The appellation of Faugères celebrated its 30th birthday earlier this year. That may not seem much of a milestone, but it makes it one of the oldest table wine appellations in the Languedoc, along with St. Chinian. Yet these days, some of Faugères’ most exciting wine is being made by newcomers to the area.
Faugères is a relatively small appellation, covering 2,100 hectares (about 8 square miles), with vineyards around the village of Faugères and six other little villages and hamlets in Languedoc, a region in the south of France. This is the Languedoc scenery at its finest, with the backdrop of the mountains of the Espinouse, and hillsides covered with garrigues, the shrubs and herbs of the Mediterranean.
The grape varieties of Faugères are the classic varieties of the Languedoc, namely Syrah, Grenache Noir, Carignan and maybe Mourvèdre, while Cinsaut tends to be used for the small amount of Rosé. There is also a tiny amount of white wine, from varieties such as Roussanne, Marsanne, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc. White wine only became part of the appellation in 2004. And the soil of Faugères is schist, which makes for fresh wines, with spicy fruit and tannin.
The production of Faugères is dominated by its cooperative, but much more exciting wine comes from the growing number of independent producers, currently totaling 54. Twelve of those are complete outsiders, coming from places as diverse as England, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Champagne and Bordeaux. For comparison’s sake, at the end of the last century there were three cooperatives and 35 independent producers, with hardly anyone from outside the region.
So what is the attraction of Faugères? Australian Paul Gordon, who started Domaine la Sarabande with his Irish wife, Isla, summed it up very nicely: “Faugères ticked all the boxes: It is close to the mountains, close to the sea, has good soil and great wines, nice villages, and it is not too busy.” Also significant is the fact that you can still find land to buy, or rent, and at an affordable price.
Another rising star among the newcomers is Domaine des Trinités. Simon Coulshaw is British, and his wife, Monika, comes from Barcelona. Simon worked in IT until 2004 when it was time for a career change. He elected to do a two-year wine-making course at Plumpton in East Sussex. He thought about buying land in Sussex, but southern reds are his real passion, and so he began the search for vineyards and a cellar in the Mediterranean, looking in Spain as well as in the Midi.
Finding unrealized potential of Languedoc wine
The Rhône valley was out of his budget, but in the Languedoc good vineyard land was still affordable. However, he had very precise ideas as to what he wanted. Above all, he wanted an interesting terroir, not vineyard land on the plain. He also was looking for unrealized potential; if you buy an estate that is already doing well, there is nowhere to take it. He found what he was looking for in the 107th property he visited, in the village of Roquessels. He was so excited that he completely forgot, to Monika’s dismay, to look at the house which came with the cellar.
The vineyards comprise 15 hectares of Faugères, around the village of Roquessels, and nine hectares of the newer cru of the Languedoc, Pézenas, around the village of Montesquieu. The previous owner had produced much more bulk than bottled wine, so there was enormous scope for development. The cellar was already well-equipped, with stainless steel vats and a very efficient basket press from 1928!
You might expect a clash between the old and the new producers, but that is not the case. The newcomers may come with ideas and experience from elsewhere, and have contributed to the energy of the appellation. But the appellation is also maintained by the longer-established estates, such as Domaine Ollier-Taillefer and Domaine Jean-Michel Alquier, which are now run by the children of the people who created the original appellation.
Jean-Michel is the son of Gilbert Alquier, who was the first to plant Syrah in the area and the first to age his wines in small barrels, rather than the traditional large casks of the Midi. Today, with wines such as La Maison Jaune and Les Bastides, he is considered to be one of the best wine growers of Faugères.
Most wine growers will make two or even three different red wines. Take the estate of Domaine Ollier-Taillefer, in the pretty village of Fos, now run by Luc and Francoise Ollier. Their father was one of the very first Faugères producers to put his wine in bottle back in 1975. Their entry-level wine, Les Collines, a blend of Grenache and Syrah aged in vat for several months, is ripe and supple.
Next comes la Grande Réserve. From a selection of the best vineyard plots, with lower yields, and again aged in vat, it is more concentrated with more aging potential. Finally, there is the oak-aged Castel Fosibus, with more structure and weight, and firm streak of tannin. Essentially, good Faugères is Midi sunshine in a glass, a lovely warm spicy wine, with a streak of tannin, and the scent and flavor of the garrigues that surround the vineyards.
Top photo: A vineyard in southern France. Credit: Rosemary George