The Wine Guy Eddie McDougall: Searching fo the X-factor

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As part of living up to my reputation as The Flying Winemaker, I recently travelled to the south of France to fulfil my grape stomping duties. The region known as Languedoc is a diverse landscape that stretches along the Mediterranean coastline of France for several hundred kilometres, making it the world’s largest wine region. The area itself is so big it has more than 2,800sq km under vine that, believe it or not, actually produces more wine than all of Australia. As you can imagine, a wine region this enormous means that the quality of the grape nectar varies from producer to producer, and those absolutely at top of their game are extremely limited. Fortunately for me, I was granted an opportunity to work with an estate called Mas de Daumas Gassac, widely regarded as the grand cru of the region.

Mas de Daumas Gassac produces a small variety of wines and is best known for its incredibly quirky white and red blends that contain more grape varietals than you can count on two hands. Despite being established as recently as the 1970s, they’ve been touted by many critics as being the Lafite of the Languedoc. For those not familiar with this name, you should know Lafite are a winemaker from Bordeaux which is part of a small collective of the most important wines of the world. 

So what are they doing right? Is it the soil? Their famous landscape? The wild mix of varietals? The way the vines are planted? For the entire duration of my winemaking stint I asked these questions religiously, trying to find out why and how they became so incredibly famous in such a short time – and more importantly, why the wines are so good. I think it’s fair to say that all the above factors combined have helped with achieving the estate’s tremendous reputation and status, but I always felt there was a missing piece to the puzzle and that piece was what elevated it from being a great producer to a grand cru. What was their particular X-factor?

It wasn’t until close to the end of the harvest that I finally realised what it was, and it had been staring me in the face everyday. It wasn’t anything tangible, it wasn’t a secret recipe or a special type of yeast they used – it was the people. Day in day out, the Guibert family, the founders of the estate, live and breathe wine in a certain way that I have never experienced before. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like you see in Russell Crowe’s wine-orientated movie, A Good Year, quite the opposite in fact. They work hard, they respect their employees, they drink with their workers and more often than not they sing with them, too. The combination of hard work and a celebration of the vine somehow creates this euphoric atmosphere and energy that raises this estate’s wines above the rest. The lesson I learnt this harvest was not necessarily about grand cru winemaking, rather it was about people’s happiness, whether at work or at home, and how happiness is what brings the X-factor. So simple yet so true.

Follow Eddie on Twitter @EddieFlyingWine

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