A mosaic of terroirs, vines and people

Brad Horne reports on Roussillon's fascinating melting pot of cultures and terroirs

Roussillon: a mosaic of terroirs, vines and people

Winetimelondon’s Brad Horne talks to the locals and reports on Roussillon’s fascinating melting pot of cultures and terroirs.

When we think of the Roussillon, what comes to mind? Perhaps over 300 days of sunshine? The cooler, beautiful seaside towns? The warm, wild, rugged countryside? Or maybe the wild garrigue that sets these wines apart?

I’ve been lucky to talk and meet with several growers, producers and wineries from the region including Eric Aracil, co-director in charge of exports at the CIVR. Eric is also a 4th generation winemaker, so he understands this place just like the winemakers and growers he represents. We spoke about the history, the soil and how interwoven they are.

“The region has been conquered seven times and with this brings new people, cultures, ideas and energy that you see when you visit the towns of the Roussillon. The land is still shifting under two tectonic plates, which creates little micro terroirs and vineyards.”

Le Vignon et Les Onze Terrasses (Domaine Lafage)

After this conversation, I was fascinated by this melting pot of cultures and terroir so took some time to sit down with Jean-Marc Lafage, the owner and winemaker, and Antoine Lespès, head of viticulture at Lafage.

Jean-Marc, a seventh-generation wine grower has vineyards dotted all over the region, from the schist and black marl of Maury to the altitude brown-red soils of gravelly clay and quartz of Les Aspres.

“It’s about micro vineyard management in a place like this, every soil, even in the same vineyards, can be different and needs to be treated so.

Soils, sub-soils, old vines, young vines, exposure, all come into play when you have vineyards across the region. How we manage this special terroir in different ways to create wines that express their place of origin is what we focus on.”

Jean-Marc in Centenaire Old Vine Vineyard

Antoine Lespès with Lafage’s small research vineyard in Maury are looking to not just help themselves but work for the benefit of the whole region. “We have the vineyards and capability to research, test and try things others in the region cannot. Be that canopy management, irrigation techniques and even different varieties including PiWi, looking towards the future with the challenges of climate change and not just heat but other climatic events.”

Antoine Lespès

Testament to this was Justin Howard-Sneyd, a Master of Wine and producer from Domaine of the Bee who was present at the chat. I spoke to him afterwards about this research and the region. I asked him how he saw Roussillon:

“A geographical coherence, in that it is a wedge of land between the mountains where three river valleys meet the sea. A cultural coherence in that the food and culture are largely Catalan, and it is sometimes called Northern Catalonia, a varietal coherence in that it is the home of Grenache in all its guises.”

Justin Howard-Sneyd MW & his wife Amanda

We also discussed what’s next for the region and what Justin felt was next for the place he chose to make wine.

“I hope for growing recognition of the whole region but also of the most exciting terroirs and of the best estates. I think the whites will grow in stature too and high-end wine tourism will become commonplace.”

Roussillon is a region of, yes, fantastic wines, but more than that, it’s a place of diversity. In terroirs, styles, vines, cuisine and people that make this small corner of south-west France not just exciting now, but also fascinating when looking toward the future.

Bradley Horne is a Wine Communicator, Educator, Presenter and Judge. He founded Winetimelondon, a social media platform, to educate, inform and engage with wine lovers. You can view Brad’s work, including a recent interview with Eric Aracil, on Instagram here.

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