Speaking of schist, Collioure is one of the most difficult areas in the world to cultivate the vine. Its impossibly steep, inhospitable slopes, which plunge into the Mediterranean near Spain’s border, cannot be mechanized. Gnarled vines twist from the harsh, windswept landscape of pure bedrock. Grenache and Mourvèdre thrive with patient care, cleansed by the salty sea air. Vincent Cantié is an artist from another era, eking out masterpieces from these foreboding, beautiful hills. This cuvée is a classic southern French red, with the attitude and spiciness you’d expect from a full-blooded Catalan.
In 1981, Vincent Cantié and Christine Campadieu took over two small, family-owned domaines where they’d grown up, in Collioure and Banyuls. Together, they farm vineyards planted on steep, schist terraces overlooking the sea, exposed to the fierce and wily wind known as “La Tramontagne.” The vineyards are so steep that cultivation must be by hand, and extensive irrigation canals are the only prevention against soil erosion. At harvest, grapes are carried up and down the mountain in baskets. This method of farming, while extremely challenging, preserves the traditions of their ancestors. The heart, soul, and hard work that go into crafting these wines make their labor of love all the more delicious.
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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