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Sylvain Fadat, whose father was a renowned ornithologist, is an avid hunter of bécasses. He is also a joyful and generous chasseur, and will invite you to join him as he pursues these woodcock and the elusive palombes—wood pigeons—preferably in November, though October will do if you can’t wait. There is no better time of year than autumn to visit Sylvain and his wife Désirée, of Domaine d’Aupilhac. The stress of the grape-growing season and harvest has subsided. All traces of the summer’s heat have vanished and Montpeyroux is at its most serene and beautiful. Whether you join Sylvain on one of his chasse outings, or you just go for a tour of his vines, you cannot come away from his slice of the Languedoc without becoming a convert, both to the energy of his Montpeyroux vineyard land and to the class of his wines. You would start at his domaine in the quaint village of Montpeyroux. From there, you drive alongside his original vineyard holdings, right outside of town. Then, Sylvain will take you high up the hill to his relatively newer holdings: the awe-inspiring, volcanic amphitheater called Les Cocalières, whose soil is made up of basalt, raw limestone, and marine fossils. He might tell you, in his baritone Languedocien accent, how he created this vinous Eden over years of backbreaking labor. Aside from the Roussanne, Rolle (Vermentino), Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre vines, which he started planting in 1999 and farms organically, Les Cocalières is completely covered with wild aromatic herbs and teeming with wildlife. While you’re up there, you can’t help but wonder how it could get better than this, and—even though he is revered among the French—how Sylvain still flies relatively under the radar. You realize this is only because he is a vigneron in Montpeyroux, not Meursault, the Médoc, or Morgon. And yet, with a taste of each of these four wines, you’ll sense that Sylvain is as talented as anyone working in France today.
2018 Languedoc Blanc “Les Cocalières” $35 A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Vermentino, this is one of the great white wines of southern France, with waxy notes of white peaches, pistachios, herbs, and honey. Sylvain recommends drinking it as an apéritif or with river fish, like trout or perch. 2017 Languedoc Rouge “Lou Maset” $18 Named for the stone huts in Sylvain’s vineyard, this is a country quaffer, evoking strawberries, blackberries, and black olives. It has some grip, but is very approachable now.
2016 Languedoc Montpeyroux Rouge “Les Cocalières” $35 An epic red from Sylvain’s epic, high-elevation Cocalières vineyard: fresh, ethereal, with notes of black olive, lavender, roasted game. It rivals many elite northern Rhône reds several times its price.
2015 Mont Baudile “Le Carignan” $37 When asked once in an interview what grape variety he would be, Sylvain replied, “Carignan, because it’s resilient, good, and intelligent because it adapts well to different environments, and it’s sturdy.” Crafted solely from old-vine Carignan, this wine is reminiscent of dark fruit, chocolate, espresso, and garrigue. It is fresh now, but will blossom in your cellar.
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.”
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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