Warming up in Gasparets
Leaving Boutenac chateau in the early morning, the air was rather cool on Saturday, May 25. Warm clothes were essential until the wind had chased the clouds away. Our first stop was the hamlet of Gasparets with its large, elegant houses and the winery at La Voulte-Gasparets, via some of the most beautiful vineyards in this 55-hectare estate. Laurent Reverdy welcomed the groups in turn. Patrick, his father, took over in their stylish ageing cellar built in 2005, offering him an opportunity to go back over some local history. “We started ageing our red wines in casks in 1978. Yves Laboucarié had been the first, a year earlier, at Domaine de Fontsainte. Fontsainte, Villemajou and La Voulte-Gasparets thus paved the way for Cru Boutenac to emerge. Our Romain Pauc label is aged for eleven to twelve months in casks, only 20% of them new”. The Reverdys are very attached to oak ageing and they have more recently innovated by launching ‘Une fois de plus’, a new AOC Corbières with a very high proportion of Mourvèdre grown on pebble-strewn soils, that is fermented and matured in one-use casks.
From Saint-Martin to Saint-Jean
From Gasparets, Saint-Martin’s church is just a few minutes away. Built in the 12th century on the probable Visigoth remains, it is being restored to its former glory. Cru Boutenac’s iconic belfry was in urgent need of consolidation. “Our history is marked by Martin”, stressed Louis Fabre. “His name is everywhere. The unity of France was built around Martin and his virtues of sharing”. We then wend our way around the pebble-strewn hillocks with their freshly ploughed soils, walk past Villemajou and its building work, then some glorious stone huts and cross a stream before reaching Saint-Jean-de-la-Gineste. There are some emotional moments between a delicate rosé and the stellar Crépuscule label. Marie-Hélène Bacave has been working hard to look after the 20-ha vineyard since her husband passed away. “My daughter and I take an artisanal approach. Her arrival and our collaboration with a young winemaker, Lucie Gauthier, gave me a boost and injected renewed impetus into Saint-Jean”. We heave a sigh of relief - Boutenac is taking good care of its saints.
A snack at Les Ollieux
The threatening sky turns the picnic in the grounds into a snack under the beautiful wooden rafters of the extensive covered courtyard outside the winery at Château des Ollieux. Pierre Bories' entire team is on hand to help out. A glass of chilled rosé is a token of their welcome, and long guest-lined tables, deli meats, tabouleh and lively discussions set the scene. Along with Alta Sia, an unoaked AOC Corbières-Boutenac which is one of Château des Ollieux’s flagship labels, this is an opportunity to discover Alba, the new top-end AOC Corbières range, in this rough and ready setting. The two bottlings are single-vineyard wines grown on Boutenac sandstone soils, one rosé and one red, made from iconoclastic blends (Grenache/Cinsault) and showing incredible mineral expression. After that, we set off again on our walk.
Skirting around the Pinada
After Les Ollieux, our destination is Fontsainte, another of the growth’s long-standing estates. In front of the large farmhouse, set at the foot of the Pinada hill range, some very old vines have put down firm roots in the sandstone rocks. The Centurion label, named after a Roman coin minted under Tiberius and found in the vineyards, attests to the ancient history of vine growing in these parts. This tradition is partly responsible for the success of the estate's wines in far-flung markets, both in the United States and in China. The sun finally manages to break through the clouds, as we bob along the vineyard paths lined with bushes of broom in flower. In the corner of Cécile Bonnafous' favourite vineyard, the gariguette strawberry sorbet by Pôle Sud offers a much-welcome, refreshing break before heading into the pine grove and returning to our starting point. Now well into the afternoon, we have come full circle. At dusk, most of the ramblers and local winegrowers meet up at Boutenac chateau and the discovery continues, but this time to music.