All of le Grand Noir wines come from vineyards in the Minervois region, in Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France. The Romans made wine here – there’s a 2,000 year-old burial site close to one of our vineyards – and grapes love the warm sunny climate and the cool breezes from the nearby Mediterranean and the ‘Black’ mountains. The wonderfully perfumed Viognier which thrives in a warm climate, for example, all comes from the vines growing close to the medieval walled village of Azille. The soil here is marked by grés – clay-limestone which seems to have a particular affinity with this grape variety. Chardonnay grows well in Azille too, but with his experience of blending wines from different vineyards in Bordeaux, Hugh Ryman prefers to marry it with Chardonnay from other parts of the region, including warm-climate vineyards around the village of Pepieux where the wind from the mountains brings fresh, perfumed flavours.
The fresh Sauvignon Blanc comes from three villages: Rieux-Minervois, Homps, and Aigues Vives. Of these, the little Gallo-Roman village of Homps on the banks of the Canal du Midi is well known to visitors to the region. It has the remains of an old castle, a Romanesque Church and a stream mysteriously called ‘Double Argent’ – Double Money. Homps was once renowned for the barrels of local wine that were shipped on the canal to Bordeaux – in the days before Appellation Contrôlée tightened the rules on what could be sold under that region’s name. The fruitiness of the Homps wine is matched by some zinginess from the grapes grown near Aigues Vives, another old village whose name, ‘white waters’ in the old local language, refers to the springs in the nearby hills.
The intensely blackcurranty Cabernet Sauvignon also comes from the latter two villages as well as Puicheric and the hilly little commune of Felines- Minervois. For the spicy, berryish Syrah, Ryman and the Jean d’Alibert team also went to Homps, as well as la Livinère in the hills and another canal-side village, Puicheric. La Livinière, which is also one of the sources of le Petit Noir Grenache has been recognized as one of the finest regions in the region by being given its own ‘grand cru’ designation.
Alongside the Grenache grapes from la Livinière, are ones grown around Caunes, another lovely village, with narrow winding streets, an old abbey and nearby quarries whose pink marble was used to build the Paris Opera House. Caunes is a particularly popular place for Hugh Ryman, Robert Joseph and the Jean d’Alibert winemaking team, thanks largely to the brilliant food served in the picturesque courtyard of the Hotel d’Alibert by its art-loving owner Frederick (Fred) Guiraud.