Food, wine, travel, music
At the age of 91 Aimé Guibert died on Sunday, leaving behind a legacy of winemaking in the Languedoc which led the way to showing what the region was capable of.
Bounding up the hills of his vineyards twenty-one years ago, we puffed while he scrambled, light on his feet, to show us experimental plots of vines, planted to make the best of the undulating hills, wind-protected and cooler spots – varietals that could be added in minute quantities to add depth of flavour, a unique quality that lifted the game of the area’s output and put Mas de Daumas Gassac on the vinous map. A maverick, yet conservatively polite and gracious, Aimé relished the movie Mondovino in which he ranted, as he often did in the company of friends, against the overtaking of regional differences by safe, bland, international tastes – the globalization of wine, which lessened choice, interest and the fun and discovery of wine. He never seemed to tire of the topic.
With a house in Kilcrohane, County Cork, he loved Irish music, often supporting concerts in Ballyvourney, Bantry and more locally where he loved to fish. He treasured his friends and loved his family.
His wife Véronique led with him and their sons, most of whom are involved at various levels in the business, with eldest son Samuel at the head. This large family is growing with plenty of grandchildren to entertain Aimé in latter years when he slowed down, much against his will.
Below is an article I wrote about him in 1999. Importers have changed in the meantime, and the wines are also available on line. This might be a good time to order some and raise a glass to him.
Aime Guibert – Vigneron in Languedoc (Irish Examiner)
His passion for the conviviality of the dining table, his appreciation of beauty and elegance is that of the Frenchman, handsome and elegant, though he liked the idea of some Irish characteristics of fun and conviviality, an appreciation of good writing and singing too. But there is much more to this Frenchman who holidays each year in his house in Kilcrohane. He is also passionate about his vineyard, declining standards and the rise of monopolies which rule our lives. “Make the consumer stupid and give them stupid produce and you make money for your shareholders and they are happy, and that’s all that matters to them. I don’t sell to people like that, I prefer to sell to private people who understand quality, like a lot of customers in Ireland, a faithful 500 private customers who come every year to buy wine and others I deal with who sell it in small shops or in their restaurants. Money was always secondary to me when I was in the family glove business, there was a style of thinking, a style of life with respect of workers and for the work, and that is how it should be. Shareholder’s profits should not rule our businesses.”
Approaching seventy, Aimé Guibert knows what he wants and has it, which doesn’t mean he can relax and just enjoy his vineyard, Mas de Daumas Gassac in the heart of Northern Languedoc where I visited him six weeks ago at a busy harvest time. When we called he was in the main vineyard checking the vines being picked by professors, businesspeople, students from all over the world who come for the delightful, backbreaking experience. They all love him, his hands-on approach, his quick eye and wit. The atmosphere is lively and later when we sit down for lunch with the pickers they heartily tuck into Chef de Vendange Véronique’s hot dishes and delicious salads and a few glasses of wine. Véronique, Aimé’s second wife, did a PhD in the five festivals of ancient Ireland and has been involved in the decision-making and hard work involved in building up this vineyard from nothing. It was bought as a country residence while Aimé was an active director of the family business which had the distinction of supplying gloves to the kings and queens for Europe for centuries. Their discovery of the powdery red soil under the garrigue (scrubland) scented with lavender, rosemary, thyme, and the oak, laurel and pine trees of their purchase delighted them as they considered what they might grow to make the land viable – olives and maize were the other possibilities.
The Languedoc is an unlikely area for wine of a quality they aspired to as the temperature can be excessive. But intensive research, good advice, lateral thinking and Aimés sheer doggedness got them past traditional restrictive mindsets. Planting grapes in pockets around the land which had different microclimates, he took advantage of the protection of a hill here, a change in soil structure there, access to the cooling airstream from a neighbouring mountain plateau in a large area, so each element was seen as a gift to enhance the idea of a mix of grape varieties for his wine which is blended each vintage. “The simple way of thinking about wine is varietal. A bottle of Coca Cola, a bottle of merlot – similar thinking. But I prefer the simpler older idea of making something good which
gives pleasure to your mouth and which is good for your health. You can compare a good wine to painting a grand tableau, you have to have the basic inspiration, the basic frame, for wine here this could be one, two or three of the very big varietals, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah for example, and then if you are on a living terroir you will bring more complexity, charm, mystery, beauty and gourmandise by using a small quantity of other different varietals. Strawberries with sugar are good, but instead add a little pepper in such little quantity to make no scientific difference, but the effect on your mouth is something special.” You can tell what he means straight away when you taste the unique upmarket red and white wines of Mas de Daumas Gassac. The white is made from 90% chardonnay, with viognier and manseng which add an aromatic and characterful quality, while the red is 80% cabernet sauvignon with 20% mixture which is not specified but could include any of the 50 varieties from the 33 plots within the domaine. One tiny vineyard has just ten vines each of Datta de Lebanon (huge grapes), and Neherleschol, so perhaps that is where the alchemy is found. These are available from Jymi Wines in Limerick. The more reasonably priced (around £6.40) red is made from Grenache and Carignan while the white is made from Clairette and Sauvignon Blanc. You may already have drunk these as restaurants’ own brands or as Dermod Lovett’s A Mighty Fine Red, and Good Everyday White available in Cork from O’Driscolls Ballinlough, Supervalu Skehard Road or Donovans in Douglas.
He is glad his wines are selling well outside France as he is irritated by the narrow- minded bureaucracy of the Appellation Controllée system which rules the French wine industry. As his mix of grape varieties flaunts strictures, his wines are less acceptable to stony-faced French restaurateurs. “If you allow yourself to be an individual you are considered something like a gypsy, so you have to think as if you are at war.” He does not believe in selection amassale based on genetic selections designed to produce disease-resistant and larger cropping strains of vines already widely adopted in France and the only new vines readily available for use. His system is organic though he does not bother to be certified as he is not happy with their system of certification. “The killers of our way of life are the functionaires of Brussels. They are nice people but they work at black desks trying to make everything uniform. Now there is no chatting in villages when once people brought their milk to the co-op. Now it is collected and there is no social life. Big supermarkets come and close up small shops so people have no reason to go to villages, where’s the progress in that?” Aimé Guibert is a maverick and he and his wines are amongst France’s treasures. Vive la Différence!