Domaine de l’Aster and Pézenas
Jacques Bihac was previously a shareholder in the Cabrières estate of Domaine du Temple, and how now taken over his grandparents’ vineyards, 28 hectares of vines, mainly outside the village of Péret, of which he vinifies and bottles the production of just six, the vineyards within the cru of Pézenas and the appellation of the Languedoc. The rest go to the cooperatives of Péret and Puilacher, which tend to concentrate on IGPs. Bilhac is a local name; there have been viticulteurs with that name in Péret since the 1640s. Jacques observed that you can find nearly all the soils of the Languedoc appellation in the hills around Péret, with basalt, from the nearby extinct volcano of Malhubert, villefranchien gravel, marl, Devonian sandstone and clay. The diversity makes for lots of choices when planting. Aster is the name of a pretty pink flower, which is usually to be seen at harvest time, and for that reason is often called a vendangeuse.
Jacques has built a neat little cellar and his barrel cellar contains just six barriques. He is particularly enthusiastic about his cooling equipment, the tool that has allowed the Languedoc to ‘sortir de la masse’, making a real impact on quality.
Prélude is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Vermentino; pink Angelicae, a variety of Aster, comes from Cinsaut, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Trescol, the name of the plot, is supple and fruity, a blend of Cinsaut, Carignan, Grenache Noir and a little Syrah, intended for early drinking as opposed to the more structured cuvées of Pézenas.
The first Pézenas is En montant la calade; a caladeis a stone street in a village and Jacques remembers a street like that in the centre of Péret as a school boy. Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre are given a three-week fermentation and aged in vat to make for some rounded fruit with some depth.
Le Hussard Noir is a homage to Jacques’s grandfather who was a lay school teacher, orhussard, as opposed to a religious teacher, during the Third Republic. This comes from 50% Mourvèdre with 35% Grenache and some Syrah, given twelve months in oak, and is quite serious and substantial. With a first vintage in 2015, I felt that Jacques had made a good start and as president of the syndicat of the cru of Pézenas, he also has the challenge of achieving appellation status for Pézenas.
The aspiring appellation of Pézenas covers fifteen surrounding villages, of which Nizas and Caux are the most important. However, it is difficult to see what really accounts for its tipicity. Jacques suggested the basalt that you see all over the area, but there are other soils too. The vineyards are on gentle hillsides, none higher than 300 metres and there is a climatic unity for this is one of the drier areas of the Hérault. It is an area of mainly of independent wine growers, with few of any significant size, making a total of 35, with four cooperatives, and as Jacques put it, no big locomotive for the appellation. He suggested that the tipicity of flavour is the finesse of the tannins, with fruit and spice.
Others consider that there are so many different terroirs that it is difficult to define Pézenas. It does almost seem to be an amalgam of villages that do not fit anywhere else and are conveniently close enough to Pézenas to be able to take advantage of its name. Christine Bertoli Mouton from Domaine Ste Cécile du Parc is quite dispassionate; ‘there is no tipicity, Pézenas is simply a geographic administrative area, with the advantage of its name, that is well known for Molière’.
Domaines Paul Mas produce Côté Mas, a blend of wines not only from Domaines Mas, but from other contributing producers. Jean-Claude Mas himself is optimistic about the future of Pézenas; it is true that they need to create a specific style of wine, with a coherent message, but it has the potential to be a convincing appellation with an excellent image and reputation.