There were some pretty depressing headlines for wine growers in the Midi Libre last month – La désespérante dégringolade du revenu des viticulteurs – for which a loose translation might be the desperate collapse of the revenue of the wine growers. The article gave the figure of 41,675 for the number of hectares pulled up in the region since 2004, while the overall revenue for farmers had dropped by 47% and for wine growers, more specifically by 66.5%. It makes pretty gloomy reading.
And yet individual optimism prevails. There is no end to the number of new estates being developed in the region, and to the number of people who are prepared to invest time, money, energy and enormous commitment to producing wine, and they are often people of relatively modest means, without the financial backing of money made in other fields. They need the day job, or one of the couple has another job away from wine. But they are passionate about what they doing, determined to fulfil their dream and are not deterred by the adverse odds, and indeed the current economic climate.
Take two small examples. My village is not known for its wine quality – indeed the local cooperative plummeted to a new depth of ‘quality’, with bottles that we deemed not fit for the vinegar mother. And there are hardly any independent wine growers in the village. So the example of Eric Morot is an inspiring one. He came south from Paris some fifteen years ago and bought some vines, just six hectares, and then last year he decided to take the plunge and withdraw his vines from the coop and turn vigneron, from viticulteur. In 2009 he made just 5000 bottles in his cellar, an old barn, hence the name of his wine Vin de la Grange, Cuvée l’Ambrin, after his two daughters, Ambre and Marin. He hasn’t bothered with the hassle of bureaucracy so it’s a simple vin de table, and a great start, with some cheerful peppery fruit, and just 6.00€ a bottle.
Rather more ambitious are Patrick and Nathalie Goma at Domaine des Couleurs en Terres, just outside Pézenas, down the road from the Prieuré de St. Jean de Bébian. Patrick explained that he is self-taught. His parents were farmers in the Gers, where they had cows and grew maize and also some grapes. He has a farming qualification, but specialised in élevage, rearing cattle. When he arrived in the Languedoc in 1985, he went to work with Bertrand Jany at Domaine Condamine Bertrand. Nathalie is a qualified winemaker, and studied in Paris and then Montpellier, and also worked chez M. Jany, which is how she and Patrick met.
Patrick now works at Domaine Verena Wyss and Nathalie has a job at the Chambre d’Agriculture, and in the evenings and on weekends they work hard running their own small estate. They bought three hectares of abandoned vines in 1996, and replanted the old Carignan, Terret Bourret and Aramon, for Grenache, Syrah and Roussanne as well as some Muscat, and they also have a little Vermentino and some old Cinsaut. And their cellar and adjoining house, they have built themselves. They sell some of their grapes, which helps the cash flow, and aim to produce about 2000 to 3000 bottles a year, but only started selling in bottle with the 2007 vintage. Their labels depict paintings by Nathalie’s mother, conveying the wonderful colours of the Languedoc, and the inspiration of the name of their estate.
2009 Roussanne Vin de Pays d’Oc– 7.50€
Light golden. Delicate, fresh nose. Elegant white blossom on the palate, with a satisfying mouthful and a harmonious finish. The wine making is finely tuned, with some bâtonnage, and they take care to avoid any oxidation. Fermentation is in small vats at 16-18°C.
2009 Muscat à petits grains, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 8.50€
Golden in colour. Quite spicy, with the fresh grapiness that good Muscat should have, with a fresh pithy orange note on the finish. Nathalie suggested goats’ cheese or asparagus as an accompaniment.
2009 Rosé, Vin de Pays d’Oc – 5.00€
Cinsaut, with some of the related variety Œillade. A pale orange pink, with a delicate nose, and rounded raspberry fruit on the palate. Elegant and harmonious.
And then we tried what they call the Inspiration of the Year, made from later picked Cinsaut and vinified with some of the larger lees, and aged in barrel. It was rounded and mouthfilling, with a touch of oak, and quite solid dry palate. And quite intriguing.
2008 Languedoc Rouge, - 9.00€ A blend of 30% Grenache and 70% Syrah, fermented in vat and then aged in 300 litres wood for 10 months. It has good colour, with some spicy notes on the palate, and a rounded finish with a touch of wood.
Nathalie and Patrick work hard, selling their wine locally, in a modest way. No high-powered marketing plans for them. You will see them at the local fêtes, the Fête de l’Oignon doux at Lézignan la Cèbe, the Saturday morning marché vigneronne inthe rue Anatole France, in Pézenas, or at the weekly Estivales, on a Friday evening in Pézenas, when the cours Jean-Jaurès is closed to traffic to create one large street party with the local wine growers offering tastings and selling their wine. It is hard work and they deserve to succeed.