I have just returned from Aniane, near Montpellier, southern France to visit a winery that has for a long time been on my ‘must visit’ list, Mas de Daumas Gassac.
It is not often that it can be said that one man or woman changes opiniones about a wine growing region. Aimé and Véronique Guibert achieved this with the wines of Mas de Daumas Gassac,
Their journey began in the 1971 when they purchased a rundown ‘mas’ or estate with a 300 year old house to be renovated, a derelict watermill and 60ha of land, mostly forest in the rolling hills of the Gassac Valley. They decided to move to this beautiful yet remote area and start a new life with their young family.
On of their first decisiones was to do grow on the land. The Languedoc Roussillon region of France was known for producing huge volumes of poor quality wine, so to invest in vineyards would not have appeared to be the best business plan.
The Guiberts had no experience in managing vineyards or making wines so they sought the advice of experts. Firstly there was Professor Henri Enjalbert, a renowned geologist from Bordeaux and considered to be the greatest living expert on the relationship between the soil and vines.
Professor Enjalbert was so impressed by the nature of the unique, virgin soils that he compared them to some of the fines he has seen in Burgundy.
In 1972 part of the forest was clear to plant the first vineyard was called ‘Peyra Fioc’ or ‘stone to make fire’ after the white calcium rocks which when struck together make sparks, planted Cabernet Sauvignon vines from cuttings collected from some of the leading properties in Bordeaux.
They worked tirelessly, and invested everything that had and much more into renovated the property as a home for their family of nine children, and building a winery in the derelict water mill with its deep cellar, kept cool by the cold water from the Gassac river that ran underneath.
They studied and learnt everything they could about vineyards, soils and winemaking. In was 1978 when they were ready for their first harvest and when Aimé contacted the renowned winemaker Professor Emile Peynaud. Professor Peynaud consulted for the top wineries in Bordeaux such as Chateaux Margaux and was in demand all over the world so had little time for a small start up vineyard in the Languedoc. But Aimé was persistent and persuaded him to come for a day.
He was impressed by what he saw and agreed with Professer Enjablbert that the soil and the unique local microclimate, had to potential to make wines with finesse and began advising Aimé on what do. He greatest advice to Aimé was the importance of tasting. A great winemaker must have to ability to taste in order to make the correct decisions at the right time to make fine wine.
The first vintages proved hard to sell, being expensive wines from the Languedoc. However, Aimé Guibert was a visionary with determination and courage, a strong belief in his wines and a great communicator.
It was not until some years later when the phone started to ring with restaurants and buyers wanting to buy the wines following enthusiastic reviews from some of the top French and international wine critics proclaiming the wines to be among the best in France.
From an inauspicious beginning 46 years ago, the wines are now sold out as soon as they are released and are sold all over the world.
Sadly, Aimé Guibert passed away last year. But today the winery is managed by his children and by all accounts is in very good hands.