During the 1990s, I was a fairly regular visitor to the Roussillon. Usually making at least one visit to the region a year – sometimes several. Then at the start of the Noughties, visits became more infrequent. Around 2004/2005 they stopped altogether, so it was good to get back to the region for a few days this month.
Trilla – a return to a now nearly vineless village
Trilla is a small remote village up in the Fenouilledes hills, above the Agly Valley. When I first came here around 20 years ago there were lots of vines including some on terraces overlooking the village. Now most of the vines have disappeared – grubbed out under the EU vine pull scheme. Once there were some 140-hectares of vines here. Now it is just 20.
The sign is still there but the vines have gone
The EU provides subsidies for pulling out vines in an attempt to reduce the world suplus of wine. But these vines around Trilla planted on thin, poor soil with small yields were never part of the problem. Rather, especially as many of the vines were old, they were part of the village's heritage. Furthermore little else apart from olives will grow on these hills and this hot, dry climate. A few fields would support cereals but they are too small to be economic. The irony is that there are an increasing number of foriegn investors who are now buying up the vineyards in the area that remain, recognising this treasure trove of old Carignan and Grenache.
Domaine Gauby (www.domainegauby.fr)
I first met Gérard and Ghislaine Gauby in the early 1990s. Based in Calce Gérard was already a significant figure in Roussillon wine, although his wines had brute power and strong tannins. Then they reflected their powerful and stocky maker. Since then there has been a remarkable transformation as the Gaubys have constantly refined their wines as well as their vineyard management. They moved over to biodynamics in 2000. Gérard is convinced that the way they work in the vineyard has had a great influence on their wines, especially encouraging the roots to go deeper and thus providing protection against the region’s frequent droughts. The latest on started in 2005.
“Unlike the rest of France the concern here is not to reduce yields but to raise them,” explained Gérard. “Over time we have managed to boost our yields from 12 hl/ha to between 20-25hl/ha.“
Even though they were frantically busy getting ready for the start of the vendange on Monday as well as bottling various wines, Gérard still spent nearly two hours with me tasting his 2009s – mostly from barrel – and some of his 2008s.
It was a remarkable tasting. I was very impressed by their delicacy, finesse, minerality and freshness despite the hot climate. My favourites included:
-the seductive 2009 Les Calcinaires, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes, which is the entry level wine made from Maccabeu, Vermentino, Muscat and Chardonnay.
-a powerful and concentrated barrel sample of 2009 Carignan planted in 1890 that forms the base of Gérard’s renowned La Muntada. A reminder of the potential of old Carignan;
-a series of four very varied 2009 Grenaches from different soils and vineyards includinga sample from 90 year-old vines that will be La Roque, one of Gérard’s four new single vineyard wines. They will be priced at 70€ a bottle the same as Muntada;
-a 2009 barrel sample of Mourvèdre from vines aged at least 140 years old and planted before phylloxera with incredible intensity and power but at the same time showing finesse.
-2008 Muntada – dense and concentrated but happily without la force de frappe with a very long finish and a touch saline at the end.
-2008 La Roque – very floral (rose in particular) and delicate but powerful with some resemblance to the silkiness of a fine Pinot Noir. A really a stunning wine.
At the end, a couple of 2008 whites – Vieilles Vignes and 2008 Coume Gineste. The Vieilles Vignes is 100% Maccabeu – known in Spain as Viura and widely despised. “It was visiting Murrieta and Tondonia in Rioja that showed me the potential of this most amazing white grape.” The VV has a vivacity and minerality you would normally associate with southern whites. Coume Gineste has richer fruit and greater complexity but needs more time in bottle.
All in all a tasting of great precision and finesse.
The old Cave-Cooperative de Bélesta=Domaine/Hotel Riberach
There are parts of the wine world such as the Napa Valley where a 4 million euro wine tourism centre would hardly cause a ripple. High up in the remote Fenouilledes, it is a completely different matter – this is a really first for the area.
Last Thursday morning we were shown round Domaine Riberach’s future hotel and winery by architect Luc Richard, one of the four partners in the project, which involves converting the old premises of the Cave Cooperative of Bélesta into a 18 room luxury hotel – nine suites and nine bedrooms, conference centre and winery. They were hoping to be ready for this tourist season but like so many building projects they are running behind. They plan to open in October and have very recently engaged Roussillon’s top wine PR.
Domaine Riberach was founded in 2006 and currently has 10 hectares of vines in Bélesta. In 2007 they bought the building of Bélesta’s old Cave Cooperative in the centre of the village, which had been closed since 1995 when it merged with the coop of Rasiguères. Work on renovating and converting the building started in 2009.
One of the VAT rooms
The bedrooms are in the coop’s old concrete vats as is the kitchen for the 50 cover restaurant. Prices of the rooms range from 130€ for a standard room -210€ for a suite.
The egg shaped pool whose water will be purified by plants
This looks to be a courageous and exciting project for an area that is now being discovered by a number of foreign wine investors.