March 5, 2010 La Grange de Quatre Sous
La Grange de Quatre Sous Le Jeu du Mail
We’ve settled into a village north of Beziers. Our plan is to spend a month here, exploring Languedoc & Roussillon within a driving radius of a couple of hours. We are within the French wine appellation of Saint-Chinian. There are vineyards everywhere, although several more weeks will have to pass before there will be any sign of leaves. The bare stock is fascinating in itself, especially the older vines — bent and twisted, forming rows of aged black sculptures. Eventually there will emerge a range of grape varieties, including grenache, syrah, mourvèdre (together accounting for about 60% of the production), although it is the traditional carignan and cinsault that still makes the hearts of many vignerons sing. Of the white varieties, grenache blanc, marsanne, and roussanne predominate.
My very first stop after leaving Beziers airport was a wine shop, a caviste, in the town of St.-Chinian called Espace Vin. I know their stock; I’ve seen it online. They specialize in the wines of Languedoc and their spacious store is filled with the output of a myriad of domaines that up to now I have only been able to read about. It will no doubt be the first of several visits.
Two of the wines I come away with are made by La Grange de Quatre Sous, and it is there I show up for an appointment, late in the afternoon, two days later.
We are welcomed by Hildegard Horat-Diop, and with equal enthusiasm by one of the winery’s dogs, a real charmer. It sets a generous tone that fills the next hour. The vigneronne, Swiss by birth, has been established here, near the village of Assignan, for more than twenty-five years. She has persisted, against the odds, first for beginning her career as a female winemaker at a time when they were a rarity in France, and because she has never let herself be governed by the strict rules of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. Today none of the wines from her 8 hectares bear the Saint-Chinian designation. They are all Vin de Pays d’Oc. And from the start her methods have been organic, because, as she tells us, it was her natural inclination. (Yet she has never promoted her wines on that basis, unwilling to set herself apart from her neighbouring domaines, even though in the early years they thought her methods rather bizarre.)
Hildegard Horat-Diop is a devoted producer whose reds and whites all have considerable and lasting impact on the person fortunate enough to have access to them. She thrives on experimenting. She has become known for her interesting blends, and for introducing varietals rare in France, including a Swiss grape called petit arvine.
Not many years after the start-up of La Grange de Quatre Sous, a second female winemaker and her husband established Mas Champart not far away. The two vigneronnes became good friends, and are today part of the newly established association of 18 female winemakers of Languedoc-Roussillon, known as Vinifilles. They have come together, not to separate themselves from their male counterparts, but to share their common experiences in the passion they feel for viniculture.
La Grange de Quatre Sous Le Jeu du Mail 2007
The premier vin blanc of La Grange de Quatre Sous here makes a roadside stop in Assignan. My first taste of this wine was during a picnic along one of the many byways to be found when travelling the backroads of Languedoc. It alternated with slices of juicy pear. Such elegance at midday!
The spicy aromatics of the viognier, together with the subtle mineral qualities, give a piquant air. There is grace under the pressure of 14% alcohol. A freshness of bare, understated fruit, a touch of mint perhaps. This is a substantial, enduring wine. One to return to many times. No less a wine personage than Kermit Lynch has called it of “grand cru” stature. It bears the label very well. $