Nestled deep in the foothills of the Cévennes mountains, the Terrasses du Larzac appellation is one of the Languedoc’s hidden treasures The Larzac plateau, essentially the southern end of the Massif Central mountains, is an area whose name remains relatively unknown to most of the earth’s population, yet conjures up much in the mind of the French. Given its remoteness and sparse population, the Larzac became the place to be in the 1970s for the “back-to-earth” movement in France. Hippies, revolutionaries, and Luddites found cheap land and privacy on the mountainous plateau and engaged in their agricultural adventures. Remember José Bové, the pipe-smoking, barbell-mustachioed farmer who bulldozed a McDonald’s under construction in 1999 and went on to become the icon of the anti-globalization movement? That’s the Larzac for you. Working small parcels of vines planted by rebellious, off-the-grid farmers decades ago, Les Vignes Oubliées puts that spirit right into bottle. Barrel-aged in a cool grotto hidden away in the forest, this wine marries the sunny influence of the south with chewy mountain tannins and a fresh streak of cool stone. This is a wine proud, unpolished, and unique.
Les Vignes Oubliées is hard to categorize: though the quality and quantity produced suggest an exacting family estate, it is in fact a sort of boutique cooperative—a self-proclaimed “collective of small farmers.” Clustered around the tiny village of Saint Privat, the terraced vineyards sit at 350 meters altitude, placing them among the region’s highest. Winemaker Jean-Baptiste Granier works closely with four vignerons who entrust their fruit to him, ensuring that both sides maintain their stringent standards. The high altitude of the Larzac plateau combines with schist and sandstone soil to give unusually fresh, delicate wines with silky tannins that also have garrigue aromas and great generosity characteristic of the Languedoc.
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.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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