Tue 21 Oct 2014

Rediscovering Lost Vines: The Story Of Saint Mont In Gascony

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Victoria Moore picked our white Côtes de Saint Mont, Les Vignes Retrouvées 2012 (£7.95 per bottle) as one of her best wine deals in The Telegraph earlier this month.

Here Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams tells us the story of this remarkable rediscovered wine region.

André Dubosc, right, with his successor, Olivier Bourdet-Pees. Photo by Michel Carrossio.

André Dubosc, right, with his successor, Olivier Bourdet-Pees. Photo by Michel Carrossio.

André Dubosc, winemaker and ex-president of the Plaimont group of co-operatives in Gascony, really needed a Tardis to go back in time. Yet he had more of an inkling than most of what this part of Gascony had been like; before phylloxera, which killed off so many vines, and just as importantly the Great War which in turned consumed so much of Gascony’s manpower.

The landscape in Gascony, memories in older generations and the presence of old, forgotten bottles revealed an atavistic glimpse into the past. And from around 1970, André and others began dreaming of recreating a lost vineyard which we now know as Saint Mont.

It took ten years for Saint Mont to gain any kind of status and a further generation before Saint Mont was granted full appellation status. Along this incredible journey, the vignerons of the region continuously had to prove themselves.

Plaimont, Saint Mont

Plaimont, Saint Mont

In pre-phylloxera times, the vineyard had been vast, but to recreate it in the 20th century the surface area had to be chosen much more selectively, slope by slope, encompassing 42 villages over 1,000 hectares of vineyard on several types of soil, ranging from sand to clay.

Forty years before it became fashionable to talk about such thing as green harvesting, ploughing the soil, managing the vine’s leaf canopy, Saint Mont producers were already doing all of these things.

There had to be a choice of grape variety and this was largely influenced by what was being planted in neighbouring Madiran and Pacherenc. André Dubosc came from Madiran and the Plaimont group would eventually include Madiran’s leading co-operative. The reds would be fashioned from a majority of tannat with pinenc (also known as fer servadou), cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. And for the whites, gros manseng, courbu and aruffiac were planted.

But the story doesn’t end there: André created a nursery at Plaimont to identify and propagate yet more varieties that had been found growing wild, last survivors of the catastrophe that befell this region and others beside between phylloxera and the Great War. Intriguingly they have found varieties that may be immune to phylloxera and resistant to disease, and have even found varieties that are capable of ripening at lower sugar levels and therefore lower alcohol. Some of these vines are 150 years old, maybe older and so among the oldest vines in France.

The name Saint Mont derives from the village that is perched on rocky promontory above the river Adour. There is a monastery there, founded by the Benedictines in 1050. It is they who planted the vines, supplying vinous sustenance to passing pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

Today, one doesn’t need to undertake such an arduous venture to enjoy these wines. Member scan enjoy both a red and white Saint Mont from The Wine Society.

Marcel Orford-Williams

Society Buyer

Comments

  1. Ray Fowell says:

    Bought some white on Victoria Moore’s recommendation a fortnight or so ago.

    For me it has proved a superb discovery and bears comparison with the dearer Jurançon sec which I have drunk and enjoyed for many years.

  2. Brian carson says:

    Excellent article on the wines of Gascony. We have recently bought a house near Lannemazan in the Pyrenees and are enjoying these wines from StMont and also Madiran . Your Alain Brumont Madiran is especially fine.

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