A Swiss woman and a Senegalese man walk into a winery... No, this is not the start to some strange joke; rather, it is the unlikely story of Hildegard Horat and her husband, Alioune Diop, proprietors of La Grange de Quatre Sous in the picturesque highlands of the Languedoc. In addition to farming organically, the pair takes judicious freedom in their choice of grape varieties. This unusual blend of Malbec, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc is fermented with native yeast in stainless steel for a maximum expression of young fruit. And now for the punch line: aromas of crushed blackberry, licorice, and pepper in an inky dark yet wholly refreshing rouge. Oddly delicious!
Hildegard Horat-Diop’s rebellious streak, verve, and innate talent have made her a star of the Languedoc. She began making wine at a time when female winemakers in France were rare, and broke many other social conventions along the way. In 1975 she visited the Languedoc and fell in love with the domaine, La Grange de Quatre Sous. At the time, the property was in complete disrepair. She undertook extensive renovations, including an overhaul and replanting of the vineyards. She is now part of a group called Vinifilles, an association of eighteen female winegrowers in Languedoc-Rousillion who assemble to share research and expertise. She is well-respected by her peers, so much so that Kermit refers to her wine as “grand cru quality.”
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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