Investment in mountain vineyards pays off for southern France wine producer

More than twenty years ago, Nicolas and Miren de Lorgeril sought vineyards at higher altitudes in the foothills of the mountains of southern France with no idea that climate change and global warming existed. At the time, they were going against the grain in their region of Languedoc because it was an area known for its cheap wines and the stigma persisted even when producers were making high quality wines, but at the time, we thought that if the winemakers made very ripe and concentrated wines with a lot of density then they would be taken seriously. But Miren and Nicolas were young and withdrew from other opportunities to help with Nicolas’ family vineyards because his mother was tired and the dream of his father, who had died 15 years earlier, had not fully come true.

Not only would Nicolas’ father’s dream eventually come true, but that dream would be taken to heights he could never have imagined.

House Lorgeril

The Lorgeril family has been the guardian of a precious Languedoc domain, Pennautier Castle, since 1620, their roots therefore go deep into this region of southern France. But like many other wine regions in Europe in the mid to late 1800s, the devastating phylloxera pest destroyed Languedoc vineyards, forcing its local economy to collapse. And despite their historic family estate which is a glorious monument to the region, known as the Versailles of the South, times were extremely hard for the inhabitants and the Lorgeril family. Thus, people could no longer plant vines on the hillside, as quantity was more important than quality as locals were just drinking during these desperate times to earn enough calories to work, and as a result, vines were relegated in the fertile lowlands. “My husband’s grandmother sold land on the hillside to afford to buy land on the plain to cultivate vines”, notes Miren de Lorgeril, because the mentality today is probably the opposite, the hillside being much more valued.

When Miren and her husband, Nicolas de Lorgeril, first married, he was pursuing another career outside of viticulture and she was working for another producer in the Rhone Valley – not so far from Languedoc, then Nicolas received word from her mother that she had reached an age where it was becoming too cumbersome to watch over their House Lorgeril family properties and that he was to take over. Miren immediately followed her husband to Languedoc and their priority was to produce fresh and elegant wines. Immediately, they went to each estate to warn the winemaker, to his disbelief, that freshness and elegance were preferred over intense concentration.

Miren and Nicolas have worked hard to make elegant wines from their vineyards that have been managed with sustainable practices while pursuing sales in other countries around the world instead of continuing the tradition of selling through from a local wine merchant, as the wine merchant was all about taking the easy route of selling the wines as bargains while completely ignoring the lovely sense of place their wines displayed. During this time, Nicolas pursued his other career helping to fund the significant changes needed to take his family’s wine business to the next level.

Reach greater heights

After many years of trying to break into various European and Asian markets, Miren and Nicolas decided they needed to buy more estates throughout Languedoc as well as the neighboring Roussillon region. Many distributors in other countries were impressed with their wines at the time, but they needed a wider range of styles, varietals and terroirs to have a chance of entering international markets. And that became the motivation for the Lorgerils to buy more vineyards in different regions, vineyards that were high-altitude sites in Languedoc-Roussillon that ranged between 400 and 1,200 feet above sea level. If they did everything they could to make the world stop and appreciate the brilliance and elegance of their region, they would pull out all the stops and choose the vineyards they thought represented the best of Languedoc and Roussillon. And then, in 2000, they released the first vintage of their wines labeled “Terroirs d’Altitude”, emphasizing their cooler climate sites which went against the large and robust wines on which Languedoc had built his reputation.

Now, with many parts of the world experiencing record-breaking heat waves like what happened to various parts of the western world over the past summer, the Lorgerils couldn’t be happier than the choices they’ve made. so long ago, when they had no knowledge of climate change, benefit them today and secure a strong future for their children.

Dynamic wine region

There are many European wine regions where locals resent foreigners buying estates and making wine. And although Nicolas de Lorgeril traces his family back to 1620 in Languedoc, he and his wife like that there is no overvaluation of their land because it allows young people from all over to buy vineyards in Languedoc for pursue their dreams, bringing with them a lot of creativity and dynamism that have contributed to bringing a large part of the vineyard to life in organic farming, and the Lorgerils became organic ten years ago. Miren de Lorgeril said it was a great contrast to their arrival in Languedoc, as it seemed impossible to get the world to take them seriously as a wine region. Yet today, Languedoc is becoming a place where many retail stores and restaurants around the world want to source French wines, as wine producers find an ideal balance of ripeness and freshness in high altitude sites, it is extremely easy to be organic there and the prices are very reasonable.

All those years ago, Nicolas de Lorgeril’s father believed that Languedoc could become a high-quality French wine region, even in the shadow of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and he wrote precise instructions for his wife to make high quality wine in case of her death. And in a way, this paper became the greatest treasure he could leave to his family because it gave hope for a better future – he was determined that his beloved region would not fall into oblivion, with many abandonment of vineyards for other crops.

But maybe he couldn’t imagine that his son and daughter-in-law would sell the family’s wines all over the world and that people from different places would settle in Languedoc because they saw the potential for to become Europe’s next exciting wine region. Or maybe, just maybe he could imagine all of this, and more to come, as he sat gazing at his magnificent estate of Château de Pennautier, knowing that even though the inhabitants lived hand to mouth, that just like his glorious palace, the best vineyards were waiting to be discovered by the world. And once they were, the world would be completely mesmerized by the beauty that came from home.

House Lorgeril Languedoc Rosé

2021 Maison Lorgeril, Ô de Rosé, Languedoc, France: 60% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 5% Viognier harvested from three different estates in Languedoc then vinified together. Nice notes of white cherry and wet stones with a hint of raspberry on the finish.

Wines from the “Terroirs d’Altitude” estate of Maison Lorgeril

2020 Marquis de Pennautier, Chardonnay, Cabardès, Languedoc, France: 100% Chardonnay from their historic Pennautier estate in the hilltop town of Carcassonne in Languedoc. In a north-facing site that ranges from 750 to 1,200 feet in elevation. Aromas of lemon curd with hints of minerality and smoothness on the mid-palate with spice and lively acidity. And this Chardonnay is one of their most popular wines, which might seem odd considering that the spiritual home of Chardonnay, Burgundy, is just north of them. But the balance of just enough fruit ripeness with lively acidity and minerality at a moderate price made this wine a big seller.

2019 Château de Caunettes, Cabardès, Languedoc, France: Red blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache. Earth lifted with turmeric powder and cardamom pods balanced by juicy dark cherry fruits.

2019 Château de Ciffre, Saint-Chinian, Languedoc, France: Red blend of 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre. Fresh blackberries with a touch of leather and bacon fat with finely etched tannins.

2019 Domaine de la Borie Blanche, Minervois la Liviniere, Languedoc, France: Red blend of 70% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache. Red blend of Syrah (50% of which is grown on shale soils and 20% undergoes carbonic maceration) and the rest Mourvèdre and Grenache. Notes of black pepper on the nose with wild mushrooms and wildflowers in the background and a good weight on the palate with fresh blackberry and black cherry fruit ending in silky tannins.

About Michael Brafford

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