This great wine, made by the Vaillé family of Aniane in the Languedoc region of southern France, is not defined by where it is from or by the grape varieties blended to produce it, the age of the vines, or the yields. Its identity is determined neither by barrel regimen nor tricks of vinification and enology. Rather, it is the result of a very personal, dead-serious quest for perfection at every stage of the process, from the original planting of the vineyards to the choice of cork used to bottle the wine. The road map was and still is fairly simple—in theory, not in execution—and remains unchanged. Grange des Pères defies categorization and redefines greatness.
Attaining cult wine status is not an easy feat, and certainly not when the odds are stacked against you. Laurent Vaillé has achieved what others thought impossible. He settled in the l’Hérault of the Languedoc and purchased land in 1989, near Aniane. In this area, the limestone is hard and abundant and the soil poor; no one thought he would have success planting a vineyard. Though it took dynamite and bulldozing to clear limestone, boulders, and glacial scree, he found great terroir. Laurent’s South-facing vines get very low yields and are all pruned in the gobelet style. The simultaneous restraint and power of his wines makes them ideal for aging. In his words, “Nature gave us a partition of land. It is up to us to interpret it.”
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.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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