In just over 30 years, Mas de Daumas Gassac has become one of France’s most respected wines which is an incredible feat considering it is not in one of the ‘famed areas’ for fine wine. It is, in fact situated in the Languedoc and has been described as “A Lafite in Languedoc” by Gault & Millau, “Exceptional” by Robert Parker and “One of the 10 best wines in the world” by Michael Broadbent.
The winery and vineyards are located in the Gassac Valley in the Languedoc and was founded in 1970 by Aime Guibert and his wife who fell in love with the area and bought an abandoned farmhouse once owned by the Daumas family. The first vines were planted in 1972 and the first red wine vintage came in 1978, followed by their first white vintage in 1986.
Aime Guibert, a glove maker by trade had no real experience in making wine so after a long and arduous attempt to enlist the services of one of France’s top oenologists of the time, Emile Peynaud agreed to assist in the making of the wines. Mr. Peynaud was renown at the time for making wines at Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion and Chateau La Lagune.
In no time at all the Guibert family had a world class wine from an area never associated with fine wine and the winery and the region shot to fame when Napa Valley wine mogul Robert Mondavi attempted to buy up, and deforest, a lot of the land nearby the Gassac Valley. Aime and his family (along with others in the area) staunchly opposed the sale and in the end the Mondavi’s backed down and the residents got their wish.
Wine Times sat down and spoke to Aime’s youngest son Basile, representative for Mas de Daumas Gassac and winemaker in training about the world-renown winery, how it came to be such a prominent wine in such a short space of time and how they fought of big corporation to keep the village and surrounding areas in local ownership.
WTHK: Your parents knew nothing about wine or winemaking when they bought the property right?
BG: “No, nothing. But they did love wine as my mum’s a lover of the Rhone Valley and my dad is into First Growth Bordeaux wines such as Latour. They did not know how to train vines, how to do maceration and stuff like that. But they were always interested in wine. At the time when they bought the property, my father was in the leather business which was crashing at the time because after 1969 women no longer found it fashionable to wear gloves. When they bought the property 30km north of Montpellier it only had olive and fig trees…and a lot of weeds! They called their friend Henri Enjalbert to take a look around and assess the property and he came back after a few hours and said “you’ve got amazing soil”! So they planted Cabernet Sauvignon and it all started from there”.
WTHK: The first vintage of Mas de Daumas Gassac was in 1978. Many people assume you’ve been around for longer than that! That says something about the quality and the meteoric rise to fame, no?
BG: “We, the family, know we cannot consider ourselves in such high esteem without 100 years of history and we feel like we still have a lot to prove. The second generation is just taking over with my eldest brother who has been working with father for about 10 years now. But you must remember that our first market was the export market, England actually. Michael Broadbent and Wine Spectator opened their arms to our wines which was great. I still feel we are very young and have been fortunate that we have all the ingredients in place to make great wines”.
WTHK: Do you think that the Languedoc is still better known for its bad wines rather than its good wines?
BG: “If you look at the production and exports for French wine you need to look at two things – value and volume. If you look at the volumes, they are coming from the Languedoc. If you look at value, these are wines coming from Bordeaux. Unlike Bordeaux, there are only a handful of wineries in the Languedoc that make great wines so it’s harder for this region to feed off each other’s fame. One benefit is that the Languedoc is cheaper than Burgundy or Bordeaux for example so young winemakers can come to area and buy land to make wines with – it’s almost like a laboratory for young winemakers. But the soils and the micro climate in the region is perfect for making great wines and I think it will take some time for this to happen”.
WTHK: Your father fought hard against Robert Mondavi. Do you think that his battle has preserved a part of your region’s heritage?
BG: “Yes, definitely. Firstly, it was the family who fought together but my father was the face of the family. But it was also the whole village that fought together. I don’t think it mattered that it was an American who wanted to do this, there would have been opposition to the plans whomever it was. They wanted to cut down an oak forest that no one should be allowed to touch and one that should be preserved. In the end six hectares of forest was cut down but it finally ended up with a local French winemaker. We fought, we were happy to win but sometimes the village thinks in hindsight that it would have been good for the image of the place to have the American winery there. Had Mondavi had taken the land he would have done a huge promotion campaign for the region, which would have been good. But the reason the area is famous today is because of the hard work of our local French wineries”.
WTHK: You are one of five brothers. Do you all get on well or do you fight all day?!
BG: “Erm…both! We are all family and we don’t choose who are siblings are and we don’t choose who are parents are! In terms of inheritance for the winery, all five of us are at the same level – this is one of the problems with France! My oldest brother always jokes that it would have been better before Napoleon as back then it was the eldest who got everything! It’s great that we are all going to share in the winery as a family and keep the heritage and tradition going. But we all work well together and have different and complimentary rolls within the family business. Working with your brothers means you can talk frankly to each other, but it’s a lot about respect at the end of the day”.
WTHK: Did you always want to be a winemaker when you were growing up or was it somehow forced upon you?
BG: “I love nature. I feel the most comfortable when I am out in the forests or amongst the vines. But I also love city life too! I have spent a lot of my life living is cities for studying so far. But I was born in a vineyard and I have been taught how to ‘talk’ to the vines from a very young age. I am just learning winemaking right now under my brother at Mas Daumas and, working at night I am learning more and more. But it’s still a question that I ask myself; whether I am following in my father’s path because he brainwashed me or if I am doing it for myself! I think I am pretty close to finding the answer out”!
Mas de Daumas Gassac wines are exclusively imported into Hong Kong by Altaya wines. For more information you can contact them by e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out their website www.altayawines.com