Les Caves Richemer
Meet a seaside winemaking cooperative based on the beautiful Thau Basin.
Wednesday 13 October 2021
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There’s a perfect time and place for every good wine, but I can confirm the very best setting for the wonderful whites of Les Caves Richemer is on the harbour at Marseillan de Plage, sheltered from the sun, with a plate of freshly caught seafood and the saltY air in your nostrils.
The Richemer wine cellars is a cooperative of around 200 growers, from around Agde and Marseillan, famed in particular for its white wines, which make around 65% of its volume, and rosés, which account for 25%.
Maxime Des Longchamps, the winery’s commercial director, says: “Our vineyards are located along the Mediterranean Sea, and our soil is particularly good for making these types of wines. We deal with around 35 grape varieties, ranging from international ones like Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet, though to more local varieties like Picpoul and Terret.
“The latter is medieval variety that completely disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century, because we had to get back a good ratio between supply and demand. We wanted to preserve it, and that’s why today we are the first producer to reintroduce it over about 300 hectares. It gives you a very fresh, light white wine which accommodates the flavours of seafood, so is perfect for us. And we also have Marselan, a variety created in 1961 in Marseillan Plage by the French National Research Centre. It’s a mix between Grenache and Cabernet. The reason why it was called Marselan is that they couldn’t use the name of the town, but wanted something close.”
Many of the winegrowers who make up the Richemer cooperative are family businesses stretching back generations. In 2019, driven largely by the younger cohort, the cooperative invested €17 million on new manufacturing facilities, which use modern techniques and technology to ensure consistent high quality.
“It’s very interesting because it’s a big mix between two generations,” continues Maxime. “So you have some people who are very keen to preserve everything into the future just as it is, and then us who are completely crazy and try to get everything moving forward. But we succeeded and just received our new harvest last year in in the new facility.”
The design is unique in Europe, and attempts to return to first principles, looking at every stage of the vinification process and asking whether it can be improved. For example, the tanks are arranged in a circle, optimising the distance the wine has to travel and minimising contact with oxygen. This will seem odd to anyone familiar with more traditional layouts, but makes perfect sense.
This year’s harvest begins on 15 August, and will run to around 15 October, starting with the more sensitive white grapes like Sauvignon and Chardonnay, and finishing with the reds. Maxime is looking forward to seeing the new setup in action for a second year.
“I don’t think everyone is completely convinced yet, because it’s too early to see the results properly and they’ll just need a bit of time to refocus. But once we’ve had a couple of years to show the impact it has on quality, and then what that will do for our international sales, that’s when I think they will come round. Even today there is a big demand; this year we completely sold out and I think that will only grow.”
Maxime believes the entire Languedoc region is due for a reappraisal thanks to the quality of wines now being produced, having historically been a somewhat overlooked part of the French wine powerhouse.
“The thing is with Languedoc is that it was seen as a second-class citizen, because we have this history of bulk production. That’s not a good image the business, either in France and abroad. For the last 20 years though, so much attention has been paid to quality control, improving processes all the way from the field to the bottle, without the relative price of the wine increasing. As a result you have what many people now regard as the best value French wines you can find,” he says.
“But what to me is most amazing about the region is the range of profiles you’ll find from winery to winery here. You can have a Sauvignon from Richemer and you’ll hopefully really enjoy it, of course. And you might try another from Minervois or Roussillon and it’s going to be completely different. It’s absolutely amazing how much diversity there is to the wines in Languedoc and I think it doesn’t exist anywhere else. That’s what makes it such an interesting place for those who are really interested in understanding wine and terroir, and making that into an adventure.”
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