Clochers and Terroirs is an enormous operation by any standards. Eleven central Hérault valley villages have combined forces and now represent some 850 grape growers with 2,800 hectares of vines. Production is 200,000 hl that equates to over 26 million bottles, although most will go into popular 10 litre BIBs.
Every other cooperative seems to make Vin Primeur these days. At
Clochers and Terroirs the launch of the new vintage is an opportunity for
villagers to have a convivial apero or three and be subjected to mercifully brief thank you speeches.
The cave at Nébian could easily host a tennis match plus audience in the space surrounded by dozens of now defunct double-decker cuves.
As for the wine itself, it avoids overdoing heady carbonic maceration induced fruit and has a pleasant dry and slightly tannic adult finish. That said, analysing it isn't really the point. Given that this year's harvest is down 25%, at least in one of the communes, it was a very generous event.
The Béziers médiathèque is an impressive new building just to the east of the town centre. An exhibition "150 years of grape varieties in the Languedoc" has a display of lithographs of grape varieties by Henri Marès published in 1890. This is one of them.
My translation "Probably a very old variety originating from the Bas-Languedoc.
Long living, the aspiran variety displays an elegant poise and shape in its leaves and bunches. In the departments of the Bas-Languedoc it is [in 1890] usually the preferred table grape for eating. It is delicious and wholesome and very moreish, one can east vast quantities. No other variety is lighter, more agreeable and easier to digest".
Aspiran is a small village just off the Hérault valley in the Pézenas appellation (I also have a blog on the village Aspiran Postcard). To my knowledge this is the only French planted grape variety named after a local place, or at least a small village (Syrah derives from Shiraz in Persia, now Iran). Today Aspiran seems to be better known under the synonym Ribeyrenc, but that said the grape is seriously rare with just a handful of vines growing in a few Languedoc domaines. It seems following the phylloxera epidemic and frosts of 1956 the variety was not replanted.
A big hope is Domaine Thierry Navarre at Roquebrun who has rescued and grafted some vines and is now making a Ribeyrenc. I now need to seek this out.
My final words on my last post on this subject were "I suspect it may be less than 8 months before returning to this topic". Life flies by - it was 18 months ago I typed this. To be frank, I'd also lost interest in the matter.
Rosemary George gave an update on her blog here nearly a year ago; essentially that INAO don't like the term Grand Cru for the Languedoc leaving Cru at the top of the pyramid, plus there is the idea of creating a Terroir d’exception below Cru. However, Terroir d’exception can't appear on labels, so it all seems a bit naff and to me sounds more important/prestigious than Cru. Never mind, since then almost total radio silence on the matter has prevailed.
The absence of news seems to be confirmed by this "the drinks business" article that indicates no official change since Rosemary's piece, assuming the article was recently researched of course. The only "news" is that Faugère, 30 years after being awarded AOC status, has unofficially declared itself as Faugères: grand terroir de schiste. Like schist, perhaps things are starting to fracture.
Les Journées Européennes du Patrimoine are an excellent opportunity to see and learn about places not usually open to the visiting public. I knew of Domaine de la Tour (Nebian in the middle Hérault valley) as somewhere for concerts, art expositions and big private parties. I'd also cycled through the building complex that sits atop a modest hill overlooking the middle Hérault valley just south of Clermont l'Hérault.
Like most grand estates in the Languedoc, Domaine de la Tour would have
been funded by profits from wine production during one of the boom
periods for the region. While still surrounded by vineyards, these days
the grapes are all destined for the local co-operative. Nevertheless,
much remains of what once was.
The theme of the day was was a guided tour of the features for managing water on the estate. Most impressive was a pumping house above a well that housed an early 20th century electric pump once used to plenish a water tower above the winery over 200 meters away. Although now dismantled, the old water tower is clearly visible at the left end of the old photograph.
The chai is still lined with 35 wine barrels that each held 280 hl giving a capacity of over a million bottles. In the days before de-stemmers, pumps and pressure hoses a great deal of water would have been needed for cleaning.
Also in the chai is an interesting museum space with various bits of "vintage" equipment artefacts, old photographs and other memorabilia.