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26 April 2011

Languedoc: Domaine de l’Hortus, Pic Saint Loup

The Hortus cliff-face from vignobles-orliac.com
Jean Orliac set up Domaine de l’Hortus in the 1970s, so has a lot of experience under his belt and is considered one of the pioneers in this area, helped along the way by the Orliac family team: Marie-Thérèse, Marie, François and Yves. The estate now comes to 60 ha (150 acres) extending from the Montagne de la Seranne to Pic Saint Loup itself. There are in fact two properties, Domaine l’Hortus and 'C du Prieur', supplemented by grapes sourced from neighbours to fill out their Bergerie de l’Hortus and Loup dans la Bergerie labels. I first went there in 2005 and talked to Jean about the Mourvèdre variety in particular (he has planted quite a bit), for some research (yawn) I was doing at the time. See blurb at the bottom for detail on that, if you're so inclined, which does also shed some light on characteristics of PSL's terrain and climate. And a group of us called in at his amazing wooden winery in March 2011, after a walk on the wild side along part of the PSL heights to view and understand the lie of the land better, and tasted these two wines:
2010 Bergerie de l'Hortus white (Roussanne, Viognier, Sauvignon blanc, Sauvignon gris, Chardonnay) - exotic fruit salad of a white, juicy vs fairly honeyed, crisp vs rounded texture; nice "commercial" style. 1 €10
2008 "Grande Cuvée" red (Mourvèdre, Syrah, splash of Grenache) - vanilla notes are quite strong to start with vs sweet berry and nice juicy cherry fruit, fresh 'mineral' side vs choco oak texture, a bit too much of the latter perhaps vs substance; attractive though for a 2008 (= lighter vintage here), balanced and stylish in the end with subtle length vs that layer of oak. 1-2 €20

And I sampled these wines, also in situ, back in 2005, as the intro says (originally posted on WineWriting.com):
"In further pursuit of Mourvèdre, but not forgetting Grenache and Syrah of course... A few wines discovered on a day trip to Château La Roque, Mas de Mortiès and Domaine de l’Hortus (4/3/2005)... all dotted here and there in the wild terrain north of Montpellier, watched over by the eponymous peak (650 metres high)..."
2002 Grande Cuvée (55% Mourvèdre, 35% Syrah, 10% Grenache) - Quite light and forward (pretty typical for the wet 2002 vintage) yet shows reasonable fruit and ripeness v a firmer edge, attractive drinking now. 85+
2003 Grande Cuvée
(50% Mourvèdre, 40% Syrah, 10% Grenache tasted from barrique) - spicy and toasty at the moment (should be bottled soon) with textured tannins and tight finish; should be good. 87-89
And finally, a touch more detail taken from notes made at that time, which echo what Jean told us a few weeks ago about 'what, where and why,' when he established his vineyards in PSL:
Pic Saint Loup – thirteen villages to the north of Montpellier, 25 km long from north to south, 10 km wide east-west. 800 ha (out of 1500 demarcated) planted between ‘garrigues’ and limestone cliffs, the highest being the eponymous peak.
Domaine de l’Hortus (Valflaunès), Jean Orliac – 11 ha Mourvèdre (and increasing) out of a total estate of 55 ha (not all cultivated), the vineyard is located at an elevation of 120-200 m sitting between Pic St. Loup and Mont de l’Hortus. Planted in the early 80s, the Mourvèdre is now on the highest slopes facing south/southeast. Previously, this spot was occupied by olive trees with vines on the other side (north/northeast facing hence cooler) and wheat etc. on the flat areas.
Orliac thought Mourvèdre could be interesting here but was advised against it by a professor of viticulture, who believed the cooler damp Mediterranean microclimate to be at the limit for ripening of this variety requiring higher average temperatures. He then consulted another expert, who had carried out studies on the best terroirs for particular varieties in the Aude, who argued a better indicator, rather than waiting for ten years of research, was to look at the wild vegetation. He noticed the plants on this side were very Mediterranean and, on the other side, more typical of a mountain climate. So, thanks to its southerly exposure, the slope (10 to 20%) and cliff formation, Orliac planted Mourvèdre here and Syrah on the other side, the microclimate being closer to the northern Côtes du Rhône.
“Mourvèdre has a very long growing cycle but it gets by on the available light here, as it’s used to a Mediterranean climate. So temperature isn’t the only criteria – it’s important but so is exposure – as we sometimes have a difference of 5°C here. You also have to consider the movement of the sun: the other side gets more light early AM and late PM; here, because of the effect the cliff has, the day is slightly shorter but hotter at midday equating to a small difference in latitude.”
“Mourvèdre needs a good water supply; if it suffers from stress, it won’t ripen and the leaves dry out. c.f. Bandol is more humid because it's nearer the sea – here the north wind is very dry...”

Dom. Hortus wines are available in London from Berry Bros, Lea & Sandeman, Roberson; and on-line @ Slurp, Everywine, Joseph Barnes Wines Direct and Terroir Languedoc; and in the USA from European Cellars and Beaune Imports.

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