When most people think of Southern France, they think of the picturesque lavender fields in Provence or the sparkling blue waters of Cote D’Azur. For those who appreciate wine, however, the Languedoc region may also spring to mind. A large appellation spanning the Spanish border to Nimes, Languedoc is finally coming into prominence on its own, extending beyond in-the-know wine aficionados to pique the interest of mainstream wine circles. Sitting on the Mediterranean coast just above Spain, it enjoys a warm, sunny climate, producing a wide range of ripe and fruity wines and more international varietals than any other region in France.
Although it’s France’s largest wine-producing region, Languedoc is still one of the most underrated wine regions in the world, making its wines very much value for money. Previously known only as a commercial wine region producing bulk wines, interest in Languedoc has grown rapidly in the past few decades, sparked by a number of industry experts who have since observed that the wines could compete with the prestigious Château Lafite.
To learn more about the rise of Languedoc and why the region’s wines are consistently referred to as extreme value for money within the industry by critics and buyers alike, we spoke with Basile Guibert, a second-generation winemaker whose family owns Mas de Daumas Gassac, one of the leading producers in the Languedoc region. Despite receiving international recognition for its wines, Mas de Daumas produces wines under the modest AOC designation of Vin de Pays de l’Herault, given its location and use of grapes outside the designated region. Leveraging the climate, the winery grows more than 25 grape varieties, largely based on the founders’ love of travel and discovery of varieties from different wine regions that they’ve visited over the years.
Despite its relatively young history, the Guibert family has built an impressive reputation with its high-quality wines, informally referred to as the ‘Grand cru of the Languedoc’. Yet Basile puts on few airs: A serial multi-tasker, he’s never still; between tastings of the latest release of his wines, he was quick to respond to a steady stream of clients as well as retrieve the correct stemware for our tasting. Between glasses of a refreshing 2017 Viognier and a highly sought-after 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (an astonishing blend of those 25 grape varieties mentioned earlier), we spoke to Basile about what it’s like to uphold a legacy with wines that have been compared to Lafite, and why it’s worth paying a visit to Languedoc.
Languedoc is a marvellous land with amazing wines at good price. True, 200 years ago, Languedoc was all about volume. Then about 40 years ago, to the shock of the region, a wine journalist wrote about how this wine in Languedoc could compete with Château Lafite. Suddenly thousands of wine growers who hadn’t made much money read that their wine could be like first-growth Bordeaux. Until then, no one had succeeded yet in showing the world that we could make excellent wine.
It started with my parents, who in 1984 had the winemaker Oliver Jullien make excellent wine and show that it could age. In 1994 we had Grange des Péres, a cult wine. Today we have a generation of 100–200 top wine growers. Famous estates in Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhone have been passed down for up to 16 generations; we have only passed down to the 2nd generation. That means we have 40 years of history compared to 600 years of history. People don’t know my village of Aniane but everybody knows Chassagne-Montrachet and Gevrey-Chambertin because of the weight of the story — not just because it’s expensive but because of its presence in the history of wine.
But ours is a land of value. Our wine is rarer than Lafite or Romanée Conti — and it’s cheaper. If you look at vintages from my estate in the 1980s or 1990s, you will find less of it than DRC on the secondary market.
In terms of influence, let’s take for example our Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Today most of the wineries in the region stick to Languedoc grapes. We are unique even when it comes to our style of wine in the region — there’s no one like us because it’s not Languedoc style, it’s somewhere between Bordeaux, South of France and Italy. My father passed away two years ago at 92; he started the winery when he was 45. When you are considered a legend in Languedoc and you build something that famous, you want to protect it. My three other brothers worked with my father, and it took until my father let go in 2008 for them to have control. Even if we are four stupid brothers, we work hard — there is not a lazy one amongst us — and we are always looking to improve.
We are building a new warehouse for improving logistics and storage, and upgrading our IT systems with the latest ERP software. We have 40 employees and growing market share. We are going to consolidate in the near future with a second estate to come as we can’t produce enough to meet demand. We currently have two lines, an everyday drinking Moulin de Gassac and a more premium Mas de Damas Gassac. Even this year as Bordeaux is decreasing prices, we are going to increase our prices. Last year due to frost, we were 20–30% down in production, 30% up in demand. We need to ration allocation.
That said, it’s not about volume, it’s about the quality. We want to make something excellent and amazing every year. Then we want something in-between but will take time. We want to find something that everyone, including us four brothers and the rest of team, can commit to. All of our staff is very important because they work as much as we do and bring a lot to the company. We care about what they think.
First of all, our village is amazing — the sea is one hour from my home; the Pyrenees are close by with skiing only three hours away; or you can go to the Alps in Holland or Italy for skiing.
In terms of R&D when it comes to wine, I think that Languedoc is much more advanced than other countries because it’s an important industry for us and there is innovation due to the volume produced. Languedoc is the biggest producer of wine in the world — bigger than Australia and Napa. For us, the opportunity is there — more people have a chance to drink a HK$150 bottle of wine than a bottle of Lafite. I prefer to be a unique brand than be one of 150 first growers in Bordeaux because it’s hard to differentiate. They have to work twice as hard to stay where they are.
Every year someone comes knocking on the door and we don’t want to hear the price. We have the most prestigious estate in Languedoc, a brand that people trust and we’re distributed in 70 markets. Of course it’s tempting. We could each take $10–20 million Euros, and then we all live our dream — I would be surfing in Indonesia. But instead I’m struggling everyday. I wake up at 7am and go to bed at 2am, I fight, I love, I live a life. That’s exciting. My parents were the first Languedoc producers at Vinexpo in Bordeaux 25 years ago when Languedoc was not shiny or sexy. It’s hard, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When you’re in Languedoc, buy goat cheese that’s been made in the past 48 hours. Put salt with the tomato to release the water, add olive oil, balsamic vinegar and herbs — basically the Mediterranean landscape. You can get lamb and beef from Avignon nearby. We’ve got oil, fresh vegetables and fruits — all of which pair extremely well with our value-priced wine. We are not Cote D’Azur or Loire Valley with the castles or Burgundy; what we are is Languedoc and that’s a new and exciting place to visit.