In October 2017 I ran an eclectic tour that encompassed a wonderfully diverse mix of estates focussing on organic, biodynamic and natural winemakers.
Our base was the beautiful walled city of Carcassanne, a great place from which to explore this region. We visited the Cabardes region – about 30 minutes north of Carcassonne, and the organic estate of Domaine de Brau in Villemoustaussou. Wenny and Gabriel Tari have run this estate since 1982 and in 1989 converted to organic production. When I first started selling wines in 1990, Domaine de Brau were one of the first wines I dealt with so it was an exciting moment to visit for the first time. Wenny took us on a quick tour around the vineyards, gave us a masterclass in pruning techniques and then we all sat down in her lounge to taste through part of their range. Wenny was a hugely entertaining host and brought to life the struggles of being a relatively early pioneer of certified organic wines.
In the Minervois we visited Chateau Maris. Their hemp winery is the first unique aspect of this estate and we gained a deep insight into their whole approach. Chateau Maris is fully biodynamic and we strolled around the vineyards learning about the various biological preparations that are used to maximise the health of the soil. We then moved into the winery to taste their superb wines culminating in the most amazing Grenche Gris that was oozing depth and minerality.
Between Beziers and Montpellier our first stop was at Domaine Paul Mas – very close to Picpoul. This estate has become hugely successful and many people will be familiar with the Arrogant Frog range of wines. Part of their 650 acre estate is organic and they are looking to be 100% organic in their own vineyards by 2021. A wonderful tasting lunch was the perfect way to enjoy the wines.
Domaine Ricardelle-Lautrec are based in the Corbieres region. This is a family owned estate with a long history and, as the name implies, a Toulouse Lautec connection. This was an amazing visit as the owners took us through the story of the land and the estate. The winery was a site to behold – very traditional with a wide variety of tanks—it felt like a step back in time! We tasted tank wines from the 2017 harvest – literally having finished their fermentation in the last couple of weeks. From there we embarked on a marathon tasting of nine wines that pretty much covered their range.
South of Carcassanne is Limoux and the wonderful winery of Mayrac-Couiza. A quick stop in the vineyards allowed us to see the most sensational views and get a brilliant insight into the level of detail the estate goes into viticulturally. We then tasted five different vintages of the Millesime Domaine de Mayrac ranging from 2009 back to 2005. This was a fabulous opportunity to see the evolution and understand the impact of age and vintage. A delicious home cooked lunch was then served with more of their wines including a Roussanne blend and some excellent Cremant.
Domaine Thuronis takes natural wine making to an extreme. No sulphites at all, made in an old farm that is part of an association that buys up properties and then creates long term tenant contracts to ensure that the land continues to be worked and looked after. The wines were definitely “out there” in style and we learnt about the unique difficulties of making wines without sulphur and the inherent risks attached.
In addition to our lunches during visits we called into Castelnaudary en route from Toulouse Airport to Carcassanne, where the scene was set over a tasting encompassing the region and a buffet lunch, and our last night dinner was a delicious experience in the acclaimed Robert Rodriguez restaurant in Carcassonne.