Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The cave coopérative of Ventenac-en-Minervois



Thanks to my American friend, Jodi Kennedy Gaffey,  who runs a rather smart chambres d'hôte in the château of the village of Ventenac-en-Minervois, www.latourduchateau.com I had a rather unusual cellar visit the other day, with enjoyable elements of the unexpected. 



The cooperative in Ventenac-en-Minervois, not to be confused with nearby Ventenac-en-Cabardès is quite unlike any other cooperative building that you might have seen in the Languedoc.  It looks like a large church, standing by the side of the Canal du Midi, with a barge moored in front of it.  It was in fact built in 1880, as a viticultural folly.  This was the time when fortunes were being made from wine in the Languedoc.  Initially it was in private ownership, belonging to a family whose fortunes declined dramatically at the beginning of the 20th century, who then sold it to a négociant, a Mr. Meyer who traded in wine from Bordeaux, Béziers and Lyon.  However, he returned to Germany in 1938, whereupon the wine growers who had supplied Mr. Meyer, turned the cellar and its facilities into a cooperative. Initially they were 60; today they are 14, with 100 hectares of vines, producing Minervois, IGPs and Vin de France.



The architecture makes perfect sense.  The grapes arrive at the top level, in the courtyard of the château, so that everything works by gravity.  The facilities are much more substantial than the current needs of the cave; the enormous vats are empty these days and they have the space for a small museum of various vinous artefacts, equipment and tools that were once used in cellars or vineyards.  You can climb to the top of the tower and enjoy far-reaching views over the canal and the surrounding countryside. And moored outside on the canal is the Marie-Thérèse, the one remaining barge of the many that once plied the Canal du Midi taking wine in barrels from Sète to Bordeaux.  That trade came to an end in the 1960s and the Marie-Thérèse then enjoyed a chequered career first as a restaurant, and then a nightclub on a canal in Sète, and then one night she sank.  A few years later the decision was taken to raise her and restore her.  She is not a particularly magnificent vessel, but she makes a very fitting reminder of the prosperity of the wine trade at a certain moment towards the end of the 19th century.




As for the wines, there is an eclectic rang.  I tasted an IGP Viognier, and a white Minervois that was a blend of  Marsanne, Bourboulenc and Muscat.  Although the Muscat was only 5% of the blend it rather dominated the flavour.  Cuvée Léa, in all three colours, tended to a slightly sweet style for the white and some stalky fruit and vanilla oak for the red.  A Minervois rosé was fresh and cheerful.  As for red Minervois, the Tradition was sold out and the smarter wines, Cuvée 38 and V de Ventenac tended to oakiness.  



However, I really enjoyed Minervois Nos Nouvelles Racines - our new roots. And why the name?  Ventenac and the nearby villages are particularly affected by the disease that is killing the majestic plane trees that line the Canal du Midi and they wanted to do something to help, so 1of the 7.80price goes towards the replanting of replacement trees. The wine is a blend of Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah with some fresh peppery fruit.  Medium weight without any oak, and some sour cherry flavours.     It is a imaginative  initiative that deserve support - so do go and buy a bottle for a good cause and discover a facet of the Languedocs viticultural history. 








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