The Banyuls region of Southern France
You may think that harvesting and other vineyard management duties are fairly straight forward across the board. However, you’d be surprised! One region with an interesting set of laws and equally challenging terroir can be found in, you guessed it, France. Not only is the Banyuls AOC (Appellation d’origine controlée - the French version of an AVA) lesser-known, it is also a fascinating region which produces superb, high-quality wines. Plus by the end of this you can show off some fancy new french terms.
Collioure, France (as pictured) is one of four communes that make up the Banyuls AOC within the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region of Southern France. This area is known for its vineyards which scale the steep terrain of the Pyrenees mountain range close to the boarder of Spain. Due to the incline, modern day machines are unable to maneuver the hills in order to properly perform, and as a result, many of the vineyards must be harvested by hand. This means that the grapes must also be transported by hand - or in this vineyard's case, mules!
The Banyuls AOC is known for their fortified apéritif wines (aka dessert wines) which have been produced in this region since the 13th century thanks to a man named Arnaud de Villeneuve who was recognized for figuring out the process of mutage, pronounced [moo-t-ah-j]. Mutage is similar to the method used to make Port wines where fermentation is stopped by adding alcohol to the juice while it still has a naturally high sugar content. Therefore the finished wine was dubbed as vin doux naturel [vawn doo gnat-yuhr] translated as, naturally sweet wine but also results in less alcohol than Port.
The wines from this appellation are either stored in large matured oak barrels called casks or in glass jugs called bonbonnes [bon-bohn], which exposes the wine to sunlight, allowing it to maderise [ma-der-eess]. The term maderisation (or maderization in English) is a technique of heating and oxidizing wine which is a common practice in making wine from Portugal’s island of Madeira, hence the name maderise. Wines subject to this practice darken in color and is beneficial for some dessert wines, such as those from the Banyuls AOC. Due to the sun exposure, the white wine takes on a darker, amber hue often being referred to as Banyuls Ambré [Buhn-yuhl Ahm-brey]. The others are simply referred to as Banyuls Rouge and Banyuls Blanc.
The grape varieties grown in the Banyuls AOC are, in descending order, Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc as the most widely planted with Carignan, Maccabeu, Muscat and Tourbat grown in small quantities.
It is also widely known that France is one of the strictest countries for laws around growing, producing, bottling and labeling their wines. However, the Banyuls AOC just might take the cake for having the most specific appellation laws of them all. For a wine to be officially labeled as a Banyuls vineyards must meet each of these qualifications:
• Irrigation of any form is prohibited during any season
• All Banyuls wines be made with at least 50% Grenache Noir
• The Cahier des charges [ka-ee-air des shar-jhay] states that the grape varietal names are forbidden to appear on the labels unless the wine is made of one varietal exclusively, in this case, 100% Grenache.
• All wines must have a minimum maturation time of 12 months
• Mentioning Muscat anywhere on the labels is prohibited under any circumstances
• If fruit trees of any kind are grown and harvested in any regional vineyard, it will automatically lose its right to claim the Banyuls appellation on its labels. (does anyone know the reason for this one?)
While these regulations are meticulous, there was a second tier of wines in this region which have such high quality they can claim the Banyuls Grand Cru AOC. This classification was established in 1962 (30 years after the original AOC) and is reserved only for superior wines. The wines which can proudly bare this appellation are further aged for a minimum of 30 months and must be made with at least 75% Grenache grapes.
Anyone visiting this unique and charming wine region is in for a real treat! Make sure to take a vineyard or château tour.
Photos are from Cellier Dominicain in Collioure, France.
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