In mid-September, I travelled across the various regions of Southern France visiting some producers with whom we already work and exploring some new possibilities. I began the week in the Roussillon, a region that I had never visited before. For quite some time, I had heard stories of its beauty, and I can verify that it did not disappoint on this front.
My first vineyard sights were from Collioure and Banyuls. Similar to the Douro Valley in Portugal or Côte Rôtie in the northern Rhône, their vineyards lie on sculpted and occasionally terraced cliffs, overlooking the sea. Southern varieties are planted such as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan. It is an unusual region in that the same vineyards can produce both dry and sweet wines under two different appellations. Depending on the quality of the grapes and the vintage, some grapes will become dry, full-bodied Collioure reds while some will become Port-like fortified Banyuls.
My first vineyard stop, however, was further up north due west of Perpignan at Domaine Gauby. I, of course, got lost trying to find them (a common occurrence when visiting previously unexplored domains despite my good sense of direction! A GPS, however, is on order…). When I met Gérard, a warm, enthusiastic man, he explained that his 48 hectares of vines (and a further 50 hectares of garrigue) make up a valley which he occupies more or less solo. Robust and passionate, he offered to show me this valley first hand from the comforts of his dusty and notably dog-fragranced truck. Being an adventurer at heart, I leapt at the chance. Soon we were crawling over the rugged and colourful landscape with him stopping occasionally to show me ancient vines (some dating from the late 19th century) and the aromatic garrigue plants. A true character who makes some soulful wines.
My next visits lead me into the area around Carcassonne where I met up with James Kingslake, the Begude Dude. He was absolutely ecstatic about the quality of the 2007s which were gently bubbling away in vat. My next stop was with the charming Graham Nutter of Château St. Jacques Albas in the Minervois. In addition to tasting his current releases, I was able to retaste his 2003s which we still have in stock. They are fabulous and are as the French say, Ã point – just perfect for drinking now.