Château Guilhem, in the village of Malviès, is one of the older, more established, and also larger estates of Malepère, run and owned these days by Bertrand Gourdou, the 6th generation, with Catherine Montahuc as his winemaker. She has worked there since 2006, but comes from Burgundy. They have 32 hectares of vines in production, of which 25 are Malepère and the rest produce varietal Pays d’Oc.
The château itself dates from the 1870s, and on some of their labels they use an old photograph of the family from 1902. Originally the property was called Chateau Malviès, but Bertrand thought that could cause some confusion, and preferred to rename it, after the family name of his grandfather, Guilhem. In the vineyard they work organically, and the cellar at first sight looks like the classic Languedoc cellar, with old cement vats and some old foudres. However, they have divided the cement vats into smaller sizes, which was not easy, but nonetheless preferable to removing copious amounts of reinforced concrete. They also have stainless steel vats; Bertrand’s grandfather was one of the first to use them for wine in the Languedoc, in the mid-1970s, inspired by the example of the dairy industry. They were also amongst the first to plant Merlot in the area, again at the beginning of the 1970s and their oldest Cabernet Franc is 15 years old.
As Catherine explained, the characteristics of Malepère are quite different within the appellation with the vineyards on the Carcassonne side of the hill are more languedocien in character, whereas on southern side of the Malepère, nearer to Limoux, the vineyards are more suitable for the Bordeaux varieties and Grenache would simply not ripen there. Their Malepère rosé is a blend of equal parts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with some fresh fruit. There are four red Malepère; Héritage Famille Guilhem has an emphasis on fruit with a blend of Merlot and Cabernets, with an élevage in vat. Prestige du Château Guilhem is 50% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec and spends eight months in old wood. With the Grand Vin the blend can change according to the vintage characteristics, with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with twelve months’ barrel ageing. If it is too cool, Cabernet Sauvignon does not ripen, but it does not like hot years either, while Cabernet Franc adapts much better. It has some firm structured cassis fruit and makes you think of Bordeaux, ’but with the sunshine’ added Catherine.
Clos du Blason is 90% Merlot, with one barrel of Cabernet Franc and one barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon. The idea is to show how well Merlot performs in the Malepère, especially when the vines are 40 years old. This is serious with a firm oaky impact, with ripe vanilla and cassis fruit. How will it age in bottle? For sheer drinkability, the Heritage cuvée was hard to beat.
Château Belvèze is another traditional estate. The 17th château in the village of Belvèze-du- Razès has belonged to the Mallafosse family for 150 years. Guillaume Mallafosse has 40 hectares of vines, planted with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for Malepère and Chardonnay for a Pays d’Oc. He bottled his first wine in 2003 and makes two cuvées of Malepère, a blend of equal parts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with good structure and fresh fruit, and the cuvée élèvé en fût de chêne includes Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend and is more structured with oak as well as fruit.
For Guillaume the tipicity of Malepère is its freshness, with him observing that it is easier to drink than Cabardès. He also considered the commercial difficulties; ‘we are very few independent growers and none of us are well-known. The cooperatives at Razès and Arzens, and also Anne de Joyeuse in Limoux, account for half the appellation, but are suffocating us, the small wine growers, and keeping the prices low”. However, he is optimistic that Gérard Bertrand’s recent purchase of Domaine de la Soujeole should have a beneficial effect – “il est moteur”. On verra!