Since the 18th century, botanists have revelled in collecting plants on the sandstone soils of Boutenac woodlands, where rockroses grow in abundance. Their captivating spring flowers are one of the hallmarks of the area.


A simple adage by Achille Laffage started us wondering. “Wherever you find ‘mouchos’ growing, vines thrive”, said this rural economics professor from Carcassonne as the Aude wine industry was still reeling from the effects of the phylloxera crisis in 1895. In Occitan, ‘moucho’ means cistus…

For those who venture into the rolling hills of the Pinada, the ‘sacred mountain’ of Cru Boutenac, marvelling at the cistus in flower is one thing, making an unprompted connection with wine is another. Unless, that is, you have a penchant for poetry and allude to the taffeta of the petals or the penetrating fragrance of the Montpellier rockrose to try out some lyrical metaphors when wine tasting!

One thing is for sure though, and that is that cistus - apart from the grey-leaved cistus - prefers acidic soils. And that is precisely what makes the plant life specific to these soils unique, and a magnet for the hordes of botanists who come to the sandstone hills of Boutenac and Fontfroide.

In 1783, Pierre-André Pourret, a priest from Narbonne who was fond of the science that “commends knowledge”, had submitted plans for a General History of the Cistus to the Toulouse Academy of Science. The Revolution, which forced him into exile in Spain, prevented him from completing his pioneering work.

In 1861, Edouard Timbal-Lagrave published a ‘Study of some cistus of the Narbonne region’. A year later, the French Botanical Society would organise a special session in these parts. Subsequently, a few dozen scientists, including Jules-Emile Planchon, the future hero of the fight against phylloxera, ventured into ‘the ‘Coumbos caoudos or hot gorges, the homeland of the great cistus’, near Fontfroide Abbey. Unfortunately, “the cistus was turned into bundles and used to bake bricks”. All was not lost, though: the botanists stocked up on plants and, at the abbey, Alexandre Maugeret recounts how, “the wine of Narbonne is found to be superior to its reputation and the meal ends amidst the most cordial and genuine mirth”.


Descending on Les Ollieux

Twenty-six years would pass. On June 11, 1888, Father Léonce, a pharmacist from Fontfroide, welcomed a new delegation from the French Botanical Society, offering everyone “an armful of Cistus x nigricans and Cistus x corbariensis, two of the most sought-after and rare species”. This time, under the guidance of Charles Flahault, future creator of the Montpellier Botanical Institute, and Gaston Gautier, owner of the Craboules wine estate in Narbonne and a “tireless explorer of the Corbières”, they all went collecting plants in the Boutenac pine grove, above Les Ollieux.

After being decimated by phylloxera, the vineyards of Corbières were in a sorry state, but the cistus was lush. “Immediately after we arrived in the high forest of the maritime pine grove, the first Cistus populifolius (the poplar-leaved cistus) put on a display for us to admire”, says Gautier. The harvest that day amongst the hills, between Les Ollieux and Fontsainte, would be bountiful. The botanists’ enthusiasm triggered a change in attitude. The SESA (Aude Scientific Study Society) was created shortly afterwards. One of its members, Léonce Marty, published the Catalogue of Corbières Flora in 1912 based on Gautier's plant collection notebooks, with about thirty cistus and a long list of helianthemums, of the same family.

This would inspire Lucien Sémichon, director of the Narbonne winemaking centre. In 1937, he urged the SESA to work on a Monograph of the Corbières in order to “draw up the final statutes for the type or types of Corbières wines eligible for access to the new system for noble wines with a registered designation of origin”.

In any given place”, explained the oenologist, “the flora always includes certain hallmark species followed by a suite of others, forming a ‘Site’ within the setting of the rocks that support or surround them. These sites are small homelands of plant combinations, whose hallmark species are in a way the frontrunners and insignia bearers...”


Local insignia

Vines”, continued Lucien Sémichon, “are among the local flora that follow in the wake of these frontrunners. With charming versatility, they adapt wonderfully to the variations of the ‘sites’ and landscapes, and the wines they produce are reminiscent of them because they take on their most salient characters. Researching and understanding these different ‘sites’; looking at how vines sit within them; how they are shaped by them, and how their wines retain the imprint of the landscape where the grapes have ripened – “the insignia of the land” imprinted as local hallmarks - is not only an inquisitive and very appealing occupation, it is also a very insightful study”.

The agronomist Jean-Claude Jacquinet, who made a major contribution to the demarcation of Cru Boutenac in the 1980s and has fond memories of the beautiful pink flowers of the wrinkle-leaved rockrose, apparently shares Sémichon's idea that “the flora lends its appearance and its perfume to each growth”. For Jean-Claude Jacquinet, “the abundance of cistus, which is only found here, points to the uniqueness of a vineyard site strongly marked by the presence of sandstone, a fundamental driver of freshness in the growth’s wines”.


Légendes illustrations :

1. The wrinkle-leaved rockrose, with its vibrant pink flowers, grows in abundance across the Pinada.

On the left, an illustration by Enrico Cangini, from the SESA botanical group.

Pierre-André Pourret, born in Narbonne in 1754, pioneered the study of cistus. In exile in Spain after the Revolution, he was not able to finish his General History of the Cistus.

Jules-Emile Planchon (on the right), the hero of the fight against phylloxera, took part in the first session of the French Botanical Society in Narbonne in 1862.



Although they may seem emblematic of the Pinada hill range in the spring, rockroses are not the only plants that thrive here, some on sandstone, others on limestone veins. In the remarkable Atlas of Aude Heritage Flora (Editions Biotope, 2016), the biodiversity of the Boutenac and Fontfroide hill ranges is considered average, with around eleven hundred species, but “incredibly rich” with 76 species classified as ZNIEFF (Natural zone of ecological interest, fauna and flora) and 59 heritage species.

Here are some specimens encountered during a short excursion with Jean-Marc and Fabienne Reulet as guides.

1. Flax from Narbonne, with its delicate azure blue flowers, is only found on the limestone soils of the hill range, around Roque Sestière for example.

2. The common centaury, seen near the chapel of Saint-Siméon.

3. The spiny starwort.

4. The white flower henbane.

It's a hallucinogenic plant. They say witches used to take it to enter into a trance”.

5. The felty germander. Defining feature: when crumpled between fingers, its leaves exude an astonishing smell of peppery sausage. The buds of the ribwort plantain, a few steps away, display a mushroom flavour; the Reulets use it to make omelettes.

6. The wall germander is toxic. As a diuretic, it was used to make slimming drugs, but is now banned.

Retour sur la 6e édition de cette randonnée cousue main pour œnophiles curieux.
15 km de marche et, chemin faisant, la découverte de paysages,
d’un patrimoine, de personnages et de vins en harmonie.

Mise en jambe à Gasparets
Au départ du château de Boutenac, de bon matin, l’air est plutôt frais en ce samedi 25 mai. Il a fallu se couvrir, le vent n’a pas encore balayé les nuages. Direction le hameau de Gasparets, ses maisons de maitre et le chai de la Voulte-Gasparets, via certaines des plus belles parcelles de ce domaine de 55 hectares.
Laurent Reverdy accueille les groupes tour à tour.
Patrick, son père, prend le relais dans le classieux chai d’élevage aménagé en 2005. L’occasion d’un rappel historique. “Nous avons commencé à élever nos vins rouges en barriques en 1978. Yves Laboucarié avait été le premier, un an plus tôt, au domaine de Fontsainte. Fontsainte, Villemajou et La Voulte-Gasparets ont ainsi ouvert la voie au cru Boutenac. Notre cuvée Romain Pauc est élevée onze à douze mois en fûts, dont seulement 20% de fûts neufs”.
Très attachés à l’élevage sous bois, les Reverdy ont innové plus récemment en lançant “Une fois de plus”, une nouvelle cuvée en AOC Corbières à très forte dominante de mourvèdre sur galets roulés, fermentée et élevée en barriques de un vin.

De Saint-Martin à Saint-Jean
De Gasparets, il suffit de quelques minutes pour atteindre l’église Saint-Martin, construite au XIIe siècle sur les restes probables d’une construction wisigothique, qui se refait une beauté. Il était urgent de consolider le clocher emblématique du cru Boutenac. “Notre histoire est marquée par Martin, rappelle Louis Fabre. Son nom est partout. L’unité de la France s’est faite autour de Martin et de ses vertus de partage”. On serpente ensuite sur les croupes de galets roulés fraîchement labourées, on longe Villemajou en travaux, puis de beaux masets, on traverse un ruisseau, avant d’atteindre Saint-Jean-de-la-Gineste. Moment d’émotion entre un rosé délicat et la belle cuvée Crépuscule. Marie-Hélène Bacave tient le vignoble de 20 ha à bout de bras depuis la disparition de son mari. “Je travaille artisanalement avec ma fille. Son arrivée et la collaboration avec une jeune œnologue, Lucie Gauthier, m’ont reboostée et redonné de l’élan à Saint-Jean”.
On respire, Boutenac est aux petits soins pour ses saints.

Casse-croûte aux Ollieux
Ciel menaçant oblige, le pique-nique dans le parc s’est transformé en casse-croûte sous la belle charpente du vaste préau de la cave du château des Ollieux. Toute l’équipe de Pierre Bories est sur le pont. Un verre de rosé frais en signe de bienvenue. Grandes tablées, charcuteries, taboulet, discussions animées. A côté d’Alta Sia, AOC Corbières-Boutenac non élevé en barriques qui est l’une des cuvées phares du château des Ollieux, c’est l’occasion de découvrir, sans chichi, Alba,
la nouvelle gamme d’AOC Corbières haut de gamme : deux cuvées parcellaires sur les grès de Boutenac, un rosé et un rouge aux assemblages iconoclastes (grenache/cinsault) et à l’épatante expression minérale. Après ça, on reprend la marche.

En longeant le Pinada
Après les Ollieux, cap sur Fontsainte, autre domaine historique du cru. Devant le grand mas, calé au pied du massif du Pinada, certains très vieux ceps prennent ppui sur des rocs de grès. La cuvée du Centurion, en référence à une monnaie romaine frappée sous Tibère retrouvée dans les vignes, témoigne de l’antique présence des vignes dans ces parages. Une tradition qui n’est pas étrangère au succès des vins du domaine sur de lointains marchés, aux Etats-Unis comme en Chine.
Le soleil perce enfin, tandis qu’on dodeline sur les chemins de vignes bordés de buissons de genêts en fleurs. Au coin de la parcelle favorite de Cécile Bonnafous, le sorbet de fraise garriguette de Pôle Sud est bienvenu. Halte fraîcheur avant de s’enfoncer dans la pinède et de regagner le point de départ. La boucle est bouclée, alors que l’après-midi est bien avancé.
Au crépuscule, la plupart des randonneurs et des vignerons du cru se retrouvent au château de Boutenac. La découverte se poursuit. En musique.

For decades, the vineyards of Boutenac have provided a safe haven for Carignan, a grape variety that has been much-maligned. Offering a sustainable future for this viticultural heritage is of paramount importance to the appellation.


From the 1905 law against fraud, which introduced the demarcation of areas for a designation of origin, to recognition of AOC Corbières-Boutenac in 2005, a century would pass. However, as early as 1908, this part of the lower Corbières had already been identified.


Many have forgotten that by defining the boundaries of the Corbières, Blanquette de Limoux and Minervois appellations in 1908, the Aude department was one of the country’s pioneers. Against the backdrop of the great wine crisis of the early 20th century that followed vineyard replanting after the phylloxera disaster, the creation of the first Corbières producers’ organisation and initial demarcation of the appellation in 1908 are considered minor events. However, parliamentarians would vote in favour of the law of 1 August 1905 precisely to combat that same crisis.

Tallavignes, a key figure

The purpose of the law was to crack down on fraud and one way to achieve this was to define production regions for appellations of origin through administrative channels. It targeted four regions by name: Bordeaux, Champagne, Cognac and Armagnac.
But in September 1907, the Minister of Agriculture, Joseph Ruau, signed a decree giving local authorities the opportunity to request boundary demarcations for regional appellations within their area.
With southern France badly hit by the crisis and a series of mass demonstrations - including that of Narbonne in June 1907, violently put down by the army in bloodshed - this provision could seem trivial. However, on the following November 8, on the initiative of Eugène Mailhac representing Durban-Corbières, the Aude county council voted a vow to obtain the demarcation of Corbières along with Blanquette de Limoux and the Minervois, and addressed it to the Minister.
Landowners viewed the demarcation of the appellation area as a way of distancing themselves from the high-cropped wines of the plains and combatting businesses that had “disproportionately stretched the name of Corbières in a completely unlawful way”.
Eugène Mailhac was advised by Charles Tallavignes, a landowner in Saint-Jean-de-Barrou and Inspector General of Agriculture at the Ministry. He was in a good position to know about the decree signed by Joseph Ruau and acted as a power broker behind the scenes in Aude, drawing on the support of other enlightened landowners. One of them in particular, Gaston Bonnes, the owner of Château Gléon in Vilesèque, chaired the first Corbières wine producers’ organisation, created in Narbonne on 9 January 1908. In March 1908, forty village and town councils, including that of Boutenac, also sent the Minister an application for boundary demarcation signed by the winegrowers of each town and village in support of the wishes of the county council and producers’ organisation.
The sense of urgency was such that the people of Aude did not wait for the Minister's response. They created their own demarcation committees, including the Corbières committee, which met in April 1908 and set strict boundaries for the appellation, excluding the alluvial plains in the Lézignan area, the villages around Narbonne and Val de Dagne above Lagrasse.
Five areas were thereby clearly identified. Among them were the lower Corbières, encompassing vineyards located between Mont Saint-Victor, Camplong and Boutenac. This would become the original outline for AOC Corbières-Boutenac.

Le Pinada, limite Nord

In the demarcation of Corbières approved by the Aude county council on August 27, 1909, the rolling schist soils stretching from Cascastel to Saint-Jean-de-Barrou were described as the appellation’s backbone.
Then came the surrounding Lias and Triassic soils and, farther north, the “psammites, sandstone and pudding stones” which form the “lower foothills of the mountain petering out into the plains of Orbieu and Aussou. The geological and topographical features at the foot of these lowest hills establish the border of the Corbières wine region”. In other words, the hills of Boutenac, aka the Pinada hill chain, mark the appellation’s northern boundary.
This initial demarcation of Corbières would never be officialised by Paris. Charles Tallavignes, who died from illness in March 1909, was no longer there to support it at the Ministry. More importantly, at the turn of the 20th century, the concept of appellation of origin had a long way to go before it would conquer the minds of people. And faced with violent disputes prompted by the demarcation of Champagne, the State even ended up abandoning the principle of administrative delimitations. In 1911, Catalan Jules Pams, the new Minister of Agriculture, prepared a draft bill designed to entrust the demarcations to... the courts..

Le boom de l’entre- deux-guerres


It was only after the war, in 1919, that a bill inspired by his work would be adopted. For Corbières, the mayor of Lézignan and MP Léon Castel, was tasked with its implementation. A radical elected representative and founder of the first Aude co-operative winery in Lézignan in 1909, Castel was also a landowner and a negociant. He took matters in hand. He recreated the Corbières producers’ organisation in 1923 and quickly obtained a judicial demarcation by the courts of Narbonne and Carcassonne in August 1923.
The demarcated area was much broader than the selective delimitation of 1908, since it included the alluvial plains, which made trading easier and satisfied the co-operatives that flourished in the villages between the two World Wars. One figure says it all: volumes declared as Corbières trebled in ten years, rising from 800,000 hl in 1923 to more than 2 million in 1935.
Although popular locally, this extensive vision of the concept of appellation contrasted with the new requirements of the Decree-Law of 30 July 1935, which created France’s Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée. At a heated meeting in Paris on 6 December 1936, the leaders of the Corbières producers’ organisation refused to give in to the request by the National Committee for Appellations of Origin to redefine the appellation area and offer a more precise characterisation of the wines. In doing so, Corbières failed to jump on the AOC bandwagon.
Not all of Corbières though: around Tuchan and Fitou, winegrowers in nine localities decided to go it alone and asked for recognition as AOC in 1937. Recognition would come in two stages: before the war for dessert wines and in 1948 for dry wines in AOC Fitou. Conversely, for other parts of Corbières, it would take almost 50 years. But even when AOC Corbières was recognised in 1985, the issue of defining a higher level Corbières was left unresolved.

En 2005 Boutenac sort du lot

A new battle then ensued. In 1989, rather than setting stricter rules in restricted areas, the producers’ organisation simply suggested to Inao that the entire appellation be divided into eleven sub-regions. But in 1993, after two visits to the wine region, the Inao inquiry committee felt that there were not eleven different wine profiles. According to the board, only “products from the Boutenac area have an overall quality that clearly differentiates them from other areas”.
For Boutenac, the door was now open. Well, almost. Seven years later, another committee confirmed the existence of “a consistent vineyard site with a group of people united behind the same project, along with implementation of efficient production tools and typical, high-quality, terroir-driven wine”. More years would go by until an expert committee presented a draft demarcation in 2004.
In their report, the experts stated that they based their findings on criteria pertaining to the soils and sub-soils, “determined from the heart of the Boutenac wine area, located on Miocene molasse, with deep but non-fertile, stony, well-drained soil”.
In doing so - and this is so rare that it deserves a mention - they were merely confirming the boundaries defined by the producers themselves with the support of Jean-Claude Jacquinet, an agronomist with the Aude chamber of agriculture. “The idea was to select only those plots that could produce top-end wines”, recalls one winegrower. “This was perfectly clear in the minds of all the members of the association chaired by Gérard Bertrand, who had very clearly understood the importance of creating key drivers amongst the appellations of Languedoc”.
In actual fact, only a quarter of the areas classified as AOC Corbières in the region were included within the official boundaries of Corbières-Boutenac in 2005.
Ultimately, 2,668 ha were classified across ten localities. Today, barely a thousand are planted to vines and just 200 hectares are declared as AOC Corbières-Boutenac. In Boutenac, stringent standards and patience go hand in hand..

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