Mas de Daumas Gassac

16 Dec

We have a special affection for Mas de Daumas Gassac and their wines. We visited them awhile back, and then saw Mondovino, where, Aimé Guibert, the founder of Daumas Gassac, lead the fight against Mondovi taking over the region in Lanquedoc. More recently, we opened Pairings Wine and Food, and now have brought their wines into the store. Last Saturday we had a special pairing of 6 of their wines with foods. The following is a write-up about our visit and information on the winery as well.

Lori and Ray’s Story and Visit

The short version: Lori and Ray had a wonderful visit at Mas de Daumas Gassac in April of 2009. During the visit, we met with the founder and owner, Aimé Guibert, who was quite entertaining (see below). Months later, we were watching the movie Mondovino which, in part, is about how Mondavi was prevented from taking over an area in the Lanquedoc around Mas de Daumas Gassac. In the movie, which is a documentary, there was an interview with the person who organized the local area in France to fight off Mondavi, and guess what, there was Aimé Guibert being interviewed…in the movie he represents small wineries trying to maintain a sense of place in their wines, in opposition to the forces of large companies, which tend to impose an international style on the wines. We like him even more, as we find wines with a sense of place more interesting. Afterwards, we noticed his picture on the cover of the DVD. The following is from our notes after the visit:

4/23/09 Made it out to our 10:30 am appointment at Mas de Daumas Gassac, and had a nice visit. They are the Lafit of southern France, emphasizing Cabernet Sauvignon in their top reds. As we drove up, the garrigue aromas were very apparent. We were shown around by Aurelie (Lucy) Aubre, who is very nice. After the tour, Aimé Guibert (the founder and father) stopped in at the tasting room to say hello. He’s a character. For instance, he said that most Americans are very nice, but the top 1000 rich people are “shits”. We tasted their two top wines for export, a white and a red – both very lovely. He told Aurelie not to let us “taste the other stuff” because it’s not good enough; some of which is involved with a cooperative, and not up to the standards he wanted to present to us. Aurelie made a lunch reservation for us at “La Table d’Aurore” at Saint Guilhem le Desert, next to the Herault River (and there’s a gorge nearby – see picture of Lori at lunch).

About Mas de Daumas Gassac

The story of how Mas de Daumas came to be has been well described; it begins with the purchase of the property by Aimé Guibert, a Parisian glove manufacturer; he and his wife Véronique were looking for a family home away from city life, and had no intention of making wine. They stumbled across Mas de Daumas Gassac, an abandoned farmhouse owned by the Daumas family in a valley shaped by the flow of the Gassac.

The pair purchased the farm (mas) and set about its renovation, but they also surveyed their land and naturally considered what they should plant there. It may have been olive trees, or a fruit orchard, had it not been for a friend, Professor Henri Enjalbert, a renowned oenologist, who provided the spark to light the tinder of Mas de Daumas Gassac. Whilst walking around the estate he recognized that the combination of the red glacial soils beneath the local garrigue, together with the altitude and the nocturnal currents of cool air that passed over the slopes made this an ideal spot for viticulture. His enthusiasm seemed to ignite a passion within Aimé Guibert and his wife; it was barely a year before the first vines were planted, the beginnings of perhaps the most significant Languedoc vineyard of all. These were un-cloned Cabernet Sauvignon vines, propagated from cuttings taken from Bordeaux vineyards decades before. With the first vines in place in 1972, work began on constructing a cuverie on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman water mill, which was completed in 1978, just in time for the first vintage.

This was undertaken with advice from another great name associated with Bordeaux, the oenologist Professor Emile Peynaud. After much persuading, Peynaud agreed to come on board as a consultant in 1978. In response to entreaties from Aimé, Peynaud had him to visit in Bordeaux for the ’77 harvest. The correspondence continued until Aimé wore him down and he agreed to work with them, on two conditions: he would only visit the estate two times per year, and they could only telephone him after 9 am. Peynaud’s watchwords were “finesse, complexity and balance.”

Under his aegis the 1978 Mas de Daumas Gassac went from fermentation vessel to barrel and then, in 1980, to bottle. There were in fact nearly 18000 bottles, which the Guiberts had some considerable difficulty selling, relying heavily on friends, family and other acquaintances to buy and market the wine.

The buzz about Gassac started with a story by a Dutch journalist in 1981. (Pairings has a small number of bottles from 1981) British wine writers found them, and the Times of London compared the wine to Latour, and the French magazine GaultMillau has called the estate “the Lafite Rothschild of the Languedoc.” In the early ’80s, they were the producer that caused the wine world to focus, for the first time, on the Languedoc as a potential source of top quality wines. This is what eventually led to Mondovi’s interest in that area.

All the vineyards are organically farmed, and they have never used chemicals. All the wine is estate grown, and all of the wines they produce are blends. The estate is planted to 20 varieties of red grapes and 20 varieties of white. The red plantings, which make up two thirds of the estate, are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, but also include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Tannat, as well as Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. The white varieties planted are mostly Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Petit Manseng, but also include Marsanne, Roussane, Sercial and Muscat.

The fruit is harvested with yields on the order of 35-40 hl/ha (where over 100 hl/ha is typical of lower quality wines) and the harvest is entirely by hand into 20 kg open weave baskets. Once these have been carried to the cellars, the fruit is sorted by hand on tables, de-stemmed and then fed by gravity into the inox (stainless steel) fermentation vats. After these the red wine is run into barrel, which are replaced every seven years, so the new oak influence is minimized. The red rests there for 12-15 months before bottling, after a light egg-white fining and no filtration. As for the white, this has some skin contact for up to seven days, then fermented in inox and filtered by passage through fossilised seashells.

The grand vin at Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge and the Reserve are the standard red bottlings. The sixth wine in today’s pairing is the Rouge, and we have 4 bottles of the Reserve from 1981, the year after Gassac was recognized as the Lafit of Southern France. These wines are destined for the cellar, the advice from Aimé Guibert being that it will improve for several decades of bottle age. The 1981 is a chance to test this thesis. The Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc, also a Vin de Pays de l’Herault, is approachable young but it will age well also. It is a blend of 30% each of Chardonnay, Viognier and Petit Manseng, with other varieties mentioned above making up the remainder. In addition to these two wines, there is a new super-cuvée Emile Peynaud, of which the first vintage is the 2001. Pairings has two bottles of this wine, said to be “fantastic”. This wine represents just a small plot of the Daumas Gassac vineyards, using fruit from just the first hectare of Cabernet Sauvignon ever to be planted at the domaine.

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