Gaillac wines: history of a vineyard

Gaillac is one of the oldest vineyards in France.

The discovery of wine consumption and trade in the Gaillac area is attested to by archaeological research. Amphorae for storage, vats or containers used to transport wine have been discovered. The cultivation of the vine was imported into the Gaillacois by the Romans, following the first conquest of Gaul.

Wines of Gaillac: the vineyard of Gaillac

Concerning the vineyard, several things can justify that the vine was implanted in the Gaillacois. Indeed, the geographical situation of the vineyard is ideal, because it is at the crossroads of communications. Moreover, the soil of Gaillac is favourable to the culture of the vine.

The important culture of the vine in the region of Gaillac makes an economy turn around it. You can find specialised businesses such as the pottery sites of Montans, where amphorae are made. The forest of Grésigne and its wood resources allow the production of casks and barrels for the conservation and transport of wine.

The Z’elles gaillacoises

Another factor favoured the development of the vineyard: the monks! In 972, Raymond I of Rouergue gave the town of Gaillac to the abbot Saint-Michel, who had the eponymous abbey built on the banks of the Tarn. At that time, part of the Tarn vineyards, destroyed by the Moors, were replanted. The Benedictine monks of Saint-Michel Abbey developed it. Over time, viticulture became a real economic force for the region and thus gained the support of the Counts of Toulouse.

This prominent position was to lead to the creation of very strict rules governing viticulture and wine-making. As a result, eight centuries before the creation of the AOC, the Gaillacois vineyard was one of the best protected and organised in France: it was forbidden to mix wines with “foreign” wines, pruning was regulated, the harvest was banned, smoking of the vines was forbidden, working hours were organised, etc. Moreover, only one fertiliser was authorised. This was “colombine” (pigeon droppings). This is how a significant number of pigeon houses were built in the Gaillac vineyards. Today, no longer in use, many of them have been abandoned and are gradually disappearing.

“It was during a conversation with her colleague Louis de Faramond of Château Lastours that Alix had the idea for the Z’elles Gaillacoises. While they were discussing the challenge of maintaining the vineyard’s built heritage, Louis confided to her his difficulty in finding the funds to restore his dovecote. Classified as a historical monument, the building is absolutely remarkable. A member of SO Femme & Vin, the first professional network of women winemakers in the South-West, since its creation in 2014, the idea of associating vines, pigeon lofts and women became obvious to her. Very quickly, with the help of Nathalie Vayssette, they contacted the winegrowers of the Gaillacois. The association, in addition to being a place of exchange and mutual aid for women in wine, has indeed given itself the mission of promoting the wines of Gaillac and the vineyards of the South-West, but also the preservation of the wine heritage. Alix shares her enthusiasm with her colleagues and soon a collective of thirty or so women winemakers from Gaillac is being organised, supported by the entire SO Femme & Vin network. A project for a wine tourism event to raise funds is taking shape. The Z’elles Gaillacoises are born: the adventure begins!

The events of the Z’elles Gaillacoises

On a weekend in June, under the benevolent eye of the pigeon house chosen for the event, the Z’elles Gaillacoises offer two days of activities to discover the wines of Gaillac, to live at the rhythm of the vineyard and to contribute to the preservation of this remarkable wine-growing heritage that are the pigeon houses. The profits collected during the weekend will go towards the renovation of the dovecotes.

Grape varieties and soils suitable for the cultivation of Gaillac wines

The Gaillac PDO

From time immemorial, the Gaillac winegrower has always been concerned with choosing the grape variety best suited to the terrain and exposure. Depending on the terroir, the climate and the tradition, the winegrower has chosen typical, specific and high character grape varieties.

After the phylloxera crisis, the vineyards were devastated. Very quickly the winegrowers replanted their traditional white grape varieties, which enabled them to obtain the appellation contrôlée in 1936.

As far as the reds are concerned, the winegrowers replanted productive grape varieties to meet the country’s demand and only obtained the red Gaillac PDO in 1970 after having replaced these productive grape varieties with more indigenous and qualitative ones.

The white grape varieties:

Loin de l’Oeil: it owes its name to the fact that the bunch with a long stalk places the grape “far from the eye” (an eye in wine language means a bud). This very old grape variety is only found in Gaillac. It produces a wine with a very fine floral aroma in dry white, but also in sweet white.

Mauzac: the traditional grape variety of Gaillac. It is characterized by aromas close to apple and pear. It gives its structure to dry white wine. However, it can be used to make sweet wines and is obligatory for the Méthode Ancestrale.

Among the white grape varieties, we also find Muscadelle, Semillion, Sauvignon and Ondenc, an indigenous grape variety that is coming back into fashion.

Red grape varieties :

Braucol : It is also called Fer Servadou and gives a structured wine. The dominant aromas are raspberry and blackcurrant and sometimes pepper when it is not fully mature. It requires a longer ageing period.

Duras : this is one of the oldest grape varieties of the Gaillacois. It is supple and fine at the same time. It is mainly characterized by aromas reminiscent of pepper or spices.

Prunelard : an old Gaillacois grape variety, brought up to date. It is the father of Malbec and produces structured wines with plum aromas.

Also, in the red grape varieties, we find Gamay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Gaillac and its range of wines

AOP Gaillac rouge : Deep colour and powerful nose characterize the Gaillac rouge. The dominant aromas are red fruits and spices. The traditional reds, rather easy-drinking, have an average ageing period, whereas the top-of-the-range reds, more structured, can easily reach 10 years.

  • Ageing: 5 to 10 years
  • Serving temperature: 16 to 18 degrees Celsius
  • To be served with: red meat, cheese, game.
  • Recommended bottle of red wine: Ta main sur mon Chemin, Château de Terride

AOC Gaillac Rosé: An acidic wine with fruity and English candy aromas. Its light pink color enchants summer tables.

  • Ageing: 2 years
  • Serving temperature: 8 to 10 degrees Celsius
  • To be served with: Pizza, salad, goat cheese.

AOC Gaillac Blanc Sec: Often made from a blend of two local grape varieties. The Mauzac brings its structure while the Loin de l’Oeil brings finesse and minerality.

  • Ageing: 2 to 5 years
  • Serving temperature: 8 to 10 degrees Celsius
  • To be served with : Fish in sauce, shellfish, aperitifs, cheese

AOC Gaillac Fraicheur Perlée: This is a fresh and slightly tingly wine. The Gaillac Fraîcheur Perlé owes its pearl to the carbonic gas resulting from the alcoholic fermentation. Bottled very early, it keeps all its freshness.

  • Ageing: 2 to 5 years
  • Serving temperature : 8 to 10 degrees
  • To be served with: Shellfish, grilled fish, white meat, aperitif

AOC Gaillac Doux : It is made from Mauzac, Muscadelle and Loin de L’oeil grapes. The dominant aromas of sweet Gaillac are pear, candied apple, honey, fig and quince.

  • Ageing: 2 to 10 years
  • Serving temperature: 8 to 10 degrees Celsius
  • To be served with: aperitif, foie gras, fruit tarts.

AOP Gaillac Méthode Ancestrale : Its effervescence is due to the fermentation of the grape sugar in the bottle. Made from Mauzac only, it is known for its aromas of pear and fresh apple and its fine bubbles.

  • Ageing: 2 years
  • Serving temperature: 8 to 10 degrees Celsius
  • Recommended bottle: Ancestral method Château de Terride
  • To be served with : Aperitif, foie gras, dessert.

Gaillac and its terroirs

Source photo Wikipedia

The left bank is made of alluvial terraces and its subsoil is deep. The subsoil of the left bank Thanks to the presence of sand, gravel and pebbles, the subsoil is well drained. In conclusion, this terroir produces powerful red wines that are marked by spicy and black fruit aromas.

The right bank occupies the hilly clay-limestone slopes of the right bank of the Tarn, up to the Vère valley. These deep soils contain a water reserve that allows the vines to thrive during the often dry summers. The altitude varies from 140 metres 42 to almost 300 metres 43. The dry whites are supple, elegant and long in the mouth. The sweet white wines are rich and aromatic. But also balanced, while the red wines are robust, fruity and spicy.

The Pays Cordais is a hilly plateau with a soil of limestone parent rock perfectly suited to white wines. It should be noted that the ripening of the white grapes lasts a fortnight longer than in the Tarn valley. The aromas of the white wines have floral and fruity notes. The red wines are fruity and spicy with a good vivacity.

The Cunac area includes a few vineyards located in seven villages around Cunac, east of Albi, on a terroir of acidic schist. It is particularly well suited to Gamay, and is an area that produces mainly red primeur wines.