gather, trap or shoot. Most men drank around 3 litres of wine a day. Their poor wives didn't. There were many widows … always in black.
No farms actually bottled a wine with a label. Wine was sold, shipped and consumed in bulk. You'd see long trains of tank wagons heading north; not with petrol, but cheap wine.
But a few wines were just beginning to stand out from a sea of Vin Ordinaire.
Exciting times. The late Jean Dubernet, a legendary oenologist, and man-with-a-mission, would take me out on his daily rounds as he consulted and coaxed his followers - the more optimistic and energetic farmers - into taking more care, cutting production and making richer more interesting wines. Hopefully for a better price.
His son Marc continues the good work today, running the region's biggest laboratory. And forty years later there are such wonderful wines around. And still not expensive. Le Pere Dubernet would be very happy if he saw today's Languedoc wine scene.
From crisp, green-tinged dry white to massive black reds and rich, sweet, late harvested liqueur-like delights, this vast region has everything. This year we found Gewurztraminer and Riesling to add to the Merlots, Cabernets, Syrahs, Chenins, Pinots, Chardonnays and all the rest. So, you could say that in terms of wine, all France is replicated here in the Languedoc. If allowed only one wine region in France it would have to be Languedoc and its southern twin Roussillon … together, the Midi.
Our customers have long understood this; the Midi has always been their most popular region.
Some of this morning's Chardonnays in the hills south of Limoux were still fermenting. But such fruit! We could've been in Burgundy. Jean-Luc Terrier - their winemaker - would never agree with that, being as he's from Pouilly Fuissé. But buying 100 hectares of high valley, remote Limoux back in the '90's is something an outstanding winemaker like him (Deux Roches) would only do if he saw exceptional possibilities. And indeed … his Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are outstanding.
Jean-Luc lives in Burgundy but comes down here every few weeks. Actual winemaking is in the hands of Mathilde; very young but with a precocious ability to know exactly what's going on in every single barrel and tank.
Yesterday saw us stamping feet, and blowing on frozen fingers in the 4 Pilas estate up near Chateau l'Herault. A great old barn of a no-frills winery. Barely above freezing. Not what you'd call an immaculate winery (some panic when I got out my camera!) It’s just the wines that are immaculate. Joseph Bousquet has a hard life … it shows in his face. Not a man who sits down much. He's either in his vines, his chai or selling his wines round France at wine shows and markets. That's the hard way to build a reputation. But he is certainly getting there. We love his Pinot Noir. It is our 'Secret.'
|Beth, Joseph and Mark ... feeling the cold|
Baptiste Tourquebiau and his old dad built their shiny new cellar with their own hands when they decided to pull out of the local co-operative and go it alone. The building is work in progress and probably always will be, but they have good Pinot Noir which goes into our Les Etoiles.
The Mas de Daumas Gassac must be the most famous Languedoc Estate and Hugh J calls it ‘The Lafite of Languedoc' . But it’s a simple farm, really. And a hard-working family … who have done more than anyone to lift the reputation of these parts and especially the rocky ridges that comprise the Terrasses du Larzac.
Massive tasting with Samuel and the winemakers of everything in their tanks, to make our joint blends.
|Vianney Castan and his other obsession|
Just to the south, also on the Terrasses du Larzac is another little château just acquired by our young friend Vianney Castan which we think has huge promise. The first year Aimée Guibert harvested his Daumas-Gassac he hadn't yet built his cellar. So he asked his neighbour at Château Saint Jean d'Aumières if he could use part of his. So the first vintage of Daumas-Gassac was made in Vianney's cellar.
The place has changed hands many times since. Baffling. But Vianney, a young lad who we have supported and watched, has worked his way up to the point where he was able to buy this estate from the receiver. It’s all low costs here. A small, young husband-and-wife team. Such exciting wines, wines you don't have to think about … you just want them.
The other place this happens - always - is the Cave de Roquebrun to the north. A tight little river valley with exceptional brown schiste soils, unique microclimate … and that vital thing required for a co-operative to become great: a Strong Man … or Woman, he said quickly. Here it’s burly, fit, rugby-playing Alain Rogier.
There is a problem with wine co-operatives in France: French wine farmers are not good at co-operating. You need an Alain. When fierce-looking Alain says to co-operate, they do. And they are, today, a very happy and prosperous bunch. Without Alain this winery could be semi-derelict like others around here. That he is also a genius-level blender of wines is what does the business. But you have to be a strongman too. Net result is every time I come here I want to buy EVERYTHING.
Many more miles, many more tastings. The week goes on like this. Am on the plane home now. Great trip. Thanks Beth.