Cave de l’Abbe Rous, Banyuls and Collioure

OVERVIEW – A story of sun, sea and schist…

When it comes to viticulture, its often said that it is the worst soils make the best soils. This cannot be any truer than in this extreme south-western strip of France’s Mediterranean coast. The vineyards here are wedged-in between the Pyrenees and the sea, established on vertiginous slopes of infertile schist, defined by a landscape of some 6,000 kilometres of irrigation channels and dry-stone walled terraces built, initially, during the time of the occupation by the Knights Templar.

The Roussillon covers the region spreading north and south of the town of Perpignan, reaching down to the border with Spain. This is the driest and sunniest part of France, with an average of 325 days of sunshine a year and where La Tramontane, the Roussillon’s equivalent of the Mistral, blows one day in every three, regardless of the season. These two factors alone make this a good place to plant vineyards, since the health of the plant is assured, with little chance of rot or disease.

The vines are invariably pruned gobelet style. Trellised vines are not an option, given the ferocity of the wind. In fact, everything here is done by hand; access for any machinery is all but impossible, with mules being one historic option for transporting the harvest to the cellar.

BANYULS
The origin of Banyuls is firmly entrenched in history whose vineyards were originally planted by the Phoenicians. It sits just above the Spanish border, the last vineyard outpost in France. In 1936, the vineyards were some of the first to receive appellation status. The region covers 882 hectares, incorporating the four fishing port villages of Banyuls-sur-Mer, Collioure, Port-Vendres and Cerbère.

The appellation Banyuls or Banyuls Grand Cru exists exclusively for the producing Vin Doux Naturel (VDN), the finest example of this style of winemaking in France. It is documented that the technique of fortification with grape spirit (muté sur grains) arrived with Arnaud de Villanova, after the process of distillation had been discovered and bought back to Europe with the Knights Templar in the mid-13th Century.

VDN production is limited to 30hl/ha, although yields are more like 16 hl/ha on average. The main grape variety here is Grenache Noir, which must account for a minimum of 50%, with ancillary grapes provided by Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Malvoisie, Macabeu, Muscat, Carignan, Syrah and Cinsault.

Banyuls, a bit like Port, comes in various styles: White, Ambres, Rosé, Traditionelle and Rimage. The Rimage classification is not unlike Vintage Port, generally only produced in the best vintages, being bottled in the spring following the harvest with maturation taking place in bottle instead of cask. Banyuls is also famous for its vinegar and rancio sec, although not covered within the appellation.

The Banyuls Grand Cru appellation was introduced in 1962. It requires a minimum of 75% Grenache Noir, macerated on skins for no less than five days, then aged in wood for a minimum of 30 months. The best examples are more likely to spend more like 7-10 years in cask, given the demand is no longer what it once was.

COLLIOURE

The Collioure appellation extends over 453 hectares located within the same four communes on the Côte Vermeille it is coterminous with those of Banyuls, the only difference here being that these are all classified as table wines. The reds must contain a minimum of 60% Grenache Noir, with Mourvèdre and Syrah being classified as ancillary varieties. The whites can be a blend of Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Vermentino (Rolle).

Collioure received appellation status for its red wines in 1971, with the rosés classified in 1991 and the whites added as recently as 2003. Production for all three styles is limited to 40hl/ha.

CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON / VILLAGES, CÔTES CATALANS AND CÔTE VERMEILLE

The main generic appellation of Côtes du Roussillon includes over a hundred communes across the region. Côtes du Roussillon Villages extends over 51 communes north of Perpignan, as well as 4 areas which can append their name after the Villages are to the north of Collioure and Banyuls. CDR Villages came into being in 1977 and is for red wine only, with Syrah and Mourvèdre obliged to represent a minimum of 45% of the blend. Cinsault is outlawed altogether. Any other wines which fall outside these two appellations are usually designated Côte Vermeille, which was the original Vin de Pays classification in 1987, now IGP.

Finally, IGP Côtes Catalanes, created in 1981 is a catch-all appellation that covers every wine producing commune in the departéments of L’Aude, Ariège and the Pyrénées Orientales. It also covers every conceivable grape variety planted within. It has also become the go-to appellation for some Roussillon winemakers preferring not to have their wines defined by the traditional appellation rules.

CAVE DE L’ABBE ROUS / TERRES DES TEMPLIERS

Based above the seaside resort of Banyuls-sur-Mer, Terres des Templiers since its inception has primarily sold and marketed its range of wines from Banyuls and Collioure to private individuals through a network of agents around the various regions of France. Or sold from the cellar door on the back of a healthy, seasonal tourist trade.

Cave de l’Abbe Rous was established more recently as a separate division of Terres de Templiers to develop an active wholesale and export business.

In 1950 by the Groupement Interproducteurs du Cru Banyuls (CICB); a collection of five separate co-operatives, came together to promote the wines of the region. In 1964, they erected their grand cave on the hairpin bends of the Mas Reig above the town. The cellar contains over 1,000 cuves, foudre and fûts de bois, including one huge vat, believed to be the biggest wooden vessel of its kind in the world.  The vat was acquired from Byrrh, the company responsible for producing an aromatised aperitif, produced in nearby Thuir.  Byrrh proved to be a popular drink at the start of the last century.

Collectively, the co-operative has 753 individual producers, half of which are part-time or weekend farmers. Between them, they tend nearly 700 hectares of vineyards, fractured over 750 separate parcels. Together, they represent between 70%-75% of the total Banyuls (and 90% of Banyuls Grand Cru) production. The cellar is also responsible for more than half of the annual harvest of Collioure wines.

In 2014, a new cellar, christened Mas Ventous, was built high-up and within the vineyards between Banyuls and Port-Vendres. It was established to accommodate the growing interest in table wines and to vinify the Vin Doux Naturels, before they enter the ageing process further down the valley at Le Grand Cave.

Given the nature of the vineyards, with mechanisation all but impossible, grapes are all hand harvested and delivered directly to the new cellar in 30kg baskets.

Cave de l’Abbe Rous had enjoyed little past success to date and consequently the CICB entered into an agreement with Jean-Marc and Eliane Lafage, one of the most dynamic producers in the Roussillon, to assist with the production, marketing and the domestic and international sales of the Abbe Rous division. The first collaboration was with the 2019 vintage, with the commercial campaign starting in 2020.

From inheriting 36 hectares from the family business in 2001, Domaine Lafage now controls around 350ha of vineyards across seven different locations in the Roussillon. They have been one of the few proven success stories to come out of the region in the last twenty years.

CAVE DE L’ABBE ROUS

The name of the cellar was chosen in homage to Francis Rous, a priest appointed for the Diocese of Banyuls-sur-Mer in 1870. The Abbe was tasked with restoring and enlarging the Romanesque church of Saint-Jean de la Rectorine in the town. Being a resourceful soul, he elected not to call on donations from his congregation but instead, came up with the idea of developing a wine business, which he christened ‘the work of the communion wine’. The initiative proved to be an unexpected success. Not only did it help to finance the church in Banyuls, but Rous was also able to donate funds to the new church in the neighbouring parish.

In 1879, the local municipality along with a collection of 28 landowners and merchants opposed the Abbe, stating that the success of his trade was damaging their own businesses. As a result, in 1888, he was permanently banned from trading in wine by the General Council of the Pyrénées-Orientales region. Regardless, the legacy of the actions of the Abbe Rous lives on since he played a major role in the development and promotion of the wines of Banyuls.

THE WINES OF ABBE ROUS

VIN DE PAYS:

Chardonnay IGP Côtes Catalanes

Chardonnay is not a grape variety one would associate with the Roussillon and it could easily be dismissed as being irrelevant as part of our range, but we are very impressed with the style and price point this wine achieves.

It is sourced from the Vallée de la Têt, to the west of Perpignan. Planted on deep, rocky soils, these 20 year old vines are trellised and yield around 45hl/ha. Harvested at night in late August, the wine is vinified in around 85% stainless steel and 15% older wood.

Carignan IGP Côtes Catalanes

The Carignan is produced from 70 year old bush vines, grown at 200 metres above sea level close to the Spanish border. Hand harvested, the grapes are cold macerated before being fermented at 25 degrees Centigrade. The resulting wine is then aged for 12 months in large concrete vats.

Pinot Noir IGP Pays d’Oc

Like Chardonnay, this Pinot Noir is the joker in the pack. Although technically in the Pyrenees, these 18 year old vines are grown at 300 metres on the light gravelly soils of the Limoux. The wine is partly whole-bunch fermented at 28 degrees Centigrade and spends six months in demi-muid.

‘Talaos’ IGP Côte Vermeille

Named after a character from Greek mythology, Talaos is made exclusively from old Grenache Noir vines, which were previously used for Banyuls Grand Cru. The 2019 is the first vintage. It loses the right to the Collioure appellation since the wine retains 4.5g/l of residual sugar, so is relegated to IGP status instead. It is vinified in cuve, with no recourse to wood ageing.

COLLIOURE:

Cornet & Cie Blanc

A blend of 55% Grenache Gris, 30% Grenache Blanc with Roussanne, Marsanne and Vermentino making up the balance. Hand harvested, the grapes pass over a triage table on entry to the cellar. The Grenache Gris is pressed immediately, whilst the other grapes have some whole bunch maceration before pressing. Two thirds of the wine is fermented in new oak demi-muid for around 20 days. The wine is bottled the spring after the harvest.

Réserve des Peintres Rosé

A blend of 65% Grenache Noir, 20% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah. This is part rosé de saignée, with a 12 hour maceration before pressing and pressurage direct for the balance of the fruit. Fermentation takes place at a low temperature and is bottled at the end of the year of the harvest.  The labels celebrates the famous harbour views of the church in Colliore, much captured by local and international artists.

Réserve des Peintres Rouge

A blend of 80% Grenache Noir, 15% Mourvèdre and 5% Syrah. One quarter of the Grenache undergoes carbonic maceration, with the other grapes being de-stemmed and macerated for 20 days on the skins during fermentation in stainless steel tank. The wine is bottled in May or June following the harvest.

BANYULS:

Banyuls ‘Baillaury’ 5 Ans d’Age (16% alcohol / 98 g/l residual sugar)

Named after the stream that plunges down the steep slopes of the appellation, before exiting into the Mediterranean at Banyuls-sur-Mer. A blend of 50% Grenache Noir and 50% Grenache Gris, fortified and then macerated on the skins for ten days. The cuvée is then aged for five years in the enormous 200 year old wooden vat acquired from Byrrh in the 1960s, when the grand cave was erected. It is said that they constructed the vat first and built the winery around it. The wine is a traditional style of Banyuls. Slightly more savoury than sweet, it is a perfect introduction to the wines of the appellation.

Banyuls Rimage ‘Muté sur Grains – Mis Précose’ 2018 (16% / 116 g/l RS)

The term Rimage signifies that the wine was bottled early, usually in the spring following the harvest and, like Vintage Port, it is said to be produced only in the best vintages. It is designed to be matured in bottle rather than in wood. This wine is made from 100% Grenache Noir harvested at the end of September, with a yield of just 22hl/ha. Fortification is immediate, with the de-stemmed bunches allowed to macerate for 20 days on their skins, whilst being pumped-over daily.

Banyuls Grand Cru ‘Baillaury’ 2008 (16% / 98 g/l RS)

As the Grand Cru appellation dictates, this wine is made with the minimum 75% Grenache Noir, the balance being Grenache Gris. As with the Rimage above, the bunches are de-stemmed and the grapes immediately fortified and macerated for 20 days. Aged in cuve and foudre, this 2008 vintage was bottled in March 2016.

Banyuls Grand Cru ‘Cuvée Christian Reynal’ 2000 (18.5% / 116 g/l RS)

This is 100% Grenache Noir, selected from the oldest parcels. The vines here rarely yield more than 20hl/ha. Harvested late, the bunches are de-stemmed and immediately fortified and left to macerate for 20 days. Aged for eight years in demi-muid and small foudre, this 2000 vintage was bottled in April 2008 then aged for a further 10 years in the cellar before release. Total production was just 10,000 bottles.

RANCIO SEC:

‘Matifoc’ Vin de Pays de la Côte Vermeille (16%)

Matifoc is a plant indigenous to the rocky slopes of the region. It is said to thrive in the dry and windy conditions. The wine is made from old vine Grenache Noir, which is partly de-stemmed and macerated before being allowed to ferment to dryness. After malolactic fermentation, the wine is then placed in old demi-muid – half-full – and then left, outside, to endure the same harsh conditions as the matifoc…

The barrels are left unattended for between 8 and 12 years, after which the wine has developed the aldehydic, rancio character, more associated with a Palo Cortado or Amontillado Sherry than a traditional Banyuls. It is unique and something of an acquired taste. Recommended to be served at room temperature, it is said to be the perfect match the famous anchovies of Collioure.

www.abberous.com

Chardonnay IGP Cotes Catalanes White pack shot 2020 fiche
Carignan IGP Cotes Catalanes Red pack shot 2018 fiche
Pinot Noir IGP Pays D’oc Red pack shot 2019 fiche
Talaos IGP Cote Vermeille pack shot 2019 fiche
Cornet & Cie AOP Collioure White pack shot 2019 fiche
Reserve Des Peintres AOP Collioure Rose pack shot 2020 fiche
Reserve Des Peintres AOP Collioure Red 2019 pack shot fiche
Baillaury AOP Banyuls 5 Years Old pack shot fiche
Baillaury AOP Banyuls Grand Cru pack shot 2008 fiche
Baillaury Cuvée Christian Reynal AOP Banyuls Grand Cru pack shot 2000 fiche
Matifoc Vin De Pays De La Côte Vermeille pack shot fiche
Cornet & Cie  AOP Banyuls Rimage fiche
Cornet & Cie AOP Collioure Red pack shot 2018 fiche
Cotes Du Roussillon Villages pack shot