It takes a special kind of vigneron to look out across France’s most esteemed appellations and vineyard sites, deemed so decades if not centuries before, and proclaim, “I am going to create a new vineyard just as special from scratch!” But then again, Sylvain Fadat of Domaine d’Aupilhac is no ordinary vigneron. In the 1990s, Sylvain identified a volcanic amphitheater high in the Montpeyroux hills, with soils of basalt, raw limestone, and marine fossils, as a unique terroir perfectly suited to making extraordinarily elegant wine from Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre. First, Sylvain had to move mountains to make this vineyard a reality—literally, by clearing huge boulders and some of the shrubbery that clung obstinately to the hillside. Then, he planted his vines, which are surrounded, to this day, by a landscape teeming with wildlife and aromatic herbs. He was vindicated right out of the gate: his earliest bottlings from Les Cocalières hold up, after twenty years in bottle, as stellar reds. This rouge, which has five years of bottle age and has just arrived directly from Sylvain’s cellar, benefits even more from the older vines and Sylvain’s deepened experience with this terroir. It is no exaggeration to say that this cuvée shows some of the greatest finesse of any red wine from the south of France.
Three generations of Fadats have farmed the lieu-dit known as Aupilhac, in the village of Montpeyroux, across the river Hérault from Daumas Gassac and Grange des Pères. While the Fadats have farmed this land since the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1989 that the current member of the family, Sylvain, finally registered the domaine as a vigneron indépendant. Aupilhac sits at a high altitude, nestled below the ruins of the village’s château, at almost 1200 feet above sea level on terraced land. The soils are rich in prehistoric oyster fossils, which lend incredible length and minerality to the wines. In Sylvain’s words, “We believe that work in the vineyards has far more influence on a wine's quality than what we do in the cellar.”
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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