Returning to: "le bon sens paysan", an interview with award winning wine producer Myriam Rouquette by Sarah Breathnach

Returning to le bon sens paysan 1The Languedoc-Roussillon has long been recognised as the single largest viticultural region in the world producing over a third of France’s entire wine output. Formerly referred to as: “The wine lake”, the 1970’s saw the region excel in terms of mass production but it quickly gained a reputation for overproducing low quality, cheap table wine. Today, however, it’s a truly different story with a new generation of diligent vintners proving the region capable of producing exceptional terroir wines.


Wine-grower with a passion, Myriam Rouquette, head of the Domaine Baume Celinguet, whose 2004 red Cuvée was crowned the favourite with two stars by the Guide Hachette, is one such example of the turn in the tide. Originally a Professor of Microbiology at Montpellier University, Faculty of Pharmacy, Myriam exchanged scholarly life for the pursuit of the vigneronne lifestyle as a natural wine producer.


Returning to le bon sens paysan 2Myriam’s philosophy is simple: Working the vineyard with the utmost respect for nature and the product. Her first preoccupation is natural production: "I work without any chemicals to create wines free from pesticides and additives". The focus is on producing low quantities of high quality concentrated natural wines. "Secondly, I prefer to work using le bon sens paysan”, muses Myriam. She laments that inherited knowledge and farmers’ lore have in many senses been lost in the Languedoc-Roussillon, due to industrial agriculture. It is this "bon sens paysan" — a French idiom relating to a sort of farmers common sense and wisdom - which she describes as being central to her work ethic. "I cut the grapes only when they are good to eat, and I sell the wine only when it is ready to drink.” Returning to the traditional method, the vendanges, or harvest, is carried out entirely by hand and the grape selection is rigorous — a gruelling and laborious process — which is swiftly reframed by Myriam’s fervour as "a labour of love."


Twenty kilometres north-west of Montpellier in the small rustic village of Argelliers, Myriam’s seven hectare domain rests within a viticultural haven. The area is strongly protected against pollution as no cereals which require pesticides are grown in the hinterland: "In the village we often refer to Argelliers as an oasis in the middle of the scrubland." Myriam describes how the elevation, range in temperature and diversity in terrain distinguish the terroir of this southern wine region: "Argelliers is approximately two- hundred metres above sea-level. The altitude creates a wide range in temperature between day and night which affects the maturation of the grape. The drop in temperature at night allows for the cultivation of molecules such as polyphenols and anthocyanins, which encourage the production of good quality wines, full of fine tannins."


Vineyards in the Languedoc- Roussillon are often referred to as "patchwork", due to the wide varieties of grapes that grow side by side. Myriam explains that within her seven hectare domain she has eight fields in close proximity, each with a different soil composition. Due to this, blends are often opted for over single varietal wines. The Domaine Baume Celinguet does both: "My red and rosé wines are blends of Syrah, Grenache, and Cabernet-Sauvignon. My white wine is bold flavoured and zesty, made entirely from Viognier grapes which grow in limestone-rich clay soils."


Myriam is passionately optimistic for the future: “Through respectfully harnessing the natural viticultural assets of the land I believe the region will continue to prosper.” Today the Languedoc-Roussillon can be considered one of the most exciting and promising wine regions in France. If the story continues in this vein the committed wine- producers of the Languedoc- Roussillon will undoubtedly enjoy the fruits of their labour.