Glove-maker with a fine touch for wines

Sat, Jan 14, 2012, 00:00

In the 1970s, Parisian glove-maker Aimé Guibert bought a Languedoc farm and succeeded in creating Mas de Daumas Gassac, a new classic, writes JOHN WILSON

IN 1970, PARISIAN glove-maker Aimé Guibert and his wife Véronique were searching for a new family home in the Languedoc. They came across an abandoned farmhouse owned by the Daumas family, in a valley through which the Gassac river flowed. The decision to plant vines came about by chance, when a friend, oenologist Prof Henri Enjalbert, visited the estate. He believed the soils were prefect for viticulture. The first vines were all Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the earliest plantings in the Languedoc.

After several years spent renovating the farm, another renowned oenologist, Prof Emile Peynaud of Bordeaux University was called in to assist with the first vintage in 1978. The wines were not an easy sell at first until influential Gault Millau magazine named Mas de Daumas Gassac “a Languedoc Ch. Lafite”. Overnight, a new name had been made.

A few years later, an eclectic range of white varieties were planted, including Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Manseng and Chenin Blanc. The estate now has an even more diverse range of varieties, including Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera for reds, and Muscat, Marsanne and Roussanne for white wines. In 1991, the Moulin de Gassac wines, made using local vines that were in danger of being grubbed up as growers were offered grants to rip up vines in a bid to cut production, were launched.

Aimé Guibert is a mix of dreamer and businessman. He is clearly obsessed with creating a truly great wine using traditional methods. He makes a memorable appearance in the 2004 documentary Mondovino, where he declares “All wine is dead” a reference to modern industrialised wines.

Yet Mas de Daumas Gassac has become a classic modern brand, offering everything from vinegars and T-shirts to Irish whiskey. Visitors are welcome at the estate, and they have a buoyant en primeur business and direct sales to the public.

The Guibert family have strong connections with Ireland, as they owned a house near Bantry and holidayed there for 40 years. There are five sons, three of whom work in the estate. The sons officially took over in January 2011. “Aimé found it hard to let go,” according to eldest son Samuel, who visited Ireland last autumn for a series of tastings and dinners. “It was his life, and we respect that. Now I hope there is a new energy, even a resurgence, and he is very happy with that.” Véronique has also retired. “She was always 50 per cent’, says Samuel. “She was the one who found the property, the one who convinced Aimé to buy it, and to go organic in 1972.”

Samuel gets very frustrated with French negativity at times. “We always seem to want to go to the lowest common denominator; our challenge is to make something fantastic, both father and son. Our first goal is to work on the white wine. My dad always talked about the red; the white was complex, but easier. We have made this our project. But you have to be humble with nature. You have to be creative, observant and patient. It all takes time.”

The red Grand Vin is in many ways atypical of the Languedoc. Low in alcohol, and made without huge amounts of new oak, it is the opposite of the typical full-bodied extracted premium wines of the region. It has variously been described as the Latour or Lafite of the Languedoc. With my limited tastings of these two, I would suggest Lafite is more accurate. It is certainly very Bordeaux in style – elegant and refined, with very fine blackcurrant fruits.

Daumas Gassac has certainly changed over the years, I remember in the mid-1990s tasting two vintages from the 1980s; they were hugely tannic and still in need of many years ageing. This may account for the comparison with Latour. More recent vintages are more approachable (although Samuel says that some diehards still prefer the more tannic versions), yet they are wonderful wines that every wine lover should try at least once. In fact, if I had the spare cash, I would give serious consideration to buying a case each of the Grands Vins.

Moulin de Gassac Classic Blanc 2010, Pays d’Hérault IGP, 12%, €8.99Made from grapes bought in from local growers, this is a very attractive light dry wine with plump, rounded fruits. Great value for everyday drinking. Stockists: Red Nose Wine, Clonmel; Curious Wines, Cork; Simply Wine, Ballyogan Business Park, D18; Cases Wine Warehouse, Galway. All offer an online delivery service.

Pont de Gassac Rouge 2010 Pays d’Hérault IGP, 13%, €14.99A second wine, made from the lesser estate wines, this has nicely defined dark fruits, with a refreshing mineral liveliness, and decent length. Elegant and very well-balanced, and drinking perfectly now. Stockists: Red Nose Wine, Clonmel; Curious Wines, Cork; Simply Wine, Dublin 18; Cases Wine Warehouse, Galway. All offer online delivery.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc 2009, Vin de pays de l’Hérault, Haute Vallée du Gassac, 13%, €38.99The surprise wine of the tasting for me. A beautifully poised, elegant wine, rich in complex pear and nectarine fruit, with a fine balancing acidity and very good length. I cannot think of another area to compare it with, but it was a great glass of wine. Stockists: Red Nose Wine, Clonmel; Curious Wines, Cork.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge 2007, Vin de pays de l’Hérault, Haute Vallée du Gassac, 13%, €38.99The self-styled Languedoc Grand Cru, this is an impressive, subtle wine, a ringer for a top Bordeaux, with its cool, elegant blackcurrant fruits, subtle spice, gentle minerality and long finish. You can certainly enjoy it now, but it will keep for five years, probably longer. I also tasted the 2004 vintage, available from select Mulloy’s Liquor Stores, which was equally good, beginning to show some maturity. The 2005 is available from 64wine, Glasthule. Stockists: Red Nose Wine, Clonmel; Curious Wines, Cork.

Wine tasting

Knockranny House, Westport, Co Mayo is holding a wine weekend on January 27th-28th. There will be seven small wine producers from five European countries hosting a walk-around tasting for guests, along with individual masterclasses, featuring older vintages and regional profiles.

On Saturday, the hotel chef Seamus Commons will prepare a dinner with matching wines. The weekend costs from €189pps for two nights BB, and the tastings and dinner on the Saturday. See khh.ie.

Before heading west, the same group of producers will also present their wines at a dinner in Beaufield Mews, Stillorgan, Co Dublin on Friday, January 27th, preceded by a walkaround tasting. Tickets are €65 single or €120 for two. Tel: 01-2880375.