A MEDOC STATE OF MIND

Ig­nor­ing tra­di­tion, Langue­doc-based Mas de Dau­mas Gas­sac es­tate planted Bordeaux va­ri­eties and proved to naysay­ers that you don’t have to fol­low the rules to make great wine

Wine & Dine - - CONTENTS - WORDS LIN WEI­WEN

Langue­doc-based Mas de Dau­mas Gas­sac es­tate makes some of the finest Bordeaux-style blends out­side of Bordeaux

Mas de Dau­mas Gas­sac is a cu­ri­ous case in Langue­doc. In a re­gion syn­ony­mous with Syrah, Gre­nache, Carig­nan and Mourvè­dre, the es­tate— lo­cated in Hérault’s scenic Gas­sac val­ley—has in­stead cho­sen to con­cen­trate on mak­ing Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon-dom­i­nant blends. “When my fa­ther, Aimé Guib­ert, bought an aban­doned 300-year-old farm­house in Gas­sac in 1970, he was won­der­ing if he should plant wheat or olive trees, but my mother, Véronique, con­vinced him it should be vines, and our es­tate was es­tab­lished,” says Basile Guib­ert, 33, the youngest of Aimé’s four sons. “Since my fa­ther loved Château La­tour, he de­cided to make a good Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon­based wine.”

Guib­ert Se­nior’s in­dul­gent idea didn’t sit well with the Langue­doc folk then. In the 1970s, wines from Langue­doc were largely plonk, with an em­pha­sis on quan­tity over qual­ity. “We were seen as the black sheep be­cause we wanted to make not just good wines but wines with Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon,” re­calls Basile. “We were go­ing against the odds.”

The es­tate’s fo­cus on Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon dis­qual­i­fied its quaffs from be­ing stamped as AOC, but in 2011, an IGP sta­tus was spe­cially granted to its wines as a recog­ni­tion of qual­ity. To­day, Mas de Dau­mas Gas­sac is known for mak­ing some of the finest Bordeaux-style blends out­side of Bordeaux. “Peo­ple re­gard Mas de Dau­mas Gas­sac as the most ‘Borde­laise’ Langue­doc win­ery,” quips Basile, who apart from over­see­ing the Asian mar­ket, runs the es­tate as its coowner along­side his older broth­ers Ro­man, Gael and Sa­muel. “Bordeaux lo­cals dream of our kind of cli­mate. Be­cause of the re­gion’s Mediter­ranean in­flu­ence, we are warmer and have more sun­shine, so the ripeness of our Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon is al­most per­fect ev­ery year.”

A NOD TO BORDEAUX

Aimé Guib­ert, who passed away in 2016, was never one to shy away from a chal­lenge. Be­fore wine­mak­ing came into his life, the Mil­lau lo­cal was run­ning his fam­ily’s tan­nery busi­ness, churn­ing out leather gloves in Paris. When the in­dus­trial leather mar­ket sput­tered in the late 1960s, Aimé shifted his at­ten­tion to lux­ury leather, vis­it­ing leather fac­to­ries in the Mid­dle East and court­ing the likes of Roberto Cavalli and Pierre Cardin with his ma­te­ri­als.

By then Aimé had more than three decades of ex­pe­ri­ence in man­ag­ing a busi­ness. The farm­house in Gas­sac—for­merly owned by the Dau­mas fam­ily—was the re­al­i­sa­tion of his dream to be a farmer; a yearn­ing for a rus­tic life. When he and Véronique ar­rived in Langue­doc, they were out­siders, which in Basile’s view, turned out to be an ad­van­tage. “They were not part of the agriculture com­mu­nity in Langue­doc, so they didn’t have the weight of the re­gion’s tra­di­tion on their backs,” says Basile. “They didn’t mind break­ing the rules.”

Aimé’s Caber­net mis­sion was a metic­u­lous one from the start. In­stead of plant­ing cloned vines, he ob­tained—with the help of Mont­pel­lier Uni­ver­sity—un-cloned, pre­phyl­lox­era Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon vines from Bordeaux via Se­lec­tion Mas­sale. (Se­lec­tion Mas­sale is a viti­cul­ture prac­tice whereby cut­tings are se­lec­tively taken from old vines for prop­a­ga­tion, en­sur­ing that the new vines re­tain the ge­netic va­ri­ety of the ‘par­ent’ plants.) In 1978, the es­tate re­leased its first vin­tage: a blend of Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon, Tan­nat and Mal­bec.

To­day, the es­tate has over 52 small vine­yards sit­ting among 3,000 hectares of pro­tected for­est, form­ing an un­du­lat­ing land­scape of dense fo­liage punc­tu­ated by a patchwork of glades. Basile notes that it’s “a night­mare for the trac­tors” as they have to nav­i­gate around the bushes and vines. He says, “But for us, that is a bet­ter night­mare to man­age than, say, a mas­sive vine­yard with no sur­round­ing forests.”

Sus­tain­able agro­forestry prin­ci­ples drive Mas de Dau­mas Gas­sac’s or­ganic viti­cul­ture. The sur­round­ing for­est is home to bats, which feed on thou­sands of in­sects ev­ery night. Birds also help con­trol the pop­u­la­tion of vine­yard pests. Sheep roam the grounds be­tween au­tumn and spring, feed­ing on wild grass. The an­i­mals’ ma­nure is also turned into com­post for use in the vine­yards. To sup­press the growth of weeds, cover crops of grasses and legu­mi­nous plants such as trit­i­cale and clover are planted be­tween vine rows.

BLEND­ING BOLDLY

The evo­lu­tion of Mas de Dau­mas Gas­sac’s sig­na­ture red blend of­fers a look into the unique wine­mak­ing mind of Aimé: a four­va­ri­ety com­po­nent in the 1980s turned into a mix of more than a dozen grapes in the 1990s. In the 2000s, Aimé pushed the en­ve­lope with a blend of more than 20 va­ri­eties. For ex­am­ple, the 2013 vin­tage—a lus­cious, rich swirl of dark fruit, dried leaves and mint— was com­posed of Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon, small amounts of Mer­lot, Tan­nat, Caber­net Franc, Mal­bec, Pinot Noir, and a small per­cent­age of Ital­ian and Ge­or­gian va­ri­eties like Neb­bi­olo, Bar­bera, Dol­cetto, Saper­avi and Tchkaveri.

“I don’t have the def­i­nite an­swer of what was go­ing on in my fa­ther’s head,” says Basile. “He wanted to have fun; he be­lieved this kind of blend would make a com­plex wine. The Ital­ian va­ri­eties bring some char­ac­ter and spice—some mu­sic from the south. For him, uni­for­mity is the en­emy of com­plex­ity. But no mat­ter how many va­ri­eties we add [to the blend], its high­light will al­ways be Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon be­cause it is the king.”

Basile says that if he were in his dad’s shoes dur­ing the 80s, he would have started with Pinot Noir, given his love for the va­ri­ety. But he ad­mits it would have been an up­hill task grow­ing the finicky grape in the swel­ter­ing heat of Langue­doc, even if their soil con­di­tions were ideal. Henri En­jal­bert, the late wine ge­ol­o­gist, once sur­veyed Dau­mas Gas­sac and de­scribed the soil con­di­tions—a mix of crushed lime­stone and clay—as sim­i­lar to those in Bur­gundy’s Côte d’Or.

“Peo­ple al­ways ask me, ‘Why not make Pinot Noir?’ But we have cus­tomers who have been fol­low­ing Mas de Dau­mas Gas­sac’s wines for more than two decades. We don’t want to change our style or wines just be­cause we are a new gen­er­a­tion. There’s no need to paint the room in a new colour,” muses Basile.

“My broth­ers and I are may be less in­tel­li­gent than our par­ents, but we bring more en­ergy to the ta­ble,” he re­marks. “We work week­ends and late nights, and we share our roles. This way, we of­fer more con­trol over ev­ery as­pect of wine­mak­ing. Our goal is the same: to make pure wine.”

“THE ITAL­IAN VA­RI­ETIES BRING SOME CHAR­AC­TER AND SPICE—SOME MU­SIC FROM THE SOUTH. FOR HIM, UNI­FOR­MITY IS THE EN­EMY OF COM­PLEX­ITY.”

Top The Guib­ert fam­ily: (front row) Ro­man, Véronique, Aimé, Gael; (back row) Sa­muel and BasileOp­po­siteMas de Dau­mas Gas­sac Es­tate

Op­po­site page Mas de Dau­mas Gas­sac also makes a white from a blend of Pe­tit Manseng, Viog­nier, Chardon­nay and Chenin; and a rosé from Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon, Mourvè­dre, Pinot Noir and Pe­tit MansengFrom topHorses plough­ing the vine­yards; Mas de Dau­mas Gas­sac’s cel­lar

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