L'Erme de Centeilles
Why make a Grenache Gris?
A beautiful old Grenache Gris vine with its twisted arms … Curiously pruned with a technique that’s halfway between the “gobelet” and the “Cordon de Royat”, almost as if those who preceded us with this vine had hesitated for a long time about it …
We too hesitated: in 1990, the ”gris” form of the Grenache had a really bad press. What wine were we going to make? And then, with this “mongrel” pruning, how many years would it take us to give the stocks a form that was more or less in proportion?
Let’s confess: we even thought about uprooting it. But each vine has its guardian angel: finally we pardoned it, and we made a sweet wine from it.
What sort of over-ripeness is needed for a Minervois sweet wine?
Too dry to enable noble rot to develop, the Mediterranean climate does not allow a botrytis rate above 20%. Our windy regions are, however, the ideal location for concentration by wilting: in the Pays d’Oc, custom requires us to speak of desiccation or “passerillage” (“passerilhar” or “panserilhar” in Occitan) and not, of course, of late harvesting. In short, between mid-November and mid-December, the sugar content reaches a potential 19 to 23°, as long as there isn’t a mishap.
An arduous recognition of its existence!
Until 1985, the Decree governing the VDQS appellation in the Minervois authorised production of a sweet wine: the NOBLE MINERVOIS. Alas! At that date, when the Minervois was “promoted” to the rank of AOC, there was nobody who claimed that production which, as a result, was excluded from the new Decree.
And thus commenced the long night of the noble Minervois. The consequences of that downgrading are trivial:
It is no longer a VDQS
It is not (yet?) an AOC
It cannot be a simple Vin de Table (too high in alcohol potential), nor a Vin de Pays (other standards).
At the end of the day, without appellation or denomination, our “ugly duckling” would have certainly remained outside the law – and thus unmarketable – if an abstruse, but beneficial, European taxonomy had not providentially classified it in a category with the bucolic name “Partially fermented must derived from dried grapes”. This is therefore its administrative “name”.
And the cuvée’s baptismal name?
A name is always complicated. An Erme, in Occitan, is an uncultivated place where vegetation grows of its own accord.
The erme is also an uninhabited place, a wilderness, to which the hermits withdrew. Those who lived at Centeilles belonged to the Order of Saint Anthony: they were “thaumaturges“ and cured a terrible disease (ergotism) through prayer and thanks to an unguent made from pork fat and wine, sanctified by contract with the relics of their patron saint.
The last hermit has reposed at Notre Dame de Centeilles since 1630 and the hermitage, which he occupied in the wake of so many others, is buried under the brambles.
A real “Minervois candy”, it will be perfect with pan-fried foie gras or a Tatin-style pear tart, or combined with anything containing almonds or coconut. To be drunk within 20 years at 12°.