Just before crossing the Spanish border, at the southernmost limit of France, is this region “which we call North Catalonia or Roussillon, depending on whether or not we want to open the door to the roar and fury of Francoism”. These are the terms of Romain Cole in his magnificent book they are brutal! Catalonia through its natural winegrowers (Cambourakis, 2021). The Roussillon vineyard was built on these passing lands, between the Pyrenean terraces and the Mediterranean Sea, from a rebellious spirit: it went through several political and economic crises without losing its soul.
The aridity of these landscapes, often swept away by the Tramuntana, has never attracted rich investors who could have transformed the vineyard, as in certain regions. Random, Provence. With family farms averaging 10 hectares or cooperative wineries (the latter concentrate three-quarters of the production), the winegrowers carried out their revolution alone, armed with their strong personality and unwavering will. After decades of effort, their wines display a lightness that is well suited to our light diet: as in the kitchen, where cooking time has been reduced, the aging time of their wines has been shortened. The production method has been simplified to focus on the quality of the fruit.
The search for delicacy
Whether their dry wines, or even their natural sweet wines, Rivesaltes, Maurys and other Banyuls, which represent 80% of fortified wines (whose fermentation has been stopped by adding eau de vivre) in France, they knew how to make them more digestible. But before, it was necessary, even before changing the methods of cultivation or vinification, to uproot tens of thousands of hectares. Since 1935, the vineyard area of Roussillon has decreased from 72,000 to around 20,000 hectares, more oriented towards dry wines. Natural sweet wines, once predominant, now account for just under half of the region’s total production. The Roussillon, whose essence resided in this type of wine, however, did not lose its soul by losing the sugar. Because the conservation of native grape varieties, such as the black, gray or white Grenache, the Macabeu, the Malvoisie, the small grain Muscat or the Cariñena, has made it possible to preserve the distinct personality of the Roussillon wines.
This development has not escaped sommeliers and wine merchants, who have seen Roussillon go from indifference to notoriety, from more or less rustic bottles to great wines for some. And that, constantly adapting to consumer tastes, as Gérard Gauby has done, a pioneer winemaker in the search for quality. “I attended the debut of Gérard Gauby, we were ecstatic trying his concentrated and woody wines, the same ones that we now reject! Today his wines are fruity, light, airy, almost Burgundian”, So writes Marie-Louise Banyols in her book From star to star 43 portraits of Roussillon wine (Trabucaire). Very popular leader in the search for finesse, he contributed with other winegrowers, the Montès, Gardiés, Pithon, Bizeul, among others, to this reversal of the situation.
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