THE OUTSIDERS OF LANGUEDOC WINE

by Rose Murray Brown MW   Published in The Scotsman 28 February 2015

Attracted by low land prices and the potential of the terroir to make quality wine, pioneers are heading from all over the world to Languedoc Roussillon today to realise their wine dreams.  Many of these new producers in this land of opportunity in Southern France are – what they themselves call – ‘The Outsiders’.

They have come from the ‘outside’ into a career in wine.  Bringing with them a vital fresh approach and open minds, they have backgrounds as diverse as teaching, music, IT, hospitality and banking.  They believe their approach is a little different from the traditional, sometimes rigid, French approach passed down through generations of French families.  To reinstate this different approach – they have even formed their own group called ‘Outsiders Languedoc’.

At The Outsiders recent foray into Edinburgh to show off their wines, I interviewed four interesting individuals.  All from a variety of backgrounds and all now based in different parts of southern France which they now call home.  They might be doing things a little differently – but ultimately they are making exciting hand-crafted wines that we want to drink.

Jonathan Treloar Languedoc Outsiders EdinburghJonathan Treloar of Domaine Treloar www.domainetreloar.com
Walking to work in New York where he was an investment banker with Merrill Lynch, Jonathan Treloar (pictured above with his Kiwi wife Rachel & right at the Edinburgh tasting) was literally 500 metres from the twin towers when the planes hit on 11 September 2001.  It proved a catalyst for them to leave the big smoke and pursue their dream career.  Within a year Jonathan had signed up to the Lincoln university winemaking course in Christchurch, New Zealand – and then worked as assistant winemaker at Neudorf wine estate in Nelson.

“I did look closely at investing in a vineyard in Waipara in New Zealand, but prices are high and I felt southern France offered better value and exciting potential”, says Treloar.  He and his wife bought 10 hectare of vineyards in Trouillas, Cotes du Roussillon, which he farms organically using non-interventionist winemaking with no additives.  His approach of maturing wines in bottle before release means that he offers a taste of Roussillon which we so rarely get to enjoy.  His mature Tahi 2009 (£18.95 www.lsfinewines.co.uk) is a beautifully mellow red blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, whilst more youthful La Terre Promise 2013 (£13 www.lsfinewines.co.uk) is a very characterful Macabeo, Grenache Gris and Carignan Blanc white blend.

Jan & Caryl Penman Languedoc Outsider Edinburgh wine tastingJan & Caryl Panman of Chateau Rives-Blanques www.rives-blanques.com
When Caryl showed me the view from their vineyard, I thought it was in Chile.  With a dramatic backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees behind them, Limoux is possibly the most startlingly beautiful of all southern French regions.  The Panmans had worked in Chile in the 1990’s, so they felt very much at home when they discovered this 20 hectare Limoux wine farm near a nature reserve up for sale. 

Fifteen years on, this Dutch couple are still working with the original owner of the farm, Eric Vialade – who is now teaching their son how to make wine – and with consultant Georges Pauli of Chateau Gruard Larose in Bordeaux.  Limoux is mid-way between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean – and this high altitude (1,000 ft) region makes thrilling fresh whites.  The Panmans make the world’s only barrel fermented Mauzac Blanc Occitania 2013 (£12.95 www.lsfinewines.co.uk; www.tanners-wines.co.uk; www.greatwesternwine.co.uk) – but I particularly loved their sleek clean elegant Burgundian-style Limoux Odysee Chardonnay 2013 (£12.95 www.lsfinewines.co.uk).                           

Ruth Simpson Languedoc Outsiders EdinburghRuth & Charlie Simpson of Domaine Sainte Rose www.sainterose.com
“I started learning about wine whilst living in Azerbaijan”, says Scots-born Ruth Simpson (pictured right).  Working with her husband in international relations in remote places around the world, they felt a need to settle to pursue a career in one place and bring up their young family.  They both loved wine and France – so in 2002 they headed to Servian in Languedoc attracted by the price of a beautiful run-down old chateau, once a C12 staging post for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela – and 33 hectare vineyard alongside.  Thirteen years on, they are now expanding their horizons with a new vineyard purchase in Kent to make English sparkling wines, using their viticultural expertise learnt abroad.

The Simpsons make affordable easy going Languedoc wines from barrel selection Roussanne 2013 (£11.99 www.waitrosecellar.com) to Coquille d’Oc Rose 2013 (£5.99/£7.99 www.waitrose.com).

Katie Jones Languedoc Outsiders Edinburgh wine tastingKatie Jones of Domaine Jones www.domainejones.com
Hailing from Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire, Katie Jones (pictured right) was certainly not born into a winemaking family.  A linguist, she was tempted to a life abroad – so signed up to a marketing job working for Mont Tauch, a French co-operative in Fitou.  After 17 years, she was tempted by a tiny 2.7 hillside vineyard up for sale in Maury, so decided to set up her own winery with help from Australian winemaking consultant David Morrison.  She also acquired a vineyard nearby her own village of Paziols in Fitou.  Today, Jones and her French fiance now tend 25 different vineyard parcels and make beautifully handcrafted wines with local Carignan, Grenache and Syrah – and she is experimenting with a new strain of ‘hairy leaved Grenache’ – watch this space.

However, Jones’ story illustrates one of the difficulties that outsiders can face when arriving in a traditional wine village.  After the 2012 vintage, two of their full wine vats were emptied by wine vandals whilst Katie was attending a wine fair abroad.  Whilst the local police turned a blind eye, Jones actually found huge support from her homeland – UK-based Naked Wines got their Angels involved to help her out – and the UK trade is where she now sells many of her wines.  Her high security fences also now help keep out grape-loving wild boars too.

Domaine Jones Fitou 2012 (£13.99 Majestic Wine; The Wine Society also sell Dme Jones wines) is deliciously fruity modern-style Fitou so soft and succulent.  Her Domaine Jones Blanc Grenache Gris 2013 (£17 The Wine Society; Henderson Wines, Edinburgh) is an intriguingly rich honeyed white.

Join Rose’s Fine French Classic Wine Tasting on 22 April at 28 Queen Street, Edinburgh £40 www.rosemurraybrown.com

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