Domaine de la Grange des Peres (or ‘barn of fathers’) is everything a ‘cult’ wine should be. Tiny but meticulous production, a superbly talented winemaker, wonderful terroir and a baying mob of customers desperate to get their hands on a bottle. This is the land that marketing forgot – no fancy labels, no export manager, no tasting room to welcome visitors. Twitter? Facebook? A website? Getting through to someone on the telephone is difficult enough. If it wasn’t for the (government) signpost on the main road, you wouldn’t even know the place existed.
Laurent Vaillé had been a physiotherapist by trade, but he quit his job in the early 80s to pursue a career in winemaking. After studying viticulture and oenology, Laurent worked at a number of prestigious domaines (including JF Coche-Dury, JL Chave and Domaine de Trevallon) before returning to his family home near Aniane. The Vaillé family already had some prime land just off the main road between Aniane and Gignac (bought by Laurent’s grandfather back in the 1950s) but much of it wasn’t planted with vineyards. Laurent set about planting vines on the existing land while supplementing it with a few more hectares and, by 1992, he was ready to release the first vintage of his wine.
Having young vines in an unheralded terroir is not exactly a recipe for success, but Vaillé was happy to follow the lead of his neighbour Aime Guibert (Mas de Daumas Gassac) by planting Cabernet Sauvignon and foregoing the local appellation (AOC Coteaux du Languedoc). Much of the confidence that Vaillé and Guibert shared was due to the sublime terroir on ‘Le Tourtou’, a high altitude hill-top with rocky limestone and clay soil. The legend of Daumas Gassac had been built on relatively low-yields from young vines on great terroir, so Laurent Vaillé took this model even further, slashing the yields to as low as 10-25 hl/ha depending on the vintage conditions.
1992 was an excellent start for GdP and although there were only 250 cases made, Laurent produced a dense, concentrated wine packed with flavour. When Robert Parker tasted and scored it 90 points, a star was born and collectors began a stampede for allocations that continues to this day. Today’s Domaine de la Grange des Peres extends over approx 12ha and is a collection of parcels within a couple of miles radius from their non-descript ‘barn’.
These are very much wines that are ‘made in the vineyard’ and the viticultural philosophy is one of lutte raisonée (or reasoned struggle), although the methods are, in fact, almost entirely organic. Vaillé dismisses this (and other such labels) as marketing ploys, insisting that he ploughs the vineyards, uses minimal (if any) treatments and bottles and racks with the lunar cycle simply because it gets the best results.
It took ages to assemble, but we finally managed to collect eight vintages of the red (Cabernet/Syrah/Mourvedre with a touch of Counoise) and two of the insanely rare white wine (Roussanne/Chardonnay with a touch of Marsanne). Here is a quick run down of my thoughts on each wine.
Absolutely delicious. Rich, fresh and complex, combining elements of white Rhone and white Burgundy. Still young.
Much more development here. Pleasant enough, but past its best and pales in comparison to the ’98.
Difficult. Seems to be in an awkward stage at the moment, as though it is yet to fully integrate. Clunky.
Much better than the ’06. Starting to soften, but full of fruit and minerality. Not massively complex, but an attractive wine.
Again, not enough complexity here. An enjoyable wine, but showing signs of the warm vintage. Slightly cooked fruit and not much else.
At the tasting, this was showing badly with some volatility and serious bottle variation in the two that were opened. A week later (at dinner with friends) it was delicious and youthful, with vibrant fruit and a lovely savoury character.
Superb. The pick of the bunch for me (and most others) which is unsurprising considering the quality of the vintage. Rich but not confected fruit, leather and meat on the mid palate and a long mineral-laden finish. Still plenty to come from this wonderful wine.
1997 Rouge (from magnum)
The other contender for red of the night. Fresh as a daisy (the mag was pristine) and beautifully balanced. Lacking the complexity of the ’98, but delicious all the same.
Fading. Bloody notes on the palate and the fruit is falling away. Well past its heyday.
Better than the ’96 but on its way down the same road.
The wine of the night was the ’98 blanc (as voted by nearly the entire audience). When we voted on the reds alone, the ’98 narrowly pipped the ’97 to the post. As a massive fan of this domaine I was particularly excited about the opportunity to taste so many vintages of the wine. I will admit to feeling slightly dissapointed overall, although there was enough excitement from the two ’98s, the ’97 magnum and my experience later in the week with the ’99 at dinner, to confirm to me that this is a superb source of Southern French wine.
Original Article Authored by Mark Andrew MW