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02 October 2010

Roussillon: Domaine Gauby, Calce

Gérard Gauby tasting in his cellar
Photo by Vi Erickson
An intimate party of us was treated to a tasty, and ample, dinner at La Galinette, one of Perpignan's top restaurants, on 5 September 2006, where Gérard Gauby and his son Lionel, who's gradually taking over more of the day to day vineyard and winery work, talked about their wines and values in their laid-back way (words and wines here have since been updated following visits in March 2007 and Oct 2010, so read on...). Gérard said the decisive moment for going organic (1996), then fully biodynamic in 2001, came "when I found a hundred dead birds in the vineyard after disinfecting the soil (I'm afraid growers do sometimes do this, which doesn't of course only kill off the bad bugs etc.)... we couldn't carry on like that anymore. Our production costs are now huge but the philosophy's more important." They have seven employees plus the family and up to 50 people at vintage time. Fortunately for him (and a lot of hard work too), he's now built up enough of a reputation to charge suitably ample prices to off-set those costs, although no more than great wines from anywhere else, I should add... The grapes for the following white wines are grown at 450-600 metres (+1500 feet) and retain their fresh acidity well:
2004 Vieilles Vignes blanc vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes (40% Macabeu 30% Grenache Blanc 15% Chardonnay 10% Grenache Gris 5% Carignan Blanc) - lovely crispness and intensity with 'real cider' flavours, turns creamier and more honeyed than le Soula (below) with very light toast, concentrated v crisp finish. 90
2004 Le Soula blanc, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes - very intense mineral notes and aromatic appley flavours, crisp and fresh v fatter 'sweeter' finish. 87+
Domaine Gauby comes to 48 hectares (120 acres, 30-odd ha of vines) including trees and wild vegetation, which are an integral part of its diverse terrain, in the rocky hills around the village of Calce. On average, they make 80-100,000 bottles per year so obviously yields are small: "I'd like to average 20 hl/ha (a bit more than 1 ton per acre) but we often get less from some parcels," Gérard claims. He believes that Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre are "the great varieties of the future... but I don't really care about the grape: I want real wine from real terroir." The irony of biodynamic viticulture is that "by seeking simplicity it gets more complicated." However, in this globalized world, "we do not want to do a McDonald's!" he quipped. To give just one example of how important it is preserving biodiversity, after the fruit passes over the sorting table, any insects that fall through are returned to the vineyard to restore a good mix of natural predators. Lucky bugs.
2002 Coume Gineste blanc (50% Grenache Blanc 50% Grenache Gris) - smoky toasted apples on the nose with crisp length and lovely acidity, very nice with the tuna dish.
2003 Le Soula rouge - earthy cassis notes, firm tannins yet elegance too, black cherry finish and again showing attractive freshness (particularly for heatwave 2003).
2003 Vieilles Vignes Côtes du Roussillon Villages (40% very old Carignan 35% Grenache 10% Syrah 15% Mourvèdre) - complex earthy black cherry and rhubarb tones, deliciously sniffable; lovely subtle richness then tight and fresh finish (the Gauby hallmark), light bite of tannins with power yet refined length. 90+
2003 Muntada Côtes du Roussillon Villages (40% very old Carignan 30% Grenache 20% Syrah 10% Mourvèdre) - a bit stinky, not sure what that is (sulphide notes?) but it dissipates with aeration revealing more morello/blackcurrant; very concentrated with dry grip yet has textured smoky fruit and as usual intense bite and length. 92+The full range is imported into the UK by Richards Walford, who are also joint-owners of Domaine Soula, and handled by Peter Weygandt-Metzler in the US (nationwide stockist info can be found on his website).

March 2007: I interviewed Gérard in his 4x4 while touring around the entire bumpy and scenic estate. Following on from what he said above, he's actually removing some Syrah, Muscat and "all early ripening varieties," which are less suitable to the microclimate, terrain and their way of thinking. He believes leading Roussillon growers should concentrate on wines based on 'grand cru' sites, as the opportunity has been missed to create meaningful sub-zones on an official level, thanks to local politics. "I make Côtes du Roussillon Villages Gauby!" he said, although also declared a fondness for the vin de pays name Côtes Catalanes (or better still just Catalan) and, like many, was annoyed that the VDP des Fenouilledes was done away with, allegedly for silly bureaucratic reasons. Finally, Gérard's reaction to the current "viticulture crisis": "the real crisis is a lack of wine culture. We didn't use to make wines that were refreshing to drink. People had a pastis or whatever as an aperitif instead." Pity they hadn't tried one of Gauby's delicious white wines (more on that above and below).
2005 Vieilles Vignes blanc, vin de pays Côtes Catalanes (40% Macabeu 30% Grenache Blanc 15% Chardonnay 10% Grenache Gris 5% Carignan Blanc) - closed up at first, slowly revealing floral honeyed fruit, light toast and rounded full palate v drinkable, lively and stylish finish.
2003 Muntada Côtes du Roussillon Villages - open for 24 hours: rich smoky and complex with liquorice, dried black cherries and herbs plus light leather; sumptuous, lightly rustic yet elegant palate with lingering interesting flavours, firm integrated tannins and balanced length. 92-94

UPDATE October 2010: another great opportunity to taste with Gérard around his Ali Baba's cave of an underground cellar, focusing on their 2008s and not yet bottled 2009s, which perhaps show hints of his son Lionel's influence? Same hallmark intensity, purity and, difficult not to use the word "minerality" as Gauby is convinced of its importance in fine wines from the Roussillon; but somehow, well erm, "fruitier" for want of a better word (I'm sure they wouldn't approve of that adjective!). And Gérard kindly opened an older vintage of one of their sublime dry whites (2002: see note below), which, in my book, are as good as any from the so-called classic white wine regions. Then again, you may already have spotted the "Roussillon now makes great whites" theme being increasingly developed in my scribblings.
We briefly bumped into Lionel busy carrying buckets around the cellar, as 2010 vintage post-picking activity was in full swing. Dad confirmed it should be another good vintage, even if yields were very low from a lack of rainwater over the summer; although growers in the Calce area were lucky to escape the freak hailstorm that blighted some vineyards to the west of here. Most of the 2009 reds tasted here were vat or cask samples; fascinating to try the same variety from different spots giving different wine profiles, especially, as you'll see, the three 09 Grenaches:
2009 Calcinaires white (Muscat Macabeu Chardonnay) - floral honeysuckle and spicy apricot; tasty juicy palate vs zesty and "mineral", quite rich vs tight and refreshing finish. 88+
2009 Calcinaires red (Syrah Grenache Mourvèdre Carignan) - lovely juicy black cherry fruit, grippy dry and spicy texture then supple rounded finish. 87+
2009 Syrah old vines - rich and chunky with nice peppery dark cherries; attractive firm vs ripe tannins and elegant long finish.
2009 Grenache (north-facing, schist) - intense fruit, firm and structured.
2009 Grenache (La Roque) - tighter with fresher acidity, less opulent and fruity.
2009 Grenache (Coume Gineste) - crunchier fruit and tighter still length.
2009 mostly 120 year-old Carignan complanté (traditional mixed planting in one plot) with about nine other varieties - very intense and lush with nice smoky side, superb length and class with lovely texture. Wow.
2008 Vieilles Vignes red (Grenache Syrah Carignan) - deep colour and nose, smoky edges plus lively berry fruit with black cherry and cassis springing to mind; very concentrated and lush vs again those fine tannins, structured vs intense and rich; lovely wine. 92+
2008 Muntada (mostly old Carignan and Grenache) - smokier nose, very intense aromas and flavours with underlining blue fruit notes; concentrated yet elegant, very long and tight and textured. 94+
2008 Vieilles Vignes white (Macabeu Chardonnay Grenache Gris Carignan Blanc) - yeast-lees and lightly toasty tones with appley vs honeyed fruit; lovely concentration vs zesty "mineral" side, long stylish and still young. 89-91
2008 Coume Gineste white (Grenache Blanc Grenache Gris) - toastier and more honeyed / exotic than above with oily, almost Riesling like characters; rich and stylish, rounded textured and powerful vs very taut finish. 91+
2002 Vieilles Vignes white - golden/green colour, not surprisingly, with an amazing nose of toasted nuts vs oily / mineral and Riesling like; still lively and spicy too vs lush maturing toasty finish, wow indeed. 93-95

La Muntada, 66600 Calce. Tel: 04 68 64 35 19, info@domainegauby.fr; www.domainegauby.fr

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.