I am always in deep admiration of people who come to winemaking later in life, and particularly those without any training or winemaking experience, apart from a lifetime of enjoying wine. Take our friends, Lizzie and Ali, in our village in the Languedoc. Not content with running one of the best B & B’s in the area, which would provide a wonderful haven for anyone wanting to spend time exploring the local vineyards – NB une bonne adresse Le Couvent at Roujan – they bought an old mazet (or stone shepherd’s hut) up in the hills behind the village at the beginning of last year. It came with a couple of hectares of old vines, Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsaut, as well as some Muscat. The vines had been somewhat neglected for the previous few years so with the help and advice of local wine-making friends, they set about bringing the vines back to order. Everything was looking good at the beginning of September – the harvest was a week away – when disaster struck. One of worst hailstorms that the region has experienced in recent years blew through on the evening of 4th September. The result was complete devastation. I have never seen such distressed vines. The vineyard looked as though a herd of goats had rampaged, chewing up leaves and shoots, leaving shredded leaves and battered grapes. The hail stones had been the size of golf balls. So the only thing to do was to harvest the remaining grapes before rot set in.
They pressed the grapes in a small basket press. Fermentation went smoothly. I tasted the young wine in January, when it had lovely fruit, but was still quite raw as the malo-lactic fermentation had yet to happen. And I begged them not to put it in an oak barrel – advice I am delighted to say that they followed. Then followed a few nail-biting months, with wine obstinately refusing to complete its malo. Their oenologist finally gave the all-clear for bottling in early August. Just 364 bottles. The wine is a simple vin de table; for the quantity is small enough for them to ignore bureaucracy and any labelle tastings. And the name, L’Orage, was a natural choice, for this is a wine born out of a dramatic storm.
And on Sunday evening Lizzie and Ali came to dinner bearing a couple of bottles. What can I say? It was simply delicious. The nose is restrained, so that the fruit which explodes out of the glass completely takes you by surprise. Like all good wines from the Languedoc, it conveys sunshine along with the scent of the herbs of the garrigues-covered hillsides. There are lovely spicy flavours, with supple tannins. And it is dangerously easy to drink. What a pity that there are only 364 bottles. Let’s hope for more this year.