My visit to Calce in Roussillon and tasting at the town hall

img_3331Our trip to the Roussillon was a real joy as the region is delightful, very beautiful and scenic and offers a glimpse of Catalan culture that is quite unlike the rest of France. Everywhere the snow-capped mountains provide a stunning backdrop. On the Friday morning our coach wound round the torturous road to Calce, the soils here are chalky in the main – hence the name Calce, from calcaire, but there is also some schist. This quiet unassuming village was to provide a real highlight to our trip. At a casual glance it just appeared to be a Rousillon wine village like any other. It doesn’t boast it’s own AC and it doesn’t make a unique type of wine, it’s influence is more subtle and it’s importance harder to define. Quite simply it boasts an incredible array of the great producers of the region. Some, such as the local cooperative are perfectly normal and traditional, if rather good and have been here for decades. Others are less normal and are newer operations created by new arrivals to the region who were attracted to the area by the work and example of Gérard Gauby at Domaine Gauby. Amongst their number you have winemakers originally from Burgundy, the Loire, Germany and South Africa. Some sought out this place and this terroir, others washed up here and never left. After just one morning here I know how they felt, the scenery is dramatic and beautiful and there is something deeply attractive about a group of people dedicated to crafting great and interesting wines and creating what feels like an interdependent commune in order to achieve it. They appear to be at one with their landscape and there is something of the feel of a religious sect about Calce, indeed something almost Messianic about some of the wine makers. In fact we were told that many consider themselves to be Monsieur Gauby’s disciples.

We were incredibly fortunate that Eric Aracil and Susan Hulme M.W. had organised for a group of producers to set up a tasting in the town hall. We were doubly fortunate that afterwards we joined these lovely people in the most wonderful lunch of salad, fresh bread, charcuterie and cheese. It was an occasion that smacked of the very best of France and left a great feeling of camaraderie, of enjoyment and passions shared.

Some of the many of the wine highlights for me were:

Domaine Gauby
Domaine Gauby has been owned by many generations of the Gauby family, but until Gérard Gauby came along with new ideas the grapes were always sent to the local co-operative. Gérard’s first vintage was the 1985 and now it is his son Lionel who carries on the crusade to create wines in harmony with their surroundings by organic and biodynamic methods.
We tasted 2 of his wines and they were a great starting point:

Domaine Gauby Vielles Vignes Blanc 2002 (en magnum)
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalans

This 80% Macabeu (Viura) with 20% field blend of Grenache Gris and Blanc was a beautiful wine with a lively minerality and a creamy texture, integrated oak and a freshness that belied its age.

Domaine Gauby Muntada 2006
A.C. Côtes de Roussillon Villages

45% Grenache, 45% Carignan and 10% Syrah with vines up to 115 years old.
Muntada is the local name for the limestone and schist soils on the estate.
The lovely herbal and wild flower qualities and pure raspberry fruit had survived 22 months in a range of old barriques and foudre, plus 10% in new oak, to produce a vivid, fresh and lively wine with a smooth texture, touches of cream and supple tannins.

Domaine Olivier Pithon
Olivier grew up in the Loire steeped in the culture of wine, his older brother is Jo Pithon from Layon. He met Gérard Gauby in 2000 via his brother and immediately knew that he had found where he wanted to be and what he wanted to be – a biodynamic wine grower and winemaker.
His wines were extraordinary, amongst others we tasted:

Domaine Pithon Cuvée Laïs 2007
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalans

50% Macabeu (Viura) with a 50% field blend of Grenache Gris and Blanc and named for a Jersey cow in Catalan.
Lovely fresh aromas of rosemary, fennel and thyme with a smokey, creamy and yoghurt undercurrent. The mouth-feel was soft and delicate with clean acidity and freshness and a long mineral finish.

Domaine Pithon Le Pilou 2006
Made from 100 year old Carignan vines, Olivier only produced 600 bottles of this cuvée. The nose of black cherry, chocolate, hot rocks, herbs and savoury charcuterie was enticing. The palate was juicy and supple with smoky fine grain tannins and a silky feel; it was superbly integrated and complete wine with a fresh finish.

Domaine Matassa
Tom Lubbe is the guiding spirit behind Mattasa and he somehow sums up Calce, a wandering South African who arrived at Domaine Gauby some years ago, caught the biodynamic bug, fell in love with Calce, fell in love with Gérard Gauby’s daughter Nathalie, married her and settled down to create a new domaine in partnership with his wife and Sam Harrap. The wines were astonishing, not always approachable, sometimes a bit demanding, often full as he says of “reductive funk”, but all his wines repay tasting:

Domaine Matassa Blanc 2006 (en magnum)
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalans
70% Grenache Gris with 30% Macabeu (Viura).
Yet another stunning Grenache Gris based white with a divine nose of wild flowers and a palate that was clean and elegant with a mineral purity a rounded texture and great complexity.

Domaine Matassa Cuvée Romanissa 2006
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalans

70% Grenache Noir, 15% Carignan, 10% Mourvèdre and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.
This cuvée, whilst not his top red, is quite wonderful and fascinated me as the name of the parcel of vines, Romanissa, is a living folk memory that the land was once awarded to a Roman soldier on his retirement from the Legions. A vibrant fresh raspberry nose with flashes of black pepper and wild flowers, supple and juicy in the mouth with a fresh, vibrant feel, real elegance and smooth tannins on the finish.

Domaine de L’Horizon
Thomas Teibert is a German who found himself drawn to Calce and to biodynamic practises. His domaine is new, but that does not show in the quality of the wines that are all made from old vine stock. Thomas only labels his wines as Vin de Pays as he champions purely the traditional grapes of the region and has no interest in interlopers such as Syrah. The estate is almost completely bioynamic, but he cannot yet afford to compost everything as that would cost him €40,000 just to buy it in and then he needs to hire some help to work it in.

Domaine de L’Horizon Blanc 2007
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalans

67% Macabeu (Viura) of between 50 and 80 years old with the rest a field field blend of equally old Grenache Gris and Blanc.
The nose was herbal and honeyed with a clean, saline note. The palate was elegant and rounded with a gently creamy mouth-feel and a clean mineral finish and was beautifully integrated. The wine was aged for 11 months in new oak, ultra light toast, in vats that varied in size between 500 and 2000 litres.

Domaine Padié
Jean-Philippe Padié is a delightful man and great company who makes some quite incredible wines. He is yet another outsider, from Burgundy this time, who has come to Calce in order to make wines that would possibly be less understood elsewhere. Some of what he did was so interesting and fun that sometimes he appeared to be a French Randall Grahm, who could resist a wine named Fleur de Cailloux (Flowers from Stone) or Ciel Liquide? As with Matassa, this uncompromising way of doing things does not always make for approachable or enjoyable wines, but when it does it produces wines of great beauty:

Domaine Padié Milouise
Vin de Table (actually 2007, but a vintage is not allowed)
50% Grenache Gris and 50% Grenache Blanc.
Jean-Philippe has two 600 litre barrels, one named Milou after his grandfather and one named Louise after his grandmother. This wine is named after both and is both barrels blended together. It is a Vin de Table because the wild yeast took a whole year to ferment and the authorities had no patience with the still fermenting samples when the Vin de Pays status was applied for!
This was a great wine with a succulent texture balanced by the hallmark minerality and a clean lemon rind acidity. It is elegant, pure and quite wonderful.

Domaine Padié Calice
Vin de Table (actually 2007, but a vintage is not allowed)
100% Carignan.
I am not often keen on Carignan, but this unassuming wine was a delight to drink, very soft, very juicy, very supple, quite delicious and easy drinking in all the best ways.

Château Lafforgue
Noël Lafforgue was representing his family domaine which has produced wine in Calce for centuries and was once a castle of the Catalan Kingdom of Mallorca and carries on making traditional wines of the region including an impressive array of Vin Doux Naturel. Whilst not biodynamic they don’t use weedkillers and they do use organic manure.

Château Lafforgue Muscat Sec 2008
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalans

A delightful straightforward wine that was fresh and lively with a crisp citrus character and clean acidity.

Château Lafforgue Cuvée de Vieux Porche 2007
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalans

40% Carignan, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Grenache.
The Old Porch blend is a lovely wine with a richly fruity nose dominated by the Cabernet’s cassis character. Blackcurrants dominate the palate too with a smooth, creamy ripe feel and firm, chalky tannins.

Les Vignerons du Château Calce
The town cooperative is named for the local thirteenth century castle and itself dates back to 1932. It is fairly small with something like 60 members, but has a good reputation for quality that was borne out by the wines:

Château de Calce 2007
A.C. Côtes de Roussillon Blanc

60% Grenache Blanc and 40% Macabeu (Viura).
A very clean, well made and mineral dry white that is sold locally at €3 and knocks the spots off many more expensive whites from other regions.

Château de Calce 2005
A.C. Côtes de Roussillon Villages

30% Grenache Noir, 30% Carignan, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre.
A lovely simple wine that was very enjoyable, the bright, vibrant fruit and smooth tannins were enhanced by the Carignan being fermented by maceration carbonique. Again, this was a great value for money wine that I would happily drink every day if I lived there as they do not make enough for export.

The cooperative is also the source of two exciting wines for Marks and Spencer that are made by Gerd Stepp at the Château de Clace with input from Mattasa’s Tom Lubbe:

Les Orris Rouge 2007
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalans

60% Grenache Noir and 40% Syrah, this is a stylish and elegant wine with well balanced oak and good acidity.

Les Orris Blanc 2007
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalans

This lovely blend of Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Macabeu is my favourite of the pair, offering aromas of herbs and lemon rind with a slightly creamy palate showing a hint of oxidation and resinous oak, fresh grapefruit and a long clean finish.

It is nice to know that at least one of the stunning white wines of the area is widely available in the UK at an affordable price.

There is no doubt that Calce is a great area for winemaking, the evidence was right there before our eyes, and it seemed that the excitement, sense of purpose, willingness to experiment and the sheer joy of wine had rubbed off on all the producers that we met. I thank them all and look forward to keeping an eye on these exciting wines over the years.

10 thoughts on “My visit to Calce in Roussillon and tasting at the town hall

  1. I found very informative. The article is professionally written and I feel like the author knows the subject very well. keep it that way.

  2. With regard to the article, following your visit to Calce, I would inform you that Mr Lawrence Wine Merchant is an importer of the wine from Chateau Lafforgue. As well as the two wines mentioned, we also import the Cotes du Roussillon and Roussillon Village. In addition we also import Domain Joliette from the same region

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