Wine: The outsiders of the south of France

Jonathan Treloar left a New York finance career to make wine in France. Picture: Contributed

Jonathan Treloar left a New York finance career to make wine in France. Picture: Contributed

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ATTRACTED by low land prices and the potential, pioneers are heading to Languedoc Roussillon to realise their wine dreams.

Many of these new producers in southern France consider themselves outsiders. They have come from the “outside” into a career in wine, bringing with them a fresh approach. They have backgrounds in areas as diverse as teaching, music, IT, hospitality and banking. To underline this different way of doing things – they have even formed their own group called Outsiders Languedoc.

During an Outsiders’ recent visit to Edinburgh, I interviewed four people who are all now based in different parts of southern France. They might be doing things a little differently – but ultimately they are making exciting hand-crafted wines that we want to drink.

Jonathan Treloar of Domaine Treloar, domainetreloar.com

September 11, 2001 was the turning point in Jonathan Treloar’s career as an investment banker. Walking to his Merrill Lynch office in New York, he and his Kiwi wife Rachel were 500 metres from the Twin Towers when the planes hit. The tragedy provided the catalyst for the couple to leave the world of finance and pursue their dream. Within a year Jonathan had signed up to the Lincoln University winemaking course in Christchurch, New Zealand before taking a job as assistant winemaker at Neudorf wine estate in Nelson.

“I did look closely at investing in a vineyard in Waipara in New Zealand, but prices are high and I felt southern France offered better value and exciting potential,” says Treloar. He and his wife bought 10 hectares of vineyards in Trouillas, Côtes du Roussillon, which he farms organically using non-interventionist winemaking techniques, and no additives. His approach of maturing wines in bottle before release means that he offers a taste of Roussillon which we so rarely get to enjoy. His mature Tahi 2009 (£18.95, lsfinewines.co.uk) is a beautifully mellow red blend of syrah, grenache and mourvedre, while the more youthful La Terre Promise 2013 (£13, lsfinewines.co.uk) is a very characterful macabeo, grenache gris and carignan blanc white blend.

Jan and Caryl Panman of Chateau Rives-Blanques, rives-blanques.com

When Caryl showed me a picture of the view from her vineyard, I thought it was in Chile. With a dramatic backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees, Limoux is possibly the most startlingly beautiful of all the southern French regions. The Panmans had worked in Chile in the 1990s, so they felt very much at home when they discovered this 20 hectare Limoux wine farm near a nature reserve up for sale.

Fifteen years on, this Dutch couple are still working with the original owner of the farm, Eric Vialade – who is now teaching their son how to make wine – and with consultant Georges Pauli of Chateau Gruard Larose in Bordeaux. Limoux is mid-way between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean – and this high altitude (1,000ft) region makes thrilling fresh whites. The Panmans make the world’s only barrel-fermented Mauzac Blanc Occitania 2013 (£12.95, lsfinewines.co.uk; tanners-wines.co.uk; greatwesternwine.co.uk), but I particularly loved their sleek, clean, elegant Burgundian-style Limoux Odysee Chardonnay 2013 (£12.95, lsfinewines.co.uk).

Ruth and Charlie Simpson of Domaine Sainte Rose, sainterose.com

“I started learning about wine whilst living in Azerbaijan,” says Scots-born Ruth Simpson. Working with her husband in international relations in remote places around the world, they felt a need to settle to pursue a career in one place and bring up their young family. They both loved wine and France, so in 2002 they headed to Servian in Languedoc, attracted by the price of a beautiful run-down old chateau – once a 12th-century staging post for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela – and 33-hectare vineyard alongside. Thirteen years on, they are now expanding their horizons with a new vineyard purchase in Kent to make English sparkling wines, using their viticultural expertise learnt abroad.

The Simpsons make affordable, easy-going Languedoc wines from barrel selection Roussanne 2013 (£11.99, waitrosecellar.com) to Coquille d’Oc Rose 2013 (£5.99/£7.99, waitrose.com).

Katie Jones of Domaine Jones, domainejones.com

Hailing from Leicestershire, Katie Jones was not born into a winemaking family. A linguist, she was tempted to a life abroad, so signed up to a marketing job working for Mont Tauch, a French co-operative in Fitou. After 17 years, she decided to buy a 7 hectare hillside vineyard Maury, setting up her own winery with help from Australian winemaking consultant David Morrison. She also acquired a vineyard near her own village of Paziols in Fitou. Today, Jones and her French fiancé tend 25 different vineyard parcels and make beautifully handcrafted wines with local carignan, grenache and syrah – and she is experimenting with a new strain of “hairy-leaved grenache”.

However, Jones’ story illustrates some of the difficulties that outsiders can face when arriving in a traditional wine village. After the 2012 vintage, two of her full wine vats were emptied by vandals while Katie was attending a wine fair abroad. The local police turned a blind eye, but Jones found huge support from her homeland – UK-based Naked Wines got their Angels involved to help her out – and the UK trade is where she now sells many of her wines. Her high security fences now help keep out grape-loving wild boars as well as vandals.

Domaine Jones Fitou 2012 (£13.99, Majestic Wine; £14.95, The Wine Society) is a delicious fruity modern-style fitou, soft and succulent. Her Domaine Jones Blanc Grenache Gris 2013 (£17, The Wine Society; Henderson Wines, Edinburgh) is an intriguingly rich, honeyed white.

• Join Rose’s French Classic Wine Tasting on 4 March, Edinburgh, £40, rosemurraybrown.com

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