Is it your dream to buy a winery in the Languedoc? Of course, for many it may be a money losing proposition yet I am excited about the possibility of living a dream life under the warm Mediterranean sun ….
… Mas Belles Eaux may be the ideal property, yet it was snapped up by the AXA insurance company some time back. At the time of its purchase, the top quality vineyards were not being maintained according to their potential.
AXA under the direction of Christian Seely was able to put everything right … which included moving some vineyards after analyzing what grapes should be planted on the different soil.
I know all this because I was lucky enough to win a scholarship from AXA (in connection with the Master of Wine program) and spent a few days with the charming technical manager, Cedric Loiseau and the trusted AXA winemaking advisor Daniel Llose, who drove all the way down from Bordeaux for the visit.
The Languedoc, located in the south of France, borders the Mediterranean between the Pyrenees and the Rhone Valley. It has mild winters and hot, dry summers, and has been a wine growing region ever since Greek and Roman times.
The vineyard of Mas Belles Eaux stretches over 90 hectares of sun-blessed hillsides. Soil consists of the complex terroir of Villafranchian gravel over red clay and alluvial soils.
You can read more on their new website
The Mas and its vaulted cellar built in the 17th century are the oldest buildings of the estate, and is very romantic looking. A new winery has been constructed and we will see it later that afternoon. The estate was called Belles Eaux because of the numerous springs around the property which run down into the Peyne River and have a unique effect on the terroir.
We gather together in a single car to tour the vineyards. Daniel and Cedric show a map, indicating how the decision was made to re-organize the vineyard in terms of the different soils an in-depth survey has brought to light. Grapes planted include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Carignan.
We drive through the vineyard, getting out several times to see the trellis system, examine the soil, and taste the grapes. Harvest is finished yet some (delicious!) bunches remain.
What’s most interesting is that Cedric has an Apple application for his iphone that alerts him to soil conditions – the AXA technical directors must be among the most tech-savvy on the planet!
The premiere wine of Mas Belles Eaux is Sainte Hélène, which features carefully sorted and selected grapes that come from plots situated up on the plateau, the highest point of the estate. This wine, a blend of several grape varieties, is vinified according to a method specific to Mas Belles Eaux and then aged for 15 months in French oak barrels.
Visiting the New Winery
We visit the new winery and I, for one, am very impressed. It is very new and clean and shiny with extremely modern stainless steel fermentation tanks and numerous bells and whistles.
We taste the 2009 vintage and other vintages in the sleek, very modern tasting room on adjoining the Mas. It is run by Yann Aguilhon, a very energetic gentleman. The space is gorgeous and during summer, Yann has turned it into a venue for a weekly tasting party.
As a whole, the wines are very well-balanced with delicious flavors and moderate alcohol despite the hot climate. Cedric has taken obvious care to create such balance and elegance. The discussion turned to the challenge of informing the public that the Languedoc is a region where one must know the producer.
Mas Belles Eaux, for example, is a high quality wine available at a competitive price. Yet a consumer can find a badly made wine with high alcohol and from high yields from the same region, and make the assumption that all Languedoc wines taste a certain way. Public education is crucial, and that’s why the tasting room and its parties is such a good way to market the winery and establish the brand as one that stands for quality.
Cedric, Yann, and Daniel host a fantastic lunch at an incredible restaurant in the mountains called Auberge de Prespbyterre. It is run by a young Italian couple and the food is incredible. What a fabulous experience!
The Afternoon Visits
Cedric was kind enough to arrange visits to two other properties where we could see examples of how other producers run their cellars.
One winery we visited was Domaine de L’Arjolle, which is organic. Francois Teisserenc gave us a tasting and his father the tour.
If Cedric is charming, his wife Carin is equally so. My fellow MW student and I were honored to be invited to dinner with them at a very quaint restaurant in Sete, a region by the sea that is very popular in summer.
Daniel could not join us for dinner, as he had to rush back to Bordeaux to taste at Chateau Pichon-Longueville the next day.
Thank you AXA
Many many thanks to AXA and the Institute of the Masters of Wine for making this scholarship possible.