On the same day as our visit to Chateau Rives-Blanques in Limoux, which I reported on in June, we also visited Domaine Gayda in nearby Brougairolles. Gayda is a truly international effort, and whilst both the winery and the winemaking (and indeed viticultural) techniques employed have something of the New World about them, the resulting wines speak very much of their Languedoc and Roussillon roots.
South African Anthony Record and Englishman Tim Ford joined forces with French winemaker Vincent Chansault to form Domaine Gayda in 2003. At just 30 years of age, Vincent has packed a lot of experience into his career, working in the Loire Valley, Rhone and Languedoc, as well as having worked for a number of years in South Africa, notably under the tutelage of Marc Kent, winemaker at the famous Boekenhoutskloof winery, and now a non-executive Director at Gayda. After building a brand new (and, I must say, very impressive) new winery, the estate produced its first vintage in 2004. At the same time, they set about planting vineyards on the surrounding land which had, until then, been used for the raising of various other crops. The winery is actually situated within the Cotes de Malepere region, although they do not use this (or any other) AOC for their wines. At 7 years of age, those vines (Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc) are now in full production, but a large proportion of the grapes are still sourced from various different parts of Languedoc and Roussillon.
Bringing in grapes from far and wide is an interesting concept, and one which many new world wine growers have practiced for a long time. But it is a relatively new concept to southern France, although some of the larger, more mass-market-oriented concerns such as Skalli and Gerard Bertrand have been doing it for a number of years. But Gayda's approach is very focused, and they source grapes from some of the top growers in Roussillon, with whom they have built firm - though strictly non-contracted - relationships. In addition, Gayda own some parcels of vines on the Petit Causse, in the hills above La Liviniere in Languedoc.
Of course, the blending of grapes from these different areas ensures that Gayda's wines cannot qualify for any particular AOC, and are thus labelled under the catch-all Pays d'Oc denomination. But if the wines are this good, who cares if they lack a perceived single regional identity? I say "perceived", because the wines are far from international, showing a strong Languedoc/Roussillon character - and if I tasted them completely blind, I would most likely be there in a flash, especially with the ones made from indigenous grape varieties.
Before we began, we were treated to a 3-course lunch with Vincent, in the delightful restuarant at Gayda, overlooking the vines and the plot that will soon be planted with Olive trees (another Gayda project). The day was warm but overcast, so the view of the nearby Pyrenées was pretty much obscured, but the views from the restaurant were still a delight, as was the food and the Gayda wines which accompanied it.
The restaurant at Domaine Gayda offers good food and (normally) fine views of the Pyrenées
After lunch, Vincent took us on a tour of the vineyards and the winery..........
Winemaker Vincent Chansault in the vineyard
Inspecting the grapes - in mid-June, still small and green, but very healthy
The winery is modern and hi-tech, with plenty of stainless steel.........
......... and approximately 400 top-quality oak barrels, each one on rollers,
which enables two people to turn every single one in around an hour
Then it was to the tasting room, to taste through (most of) the range of wines
Very floral and aromatic, with notes of honeysuckle and citrus. Fresh on the palate, with ripe tree fruits. Nicely balanced.
At veraison (the beginning of the fruit ripening process) the vines are largely de-leafed on the north-facing side, to aid development of the fruit, but without the burning effect of the sun. The wine spends a month on its lees after fermentation. It is herbaceous and fruity, with a nose of elderflower, freshly-cut grass, lemon and quince. The flavours are delicate - definitely more Sancerre than Marlborough. I'm not a huge fan of Sauvignon, but I like this.
25% of this wine spends some time in barrel, but the effect is very subtle. Again quite herbaceous and even herby, but very fresh in the mouth, with notes of lemon and mineral. Quite Chablis-like in structure.
Figure Libre Freestyle 2009
A blend of 60% Grenache Blanc, plus 15% Macabeu, 15% Roussanne and 10% Marsanne. A yeasty/leesy, smoky, savoury nose, with hints of tropical fruit and a lick of oak. The leesy element shows on the palate too, with flavours of citrus and peach and a delicate herbiness. A hint of butter gives richness, whilst crisp acidity and a mineral streak add balance and structure. There's a touch of oak influence, but it is really well-judged and there's a nice hit of orange peel on the long finish. A lovely wine for now or for medium term ageing.
Figure Libre Macabeu 2009
Not much of a note here - I guess I must have been talking too much! Aromas of minerals, smoke and a certain nuttiness. Some oak on the palate, quite rich, with a touch of salinity and zesty flavours. Promising, but I think I marginally prefer the Freestyle.
A creamy nose reminiscent of vanilla ice cream melted over strawberries and raspberries. Hints of blueberries and tar. Juicy redcurrant, plum and bramble fruits in the mouth, with firm but fine tannins and lots of acidity. Nice wine.
Again, my note for this is barely non-existent...... Very ripe, with plums, cream and tar.
Figure Libre Freestyle 2009
A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon. Serious oak, smoky and complex, with big fruit aromas. Amazingly soft and rounded on the palate, with rich, chocolatey tannins, sweet blackcurrant and plum fruit and medium acidity. It is a big wine, built to last, and probably needs 5 years to really come into its own. Very promising.
Cabernet Franc 2009
From a 1.9 hectare plot, planted on the Gayda estate in 2004. A nose of tobacco, cedar and spice, with black fruits and a hint of white peach. Hints of savoury, and even a touch of greenness, which adds a refreshing streak. There's real depth in this wine. The tannins are quite firm at the moment, but very ripe, peppery and spicy. A very promising wine, which needs 3 to 5 years to really sing.
Selection Chenin Vin de Table de France
From a 1.2 hectare parcel of vines planted on the Gayda estate in 2004. For the technically-minded, here are some details from the Gayda website; "Individual berries or bunches affected by Noble Rot are harvested on four separate pickings – Harvested at 430g/L of sugar (or 23% potential alcohol) – Gentle pressing for 10 hours to slowly release the juice – Cold settling – Barrel fermented in one year old oak – Slow fermentation for 6 months due to the high sugar levels and stops naturally at 12.5% alcohol – Racked and matured in barrel on the lees for 6 months – Tangential filtration prior to bottling." Those four separates pickings or "tries" were conducted over a 5-week period between early October and mid-November 2008. Delightful aromas of honey, nuts and orange marmalade. The palate displays a lovely combination of ripe apricot, tangerine, peach and quince, with a nice level of oak and excellent acidity. It manages to be at the same time honeyed, savoury and fruity. A really yummy wine, and although not cheap, I bought a bottle to bring back to the UK for my own future enjoyment.
As well as the wines I tasted during my visit, I have previously written about a trio of wines, tasted during the early part of this year. For completeness, here are my (slightly truncated!) notes on those wines;
Cuvée Occitane Blanc 2008
A blend of 48% Grenache Blanc, 28% Marsanne, 16% Roussanne and 8% Viognier. As I write, the bottle has actually been open for 2 days, and the wine seems all the better for it. When first opened, it had a delightful floral aroma, with notes of spring blossom and honeysuckle, but those aromas carried through to the palate in a way that was a bit too intense for my personal liking (although TLD loved it). However, 2 days later and it is really singing. There's still a hint of flowers, but also some nicely-integrated (and quite subtle, quite smoky) oak, and hints of peach and lemon zest, but with plenty of secondary/non fruity, though beautifully "winey" notes. The palate has also really settled into its stride, with gentle peach and lemon fruit flavours, a hint of earthiness and again, beautifully integrated oak. It also offers a delightfully tangy streak of stoney minerality, making for a wine which actually possesses a good deal of complexity - it just takes a day or two in the fridge (or a year or two more in bottle, perhaps) to really show its class. As with many of Languedoc's (or in this case Roussillon's) classier oak-matured whites, this isn't too far removed from the old-style Riojas I enjoy so much. All-in-all, this is a really promising wine, which is lovely to drink now, but which may well turn into something even more interesting with 3 to 5 years more in bottle. It really is very yummy indeed.
Aged on its lees for 6 months before bottling. There's a faint whiff of garrigue herbs on the nose, which also manifests on the palate, but just enough to add a little complexity and interest to a wine that definitely majors on fruit, with a rather attractive combination of peaches and apricot, orange blossom and other floral notes. It's a really smooth, rather attractive expression of Viognier, with soft apricot and peach flavours countered by just the right amount of zesty citrus fruit and even a hint of stony minerality. The 6 months this wine has spent sitting on its fine, yeasty lees seems to have polished away any rough edges. In fact, this is another wine from Domaine Gayda which calls on new world practices and techniques, whilst very definitely speaking loud and proud of it's Languedoc (and Roussillon) origins.
Chemin de Moscou 2006
68% Syrah, 24% Grenache and 8% Cinsault, with the various constituents being aged in oak barrels ranging from new to 3 vintages old, for a total of 21 months. The nose on this wine offers a veritable array of heady - not to mention, considerably complex - aromas, with dark bramble fruit and something vaguely citrus leading the way, accompanied by notes of meat, leather, sandalwood and allspice. There's also an undeniable touch of brett, but at a level which shouldn't offend the purists, and which is nicely offset by a perceptible whiff of lifted acidity and just the right level of oak. The palate is squeaky-clean and again dominated by brambly fruit, though it certainly doesn't come across as too "sweet" - in fact, there's a sour cherry element which gives the palate plenty of lift, and everything is held together beautifully by a combination of grippy but fine tannin and simply mouth-watering acidity. The finish is gently warming, but very fine and very, very long. Whilst it is already fiendishly drinkable, all of my instincts tell me that this wine will evolve beautifully for at least another 5 years, and should still be holding on nicely by 2020. It certainly isn't cheap, but as the estate's flagship wine, it really does tick all of the boxes - in fact, a Languedoc classic in the making.
Having now had the pleasure of visiting Domaine Gayda and seeing how the grapes are grown and how the wines are made, I have no doubt that this is an estate with a great future. Of course, some of the wines moved me more than others, although none of them were anything less than beautifully-made examples of their kind. And the premium cuvées such as Figure Libre and Chemin de Moscou clearly have the potential to be up there with some of the region's finest wines. I like them a lot, and hope to import a selection of them in the not too distant future.