Mille Vignes has only seven and a half hectares (nineteen acres) of vines, by choice. “I could enlarge, but the wines wouldn’t be the same,” according to vigneronne Valérie Guérin. The terroir she works in this very southernmost part of France is an amalgam of clay, limestone, and schist soils; wild scrubland scented with thyme and lavender, and perhaps the most potent force of all, the fierce Tramontagne wind. Muscat de Rivesaltes, a local specialty, is a vin doux naturel produced when fermentation of very ripe Muscat grapes is halted midway by addition of a neutral spirit, a process known as mutage. Mille Vignes’ Muscat de Rivesaltes flaunts a ravishing perfume of infinite flowers and fruits, equally refreshing as an apéritif as it is satisfying with dessert.
In the late 1970s, Jacques Guérin moved to the tiny village of La Palme, just a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. Soon after, he began producing wine from nearby Fitou and Rivesaltes. The wines produced in the area at the time were not driven by quality, but Jacques saw potential in the terroir and envisioned revitalizing his vineyards, focusing on low yields and organic principles, convinced that he would soon be able to produce great wine. Today, Jacques’ daughter, Valérie, has carried on his ethic in the vineyard and cellar. The addition of Les Mille Vignes to our portfolio not only geographically fills in the space between Banyuls and Corbières but adds true depth and variety to our wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon.
Ask wine drinkers around the world, and the word “Languedoc” is sure to elicit mixed reactions. On the one hand, the region is still strongly tied to its past as a producer of cheap, insipid bulk wine in the eyes of many consumers. On the other hand, it is the source of countless great values providing affordable everyday pleasure, with an increasing number of higher-end wines capable of rivaling the best from other parts of France.
While there’s no denying the Languedoc’s checkered history, the last two decades have seen a noticeable shift to fine wine, with an emphasis on terroir. Ambitious growers have sought out vineyard sites with poor, well draining soils in hilly zones, curbed back on irrigation and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and looked to balance traditional production methods with technological advancements to craft wines with elegance, balance, and a clear sense of place. Today, the overall quality and variety of wines being made in the Languedoc is as high as ever.
Shaped like a crescent hugging the Mediterranean coast, the region boasts an enormous variety of soil types and microclimates depending on elevation, exposition, and relative distance from the coastline and the cooler foothills farther inland. While the warm Mediterranean climate is conducive to the production of reds, there are world-class whites and rosés to be found as well, along with stunning dessert wines revered by connoisseurs for centuries.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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