Exquisite and sublimely subtle wines that are unique for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the terroir is exceptional, the vines growing on a deep, well-drained soil formed by glacial deposits. Secondly, the upper Gassac valley has a cool microclimate that allows a longer growing season. Thirdly, the vineyards have been created in small plots or clearings surrounded by forest and garrigue. The wines consequently soak up the fragrances of the surrounding plant life of laurel, thyme, rosemary, lavender, arbutus, fennel, wild mint and lentisque. Fourthly, Daumas Gassac embraces an organic culture, eschewing chemical fertilizers, using only natural dung compost as well as tree and straw cuttings. Fifthly, yields are naturally low (35hl/ha), allowing the wine to express the terroir more than the grape variety & the vines are manually harvested.
The story of Mas de Daumas Gassac is one of vision, enterprise, passion and pride. When the Guiberts first purchased their farm (the mas) in the charming Gassac valley they little realised that they had a particular micro-climate which would give them the potential to make great wines. A visiting professor from Bordeaux, one Henri Enjalbert, identified a particular red soil that was common to certain great estates in the Médoc and Grand Cru Burgundies. Under the thick garrigue scrub and shrubs covering the Arboussas hills, he found some 40 hectares of perfectly drained soil, poor in humus and vegetable matter, rich in mineral oxide (iron, copper, gold etc). Formed from deposits carried in by the winds during the Riss, Mindel and Guntz glacial periods (ranging from 180,000 – 400,000 years ago) the terroir provides the three elements necessary for a potential Grand Cru: deep soil ensuring the vines’ roots delve deep to seek nourishment; perfectly drained soil ensuring vines’ roots are unaffected by humidity; poor soil meaning that vines have to struggle to survive, an effort which creates exceptionally fine aromas. Rock, scrub and tree clearing began in 1971 and the first vines, principally Cabernet Sauvignon, were planted on the 1.6ha plot.
Soil is only one element in the cocktail that makes Gassac the great wine that it is. You only have to stand in the vineyards to engage with the subtleties of the micro-climate. The hill is thick with garrigue; strong warm scents of wild herbs imprint themselves in the air; the quality of light is fantastic. The vines are planted in small clearings, magical glades hidden in the dense, forest-like garrigue. The complexity of Daumas Gassac wines derives heavily from the scents of myriad Mediterranean wild plants and herbs: bay, thyme, rosemary, lavender, laburnum, fennel, wild mint, lentisque, strawberry trees… It’s all part of the ‘terroir’ effect, a combination of soil, climate and environment that sets one wine apart from another, sadly an effect that is lost in modern monoculture, where huge areas are cleared of all vegetation except vines. At nightfall, the cold air from the Larzac (850 metres) floods into the Gassac valley, with the result that, even in the height of summer, the vineyards benefit from cool nights and moderate daytime temperatures. The northern facing vineyards accentuate the beneficial effect of this cool micro climate by ensuring they are exposed to less direct sunshine during the hot summers. The micro-climate also means that the vines flower some three weeks later than the Languedoc average; that’s why the red grapes are harvested later – in early October. The micro-climate is a huge factor in creating the outstanding complexity and finesse of the red wines, most especially the splendidly fine balance of the great vintages’ alcohol-polyphenol-acid content.
The cellars have been created in the foundations of a Gallo-Roman mill; they now house 400 Merrain oak Bordeaux barrels; one in seven is replaced each year. There are two cold water springs under the cellar’s floor, nature’s own air conditioning system, which slows the alcohol fermentation down to between 8 – 10 days. This slow process means the complex flavours have time to develop, something that doesn’t happen with modern high-tech fermentation. You cannot talk about Gassac without mentioned Emile Peynaud who effectively came out of retirement in 1978 to mentor the Guiberts in their early wine-making endeavours.
The wines do not lie; they have natural elegance and a purity that marks them apart. Each vintage is truly a testament to a wine-growing season; one tastes the terroir rather than the technique.