Richard Mark James' wine & travel blog
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France - Languedoc: special supplements 2014-2015; Grès de Montpellier, Terrasses du Larzac, Montpeyroux, St-Chinian, Cabardès, La Clape, Corbières/Boutenac, Fitou, Limoux, Minervois/La Livinière, Muscat, Pézenas, Pic St-Loup, Picpoul de Pinet, Clairette, Faugères, Pays d'Oc (2011-2015); 'Larging it in the Languedoc' with JeanJean (2010); tasting reports 2009 and 2008 vintages; Gérard Bertrand...

A selection of the most recent regional pieces on the Languedoc appear in the handy link-list below, or individual producer profiles can be found via my A to Z list here.
Languedoc 2015: 'a fleshy vintage...' (saucy photo Nov 2015)
Languedoc: more photos from my annual report:
Languedoc special supplement 2015 (published July 2015)
Languedoc: rosé, white and red (3 posts April-May 2015)
Terrasses du Larzac (Feb 2015)
Languedoc: Cabardès (June 2012)
Languedoc: La Clape (April 2011)
Languedoc: Fitou (July 2012)
Saint-Chinian 2010 vintage (April 2011)
Montpellier/Béziers restos/wine bars (June 2011, to be updated)
'Loadsa Languedoc' including Faugères focus (April 2011).

And longer articles from the past elsewhere on the site:

'Larging it in the Languedoc'

With Vignobles Jeanjean: Domaine de Fenouillet, Mas de Lunès, Devois des Agneaux d'Aumélas, Domaine Le Pive & Mas Neuf and Laroche/Mas La Chevalière (summer 2010).
'Large' in the traditional rather than popular sense (or perhaps not...) but, hey, it amuses me thinking up an in-your-face title. It occurred to me one day that my focus in the Languedoc has perhaps been a bit biased towards small, and sometimes rather 'chi-chi' or 'trendy' estates, while partly neglecting the big boys (although not entirely e.g. GBertrandJCMasMont Tauch). There's been a noticeable amount of acquisition stuff going on chez the Jeanjean family over the past few years; the latest major development being a merger with Michel Laroche's already mini-empire (Chablis, Punto Alto in Chile, L'Avenir in South Africa and Mas La Chevalière in the Languedoc) last year and creation of a 'new' wine group, maybe France's largest of its kind, called Advini (I'll say nothing about Romans, although the new slogan "des vignobles et des hommes" sounds a tad macho even if best translated as 'people' rather than 'men': that's the French language for you!)...
CLICK HERE to large it in the Languedoc (goes to full post).


Languedoc 2009 vintage tasting report




"Following hot in the footsteps of their inaugural 2008 vintage showcase last year (see report on the 2008s following this one), the Languedoc wine people held a marathon week of en primeur tastings of the 2009 vintage in March 2010. With all the frenzied talk in Bordeaux of yet another vintage of the century (I didn't/don't go to these tastings there, by the way, however much I do like the fair city of Bordeaux and some of the region's wines), it was enlightening to try a solid cross-section of samples from pretty much all areas of the Languedoc in all three colours. Even if they were very much work-in-progress examples taken from vat or barrel in the case of most of the reds, for example... And talking of prices, is the Languedoc getting just too trendy given how expensive some of these wines are?"
CLICK HERE for my full-monty commentary... You'll also find notes and reviews below of my 100 favourite 2009 Languedoc rosés, whites and reds from these wine areas: La Clape, Picpoul de Pinet, Limoux, Malepère, Minervois La Livinière, Corbières & Boutenac, Faugères, Saint-Chinian & Berlou, Terrasses du Larzac, Montpeyroux, St-Georges d'Orques, Saint-Drézéry (who what where?)... And here's the "top-30" producers at a glance: Hospitalet, Mire Etang, Félines Jourdan, Lauriers, Rives Blanques, Antugnac, Astruc, Belvèze, Sainte Eulalie, Laville-Bertrou, Aussières, Lastours, Trillol, Sainte Croix, Saint-Esteve, Fontsainte, Liquière, Estanilles, Grange Ain, Bagatelle, Pin Marguerites, Borie Vitarèle, Grange Leon, Cazal Viel, Jullien Olivier, Brousses, Thérons, Villa Dondona, Puech-Haut, Guizard...

Languedoc 2008 vintage 'en primeur' tasting report

"Jumping the gun on the Bordeaux lot, Languedoc winemakers had the bright idea of showcasing their 2008 vintage wines (or 'representative samples' of) en primeur in March 2009 to, well, make a point really. The world's wine media has become so obsessed with everything Bordeaux, and maybe Burgundy too, that the whole vintage in France seems to be judged, and either written off or glorified, depending on the weather etc. in Bordeaux alone.
It was the case in 2007, a good vintage around the Med having tried lots of very nice wines (and all styles), some of them available now. And 2008, perhaps a touch better in certain regions across the south than elsewhere in France, according to a broad diversity of palates, growers and opinions, yet mediocre in Bordeaux - although reports coming through after the recent en primeur tastings there have confirmed the wines are better than expected, much in certain cases - therefore all of France tarred with the same brush..."
CLICK HERE to read the full report with my pick of the Languedoc appellations...

Gérard Bertrand: 'King of the Languedoc?'
Featuring these wines and properties: Villemajou, La Forge, Hospitalet, Cigalus, l'Aigle, Le Viala, Laville Bertrou etc...
Bertrand's wines reviewed previously to the trip covered just below (2006-2007) have now been added at the end of the feature. You'll also find some of their more recent vintages in the two 2009 and 2008 Languedoc tasting reports linked above, as well as, in the 'blog archive' (April & May 2011), a trio of shorter posts on the 2010 vintage showcase (including 2009 and 2008 revisited) done by wine area/theme: LimouxLa ClapeCorbières & Boutenac.
And the latest updates/reviews on the GB empire are posted here: Grand Vin 2008 La Clape (Dec 2011), Languedoc whites (Oct 2011), two 2010 reds also from La Clape (June 2012), Terrasses du Larzac (May 2012), Minervois (July 2012), Boutenac (Aug 2012), Languedoc special 2014 and special supplement 2015.

Gérard Bertrand autumn road-trip 2008: La Clape, picking Cinsault, vertical tastings and barbecued wild boar... 

Highlights: "A dose of La Clape, picking Cinsault, vertical tastings and barbecued wild boar... Villemajou is where the story begins, as they say, the original Bértrand family property... Hospitalet lies on the rugged eponymous hillock, which has given its name to this Languedoc sub-appellation (I won't labour the "unfortunately-named theme")... Aigle Royal is sourced from one of the highest vineyard parcels, at 500 metres altitude, so think Where Eagles Dare..." Comprehensive reviews across their range including La Forge 2000 to 2005, Cigalus red/white 2001 to 2007, Le Viala 2000 to 2005, Aigle Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, L'Hospitalitas.

WORDS

Villemajou is where the story begins, as they say; the original Bértrand family property that now extends to a sizeable 140 hectares (350 acres). Gérard started working there with his father Georges in the late 80s and set up the GB group in 1992, straddled by a rugby career that culminated as captain of the national team a couple of years later. Despite this former international stardom, he comes across as a charming laid-back southerner, although still very much the tough businessman I'd say.
For those who thought this area was only any good for red wines (like me beforehand I guess), their 2007 white Corbières is surprisingly impressive (see opposite). The grapes for it come from vines on gentle slopes surrounding the blink-and-miss-it village of Gasparet, near Boutenac, where the micro-climate is usually (if there's any 'usual' nowadays) marked by hot dry summers. La Forge is the top red sourced from selected parcels within the Corbières-Boutenac sub-appellation, from the lieu-dit or single vineyard site that bears this name. The wine is a blend of old Carignan - overall the estate is still widely planted with senior citizen Carignan vines - and Syrah.
Hospitalet lies on the rugged eponymous hillock, which has given its name to this Languedoc sub-appellation (I won't labour the 'unfortunately-named theme'). At about 100 metres (350 feet) altitude and virtually overhanging the sea, correspondingly this beautiful spot has a windier, more temperate micro-climate. La Clape is located between Narbonne and Narbonne-Plage: I'm told that back in the mists of time, it was once an island and Narbonne on the sea. The whole estate amounts to a vast 1000 hectares (2500 acres), mostly wild scrubland and woodland, with almost 100 of vines (producing AOC and Vin de Pays wines) on stoney terrain roughly circling the property itself and adjoining winery. It's been developed into an up-market wine tourism site with refitted hotel, restaurant and spacious tasting room/shop. Hover over the Visigoth cross, above, to see their website address. I was invited to Hospitalet over the last weekend of September 08; they did make us work, by the way, picking a few bucketfuls of Cinsault grapes destined for rosé production (understandably, they didn't let us touch their premium red varieties!).
Cigalus, bought in 1995, is also the GB family home, lost in a remote location beyond the village of Bizanet not far from Villemajou (you won't find it as it's not signposted). 20 ha (50 acres) are planted with Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone varieties all classified as Vin de Pays d'Oc (by choice). The vineyards surround the cellar and large yet understated Med villa, where we were lucky enough to sit out in the garden for Sunday lunch and enjoy some succulent barbecued wild boar, as you do (a huge 80-90 kg spit-roasted beast). GB calls in the services of a team of hunters at Hospitalet to control the wild boar population, who would otherwise scoff the entire grape crop.
Gérard decided, pretty much from the outset, he wanted to convert Cigalus over to biodynamic farming methods as a personal project. His estate manager Gilles? (doh! I didn't note down his name: anyway, I heard it on the grapevine that he's since moved on elsewhere...) explained how they've been progressing and why they haven't gone the full monty biodynamic, but rather focusing on more practical elements. Even after the first three years yielded "mediocre" results, GB insisted they extend the trial from a few plots to the whole 20 ha! So, they called in a couple of specialist consultants to help them move forwards and "try to fully understand what we're doing." After that initial tricky start, they did notice "an increase in natural grape acidity levels, rounder tannins, increased vineyard health (indeed, otherwise what's the point) and less compacted soil" even in dry summers (there's quite a bit of clay around here).
"We actually count the number of pests in certain spots and follow any diseases, so we can treat anything as appropriate if necessary, to control but not destroy" (implying and everything else with it in the surrounding environment). They subcontract the work of applying the various biodynamic preparations in the vineyard. Concrete results include "using one third less copper sulphate and 2½ times less sulphur" (both are standard treatments, even in organic viticulture, against two different types of mildew). Finally, GB summed up his Cigalus wines and philosophy in general: "The most important thing is to make wines for drinking not bêtes de concours (monster show wines). It's telling when there are several bottles on the table and you can choose which to try, the successful grower is the one whose wine is finished afterwards."
Domaine de l'Aigle, their latest acquisition, is a 25 hectare (60 acre) estate set in the southern part of the very pretty Haute Vallée de l'Aude near Roquetaillade. In line with other winemakers' experience and hopes, the Limoux area is shaping some of the Languedoc's finest Chardonnay; and Pinot Noir grown in certain sites is beginning to show its potential. The Aigle Royal is sourced from one of the highest vineyard parcels, at 500 metres (+1500 feet) altitude; so, think Where Eagles Dare (without the complicated war movie backdrop of course. For those perplexed by my strange sense of humour, aigle is indeed an eagle). Silliness aside, grapes up here are picked up to a month later than at their other properties, retaining fresh acidity and a certain amount of finesse.
Le Viala is another lieu-dit site name found on south-facing slopes above the cute timeless village of La Livinière, part of the 58 hectares (145 acres) making up Château Laville Bertrou, which GB bought in 1997 (a year before the Minervois-La Livinière subzone was created). Good stuff indeed, although my notes reveal a slight personal preference for La Forge apart from certain vintages.
Nature & Durable is a new range of organically produced wines, a mix of varietals and AOC reds, which I assume are sourced from other growers who they work with. Nice idea but a bit of a mixed bag, as you can see from my comments opposite.
Their Grand Terroir label depicts wines sourced in partnership with growers or co-op cellars in selected zones elsewhere in the Languedoc & Roussillon. Montpeyroux is the name of a village subzone, meaning stoney mountain, which lies on the Grands Causses foothills to the northwest of Montpellier. A few growers here have been particularly successful with the Mourvèdre variety and use a comparatively high proportion in the blend, like GB's pretty representative wine. Pic Saint-Loup's vineyards stretch out 20-30 km to the north of Montpellier, and the feral terrain is stamped by chalky cliff-faces and woodland. I have to say, frankly, that these two Tautavel wines, from the northern Roussillon, were very disappointing; although I've tasted one of them before and found it miles better; so, a dodgy sample in this tasting perhaps?
UK stockists include Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Tesco, the Co-op, Morrisons, Majestic, Thresher, Oddbins and Nicolas. Certain wines are also available in London restaurants, via wholesaler Caves de Pyrène. US distributors: see their website.

WINES

Domaine de Villemajou - Corbières
2007 Villemajou (25% each Marsanne Roussanne Bourboulenc Maccabeu, barrel-fermented with yeast-lees stirring) - complex, grapey and perfumed greengage fruit with a hint of vanilla oak; zesty v creamy lees mouth-feel gives nicely balanced finish. 89+
2005 La Forge
 (50-50 Carignan Syrah whole-berry fermented, 14.5%) - a little closed to start, slowly revealing smoky liquorice and wild herb notes; intricate and tasty palate with firm coating and great length. Very promising. 92-94

2004 La Forge (14%) - more evolved showing delicious liquorice fruit v tarter blueberry notes, turning savoury and minty on the palate; very firm still yet concentrated with stylish length. Yum. 92-94
2003 La Forge (13.5%) - rustic and rich with herbal edges; taut dry tannins v dried fruits and savoury development. Very nice: less charming on its own but lovely (served from a magnum) with duck breast and red wine sauce, which brought out its smoky liquorice and garrigue flavours. 90-92
2002 La Forge (13.5%) - quite animal and mature on the nose with coffee, fig and liquorice as well; delicious savoury fruit on the middle finishing quite firm, at its peak probably. 90
2001 La Forge (13.5%) - wild smoky coffee and liquorice notes, again has that sumptuous savoury maturity v 'sweetness'; solid v concentrated mouth-feel, much more alive than the 02. 92-94
2000 La Forge (13.5%) - lovely old Rioja-style cheesy complexity and dried red/black fruits; delicious meaty development, again still structured and alive, long and very tasty finish. 94-96 

Château l'Hospitalet - Languedoc 'La Clape'
2007 Château l'Hospitalet Art de Vivre (approx 1/3 each Bourboulenc Vermentino Grenache Blanc) - enticing yeast-lees aromas and flavours, concentrated with subtle oak v juicy perfumed fruit, nice finish. 87+
2006
 Château l'Hospitalet Art de Vivre (Syrah Mourvèdre Grenache 14%) - fairly smoky coco choc oaky set on dense vibrant fruit with black cherry & olive flavours; dry yet ripe and vanilla-tinged texture, powerful too and turning less oaky with a beef dish. A bit closed up, should develop for up to 5 years. 88+

2005 L'Hospitalet Grand Vin (50% Syrah 40% Mourvèdre 10% Grenache) - complex maturing smoky nose, very seductive and intricate; 'sweet' v savoury fruit on a powerful, chunky and quite oaky palate, although the tannins are mellowing out nicely. Yum, although less good with the duck, later that evening, than 03 La Forge (see above). 90-92
2007 H de l'Hospitalet rosé, Languedoc (40% Syrah 30% Grenache 15% Mourvèdre 15% Cinsault) - attractive juicy crunchy fruit with a bit of weight and punch on the palate. 83+
2004 L'Hospitalitas (Mourvèdre Syrah) - very spicy with wild herb and cooked cherry aromas/flavours, lovely balance and style. 92-94  

Domaine de Cigalus - Vin de Pays d'Oc
2007 Cigalus
(mostly Chardonnay + Viognier & Sauvignon) - juicy perfumed fruit with toasty edges, refreshing tight palate v richer textured mouth-feel. Promising. 89+

2006 Cigalus - much oilier in texture with dark chocolate oak backdrop, the fruit's fading a bit relative to that dominant oak. 85
2005 Cigalus - much creamier fruit and more energetic palate, intricate maturing undertones, well-balanced with a few years life in it yet. 89+
2004 Cigalus - complex ageing cheesy notes, fat v citrus mouth-feel showing concentration yet elegance. Very nice. Next day with lunch: seems oakier yet it's rich and buttery v fresh and balanced. 90+
2003 Cigalus - deeper colour still, a bit flabby.
2001 Cigalus - rich and attention-grabbing, showing greengage fruit v creamy lightly vanilla texture, long and tasty; still alive too. 92
2006 Cigalus
 (50-50 Merlot Cabernet sauvignon) - quite closed on the nose, moving on to dried plum and savoury cassis flavours; very solid and powerful (14.5%) palate that closes up a bit on the finish, but promising anyway. 90-92

2007 Cigalus (the first blend, not bottled yet) - plenty of chocolate oak, not surprisingly, with light red pepper undertones; rich bright fruit with lovely texture and refreshing length.
2005 Cigalus - still quite oaky, although it's spicy and concentrated with nice wild fruits and turning savoury & meaty on the finish. 90+

Domaine de l'Aigle - Limoux
2007 Aigle Royal Chardonnay Limoux - much better than the two vintages (see below) of their Dom de l'Aigle label Chardy, which are both sound and well made but not very exciting or revealing (on tasting without food anyway). The Royal Chardy 07 has creamy flavours and texture v gooseberry fruit bite, nice weight and well-handled oak coating with tight stylish finish. 90+
Domaine de l'Aigle Chardonnay
 Vin de Pays d'Oc - the 2007 shows light toast and cream, quite tight and juicy v oak textured and weight. 2006 is fatter and fruitier. 85?

2007 Pinot Noir Vin de Pays Haute Vallée de l'Aude - nice perfumed Pinot fruit, red fruits with 'sweet & savoury' edges; oakier on the palate but it has good texture and style. 87+
2006 Pinot Noir - shows more Pinot fruit to start but is a little dry and extracted on the palate.

Le Viala - Minervois La Livinière
2005 Le Viala (60% Syrah 25% Grenache 15% Carignan, 14.5%) - showing strong vanilla notes and rather powerful alcohol, firm and closed up palate; oak dominated at the moment, although appears to have underlying richness of fruit? 89
2004 Le Viala - much smokier and berry fruity with complex leather tones; same alcohol level as the 05 but it's better integrated, very firm framework, this needs time. 89-91
2003 Le Viala - smokier still and more developed, delicious 'sweet' v savoury tobacco-tinged fruit; pretty full-on (apparently 13.5% alcohol) with plenty of depth and finishing with attractive leather and dried fruit notes. From a magnum with Cantal cheese: super liquoricey and sumptuous, the alcohol's a bit out of kilter and the tannins a touch firm, although it's also lush with savoury v 'sweet' maturity. 90-92
2002 Le Viala - mature v herbal aromas, again labelled 13.5% although it rather takes over; however, there's nice mellow fruit, yet the finish is a bit hard and out of kilter. 87
2001 Le Viala (13.5%) - towards farmyardy on the nose but very enticing with liquorice v meaty fruit; dry and powerful mouth-feel, mellowing v alive and solid, very long too. 92-94
2000 Le Viala (14%) - rustic forest-floor tones reveal a very tasty savoury palate v fig and dried black fruits; velvety and softening v powerful and solid still, complex length. 92-94

Nature & Durable - Sud de France
2007 Chardonnay Vin de Pays d'Oc (13%) - elegant crisp steely style with white peach and citrus flavours, refreshing acidity to finish. 85
2007 Grenache rosé Vin de Pays d'Oc - light and lean gris style rosé, fresh and food friendly. 80+
2006 Syrah Vin de Pays d'Oc - resiny perfumed style, a bit lean.
2006 Merlot Vin de Pays d'Oc - a bit reductive and tart.
2006 Languedoc (Syrah 40% Grenache 30% Mourvèdre 30%) - again the nose is a bit reduced, better palate though: ripe and spicy v firm and powerful. 85-87
2005 Corbières (Carignan 40% Grenache 30% Syrah 20% Mourvèdre 10%) - more interesting showing maturing garrigue tones with perfumed dried plum and tobacco edges; solid dry mouth-feel v nice fruit and intensity. 87

Grand Terroir
2005 Montpeyroux Coteaux du Languedoc (30% Mourvèdre 30% Syrah 30% Carignan 10% Grenache) - quite rustic and wild on the nose (but good with it), mature 'sweet' fruit; concentrated v firm tannins, attractive balance and style. 90+
2005 Pic Saint Loup Coteaux du Languedoc (Syrah Mourvèdre Carignan Grenache) - shows some maturing 'sweet' fruit with herbal edges, again it's firm and dry v ageing fruit. Not bad. 87
2005 Tautavel Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Syrah Carignan) - there's something not right about this wine/bottle, it's green and hard.
2005 Tautavel Hommage - too woody.
2004 Banyuls Grand Cru Vin Doux Naturel (Grenache) - attractive savoury tobacco characters v raspberry jam fruit, mature and mellow v fiery finish. Nice with chocolate tart. 88+
All rights reserved Richard Mark James 2008

And previously published on the original WineWriting.com: 

Vins Gérard Bertrand - Château l’Hospitalet
Gérard Bertrand’s little empire seems to be going places and comprises four properties in some of the best sites in the Languedoc. Hospitalet is an impressive estate with hotel, restaurant, art gallery and also hosting a jazz festival in the summer. You'll find it not far from Narbonne-Plage in the unluckily named La Clape sub-appellation, after this 200 metre (650 ft) high mini-range of rocky hills rising up from the sea (it was an island once). Domaine de Villemajou is located in the new Corbières AOC zone Boutenac, Château Laville Bertrou in Minervois la Livinière and Domaine Cigalus is home to ‘international’ grape varieties (in addition to the Bertrand family themselves). They make some lovely varietals from here under the Collection label and have also set up a joint venture with co-op growers in Tautavel, across the mountains in the Roussillon. Tasted October 2006:
2002 Le Blanc de Villemajou Corbières - ripe exotic nose (perhaps some botrytis even?) v light coconut, attractive developed fruit with dry mineral finish. Surprisingly good for a white from here. 87
2004 Château Laville Bertrou Minervois la Livinière (GrenacheCarignan Mourvèdre Syrah, 14.5%) - nice spicy black cherry with perfumed herbal notes, dry grip yet well integrated tannins; elegant length despite the high alcohol. 89-91
2004 Château de l’Hospitalet Coteaux du Languedoc, La Clape (Syrah Mourvèdre) - a bit closed on the nose, opens up to appealing perfumed wild flower and berry fruit, tight and elegant. 89-91
2003 Domaine de Villemajou Corbières red (mainly Carignan) - smoky and rustic with richer liquorice fruit, leather notes v dried fruits; quite firm and powerful. 87-89
2003 Cigalus vin de pays d'Oc (Merlot Cabernet) - more like plum and blackcurrant fruit, good depth v ripe chocolate tannins; might v grace, chunky fruit v bite of tannins. 88-90
2003 Le Viala Minervois la Livinière - herbal aromatic black cherry, very Syrah style; fine dry tannins, quite elegant v weighty and concentrated. 90-92
2003 L’Hospitalitas Coteaux du Languedoc, La Clape (Mourvèdre Syrah) - a late ripening parcel: again lifted garrigue and lavender, concentrated with tight long finish; needs time to open up. 92-94
2003 La Forge Corbières (old vine Grenache) - smokier with a touch of chocolate oak, lovely rich fruit and light leather lead to tight firm finish; again has nice textured tannins v powerful length (although only 13.5%). 90-92
2000 Banyuls Grand Cru (Grenache, 16.5%) - complex caramel and prune fruit, lush and sweet v tight tannin & alcohol structure; beginning to develop nicely. 90-92

Bought in a supermarket August 06:
2003 Domaine Georges Bertrand Corbières Fût de Chêne - dark colour beginning to turn brown on the edges, lovely smoky leather and liquorice nose with pungent dark plum and wild herbs; lush and mouth-filling, quite big yet well made, a touch of tannin v soft ripe fruit. €5 88-90Consumed (with moderation of course) summer 2007: their new 'Dégustez-le avec...' branded varietal range launched into French supermarkets (priced between €3.50 and €4). Features recipe ideas and a few words of poetry too.
2006 Caressant Grenache rosé, vin de pays d'Oc (13.5%) - nice lively aromatic fruit set on a fairly weighty palate, crisp dry and long. 87
2005 Coquin Cabernet Sauvignon, vin de pays d'Oc (13.5%) - smoky ripe cassis fruit with leather and liquorice tinges, full and rustic yet has tight firm framework too. 87
There's a Merlot as well, which was less exciting, and Sauvignon Blanc which I haven't tried yet...

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