I never fail to be impressed by the courage of the people who embark on a new venture, with no previous experience. Deborah and Peter Core both had high-powered jobs in London and then for various reasons decided that it was time for a change and that they would learn how to make wine – in New Zealand. You can’t get much further away than that. They thought about staying on, but Europe called, and in particular the south of France. They now have a five hectare block in three terraces outside the village of Caux, in the heart of the Hérault, and make a convincing range of wines under the name of Mas Gabriel.
I’ve tasted and drunk their wines a few times over the last couple of years, and earlier this week went round for an update cellar visit.
We started with 2009 rosé, Les Fleurs Sauvages, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault. 6.00€ It is a blend of Cinsaut, Oeillade and Carignan. Although the vineyards are classified in appellation Languedoc, you need to have Grenache as well in the blend, if you also have Carignan, hence the vin de pays. But so what. The grapes are all pressed so that the wine is a pretty delicate pink, with quite a broad dry nose, with fresh fruit on the palate, and a dry finish. I would call it a food rosé. Very little rosé is made in New Zealand, so pink wine making was not covered at all in their course, so that Peter and Deborah admit to being self-taught.
2009 Clos du Papillon Vin de Pays de l’Hérault blanc. 10.00€ A pure Carignan Blanc, from old vines. In 2009 they produced just 500 bottles. It is light golden in colour, with a firm, nutty nose. A third of the wine was fermented in an acacia barrel and left on the lees for two months. The rest was kept in vat. This has some lovely rounded nutty notes on the palate, with mouthfilling texture and a hint of honey on the finish. The wood is very well-integrated, giving a touch of spice to the wine. They are planning to plant more Carignan Blanc, and also some Vermentino.
2008 Trois Terraces, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 9.00€ is a pure Carignan, with no oak, This has a lovely vibrant colour, with some smoky berry fruit on the nose and some enticing cherry fruit, and peppery notes, with a fresh finish on the palate. There is a touch of acidity, as well as tannin, and the elegant rusticity that I associate with Carignan. A lovely long cherry fruit finish. The wine is fermented in vat, a classic fermentation and no carbonic maceration.
2009 Trois Terraces was bottled about six weeks ago. This too has a fresh cherry pepperiness on the nose, with quite a dense texture on the palate, with good tannins, some acidity and good balance. There is some lovely brambly fruit on the finish and the wine will develop with some bottle age.
2008 Clos des Lièvres, Coteaux du Languedoc 13.00€ is a blend of 60% Syrah, and 20% each of Carignan and Grenache. The Syrah and Grenache are aged separately in demi-muids of 500 litres and the Carignan in tank, and everything is blended together after a year and then spends six months in tank. It was bottled in the middle of June. The nose is quite solid and spicy, with peppery notes on the palate, with some tannin and oak, giving weight and concentration. A fresh, peppery finish, medium weight with quite a long finish, and plenty of ageing potential.
2007 Clos de Lièvres – 13.00€ I was much more aware of the oak on this, for the simple reason that it was aged in a newer barrel. The oak was more integrated on the palate than the nose; it needs decanting if you were to drink to now and it will certainly continue to develop in bottle.
And then they opened their very first wine, Clos Gabriel, vin de table. For all sorts of logistical reasons they failed to even register it as vin de pays , let alone as an appellation. They made just one wine in their first vintage, 2006, a blend of 65% Carignan, 25% Syrah, and 10% Grenache Noir. The Syrah and Grenache were aged in new demi-muids. It has some firm tannin and some concentrated fruit on the palate, but lacked the harmony of the later vintages, indeed demonstrating just how much their wine making has improved, as they have got to know their vineyards better.
They practice organic viticulture – using 30 tonnes of cow manure every year. And their yields are tiny 20 – 25 hls /ha, especially for the Languedoc, so they do not need to green-harvest. Their progress will be fascinating to observe and I am delighted that I met them so soon after their first vintage. And they deserve to go far.