Hailing from the Loire and with skills honed under Marc Kent at Boekenhoustkloof, winemaker Vincent Chansault has been getting all the right notices since he started making wines at Domaine Gayda in the Languedoc. Chansault is a bold winemaker and is constantly pushing the envelope with exciting blends, techniques and a variety of ageing vessels. David Kermode talks to him about the estate’s various ranges, tastes through a wide selection of the new wines, and finds out why at Gayda he has the freedom to truly express himself as a winemaker.
“To sample the range is to savour the sheer diversity that the Languedoc Roussillon region presents, ponder its still-untapped potential, revel in the incredible value that it offers and celebrate what happens when commercial nous meets winemaking derring-do,” writes Kermode
We all know of wineries that go back hundreds of years, sometimes longer. A family tomb here, some sepia portraits there, a pre-war tractor rusting in the shed…
Longevity is no guarantee of quality, of course, but it does at least inspire a degree of reverence. It’s much harder to create something from scratch that dares to be different, yet somehow conveys that same comforting sense of place, respectful of its history, but not afraid of it.
Domaine Gayda has done just that – from varietal wines with textbook typicity, to blends that bend convention and grapes that you might not expect to find so far south.
Nestling in the foothills of the Pyrenees, not far from the ancient citadel of Carcassonne, Gayda was established in 2003, when horticulturalist Tim Ford, business partner Anthony Record MBE and their winemaker Vincent Chansault decided the Languedoc was the perfect place to fulfil a plan they had dreamt up while working together in South Africa.
“The Languedoc is like heaven for a winemaker,” says Chansault, who hails from the Loire, “we have the soils, with granite, schist, limestone and sandstone, we have the weather and we also have some altitude.”
Chansault honed his skills at Franschoek’s Boekenhoutskloof under blending supremo Mark Kent, of ‘Chocolate Block’ fame, whom he describes as “a mentor” instilling in him “an absolute focus on quality, never compromising on your brand, nor your style”.
“When we started at Gayda, we planned to make 100,000 bottles and now we make over a million,” he says, “so next, we want to double the size of the winery.”
They will need the extra space, quite frankly, for Chansault is to fermenting vessels what Imelda Marcos was to shoes. With a burgeoning collection, including terracotta amphora, sandstone jars, polyethylene tanks, concrete eggs, steel vats and oak barrels in a multitude of sizes and ages, he has been able to push at the boundaries of blending.
“If I could have 50 different components, I would do it, because each vessel brings something,” he tells me, “it keeps me humble about winemaking, because it’s a reminder that I cannot control everything.”
Something he does control is the use of sulphur, which is minimal. “We see that sulphur definitely has an impact on the taste of the wine”, he says, “so we try to use temperature control instead.” A new no-added-sulphites wine is in the pipeline.
With a restless, experimental approach, a passion for blending using his panoply of vessels and just a soupçon of Gallic insouciance, Chansault’s personality could easily have inspired the name for one of his best creations: Figure Libre or ‘Freestyle’.
“I don’t really care about appellation labels,” he says, with a shrug, “of course I care about the vineyards, but I don’t want to be told how to make wine, with all those rules about how I should blend. It’s none of their business.”
At a well-received press tasting in London two years ago, Chansault was able to showcase the effects of nine different fermenting vessels on the same batch of Syrah, blind-tasted by those present, revealing the often striking differences each could bring to a final blend.
Though Domaine Gayda produces more than 20 wines, only its top cuvée, ‘Villa Mon Rêve’, is classified as AOP (Minervois, La Livinière). Beneath this, the remainder – all IGP Pays D’Oc – encompass an eclectic, yet hugely compelling portfolio, from the classy ‘Chemin de Moscou’ to the experimental ‘Figure Libre’.
To sample the range – all of it vegan, the top end certified organic – is to savour the sheer diversity that the Languedoc Roussillon region presents, ponder its still-untapped potential, revel in the incredible value that it offers and celebrate what happens when commercial nous meets winemaking derring-do.
So how are the new Domaine Gayda wines tasting?
Flying Solo, Grenache Blanc Viognier, 2019
Domaine Gayda’s entry-level wine, but what an entry! With 15 percent young vine Viognier “to bring the nose and some creaminess”, according to Chansault, there’s grapefruit zest, plump peach and a fascinating fennel undertow, all held in check by the zingy acidity. (RRP£9)
Flying Solo, Grenache Syrah, 2019
Bursting with bright, upfront, crunchy red fruit, the tannins are gentle and there’s a charming whiff of garrigue. Chansault says it’s the kind of wine “you can have at 11 in the morning”. I would love to know what he has after noon…(RRP £9)
T’Air Doc, Sauvignon Blanc, 2019
A Loire man, you might expect a leaner style of Savvy from Chansault, but this wine also speaks of his experience with the variety in South Africa. There’s ripe citrus, tropical fruit and plump texture from his attention to the lees. It’s refreshingly different. (RRP £10)
T’Air Doc, Syrah, 2019
A riper style, with some carbonic maceration to amplify the vibrant, foraged blackberry and red plum fruit. There’s pencil lead, a grind of black pepper and notes of mocha in the finish. (RRP £10)
Domaine Gayda ‘Collection’, Viognier 2019
The ‘Collection’ range is all about varietal typicity and, frankly, this could be Viognier’s calling card. “A blend of different vineyards and different levels of ripeness,” says Chansault, a beguiling orange blossom nose leads into ripe apricot, peach and mango, beautifully balanced by juicy lemon acidity. (RRP £11)
Domaine Gayda ‘Collection’, Syrah 2019
Chansault says he’s “a very big fan of the Northern Rhône” and that enthusiasm is reflected in this vibrant, fresh, peppery, red-fruited expression of altitude Syrah. Polished, there’s subtle oak, but the sensual spice is fruit-driven. (RRP £11)
Domaine Gayda ‘Collection’, Grenache 2019
Bursting with ripe raspberry and redcurrant with a distinctive herbal core, there’s real concentration in the sunny fruit and quite a bit of grip, but also a lovely levity. “People are always talking about Grenache as our Pinot, but it’s not Pinot, it’s Grenache,” says Chansault with a hint of irritation. He has experimented with crushed whole bunch fermentation to achieve the attractive fruit profile. (RRP£11)
Domaine Gayda ‘Collection’, Chardonnay 2019
Honeysuckle and citrus blossom lead into clean, plump apricot and peach, with some rounded texture from bâtonnage and a subtle toasted hazelnut character from the portion of the blend, around 20 to 30 percent, that sees some one-year-old oak. (RRP £11)
En Passant Blanc 2019
In contrast to the varietal wines, the ‘En Passant’ range is intended to vary, by variety and blend, each year, with the colourful artwork telling the story of each vintage. “En Passant really started when we began to buy new vineyards, with different varieties”, says Chansault. 75 percent Macabeu, the rest Muscat d’Alexandria, it’s light and refreshing, with apple blossom, mountain honey, ripe pear and a dollop of peach melba on the finish. (RRP £12)
En Passant Rouge 2019
80 percent Syrah, with 20 percent Cinsault, ripe and concentrated, there’s more muscle than Chansault’s other Syrah blends. Morello cherries, leafy blackcurrant and ripe raspberry abound and there’s a note of Earl Grey. (RRP £12)
Figure Libre Freestyle, Chenin Blanc 2018
Chansault’s nod to his home in the Loire, the grapes were planted in 2004. Vinified in three different vessels – 500 litre foudre, concrete egg and sandstone jar – “when you taste the results, you would think it was three different wines”, he says. Gold like a bauble from a 10 percent component of late harvested grapes, wild flowers lead into rich, textured and ripe Anjou pear, perfectly poised thanks to its spine of fresh acidity. (RRP £15)
Figure Libre Freestyle, Cabernet Franc 2019
Another import from the Loire, also planted in 2004, “I really believed it could do well here as we have limestone and sandstone soils and good rainfall,” says Chansault. A fragrant nose of violet and iris leads into a fresh but relatively full-bodied, complex Cab Franc, with brooding dark cherry, blackcurrant, toffee apple and cedar spice. (RRP £15)
Figure Libre Freestyle, Blanc 2019
Designed to “shake up conventions for expressing the style of Languedoc and Roussillon”, according to Chansault. An organic blend of varieties and different fermenting vessels, 50 percent Grenache Blanc and Gris, 25 percent Macabeu, 15 percent Marsanne, and the remainder Roussanne, this tantalising take on a white Rhône, with its honeysuckle, citrus nose and textured stone fruit complexity is an orchestral triumph, with all the elements playing along perfectly. (RRP £15)
Figure Libre Freestyle, Rouge 2019
Half Syrah, 30 percent Grenache Noir, 10 percent Mourvèdre, the remainder Carignan, an elegant nose of violet, garrigue, pencil lead and ripe red fruit leads into a juicy, smooth, vibrantly spicy blend that showcases the top quality fruit. (RRP £15)
Domaine Gayda ‘Sélection Parcellaire’, Grenache Gris 2017
A small-batch masterpiece from old vines, up to 100 years of age, there’s such purity, with delicate hawthorn blossom, young yet-to-ripen fig, russet apple and a saline, rock samphire character that runs from nose to tail. (RRP £23)
Domaine Gayda ‘Sélection Parcellaire’ Mourvèdre 2017
From 40-year-old vines on limestone soils in La Livinière, whole-bunch fermented, foot-trodden, there’s elegant, precise blackberry, black cherry, cassis and delicate sweet spice. There’s some real grip, but it’s still a baby. “Put it away for 20 years,” says Chansault. (RRP £23)
Chemin de Moscou 2017
Domaine Gayda’s flagship wine – named after the ancient path, the ‘road to Moscow’, that runs to the winery – the first vintage was released in 2007 and an impressive 75 percent of its sales are in France. Inspired by Kent’s smash hit ‘Chocolate Block’ (and to date blended by Kent) this offers a similar masterclass in blending, making the most of Chansault’s vessel experiments. 70 percent Syrah, 26 percent Grenache, the rest Cinsault. Inviting you in with bright foraged blackberry, summer fruit pudding, rose petals, baking spice and black pepper, there’s something wild and exciting here, yet it’s also very polished, like a cuddly Jekyll and Hyde. (RRP £25)
Villa Mon Rêve, Minervois, La Livinière 2015
That rare thing in the Domaine Gayda range, an AOP wine, 100 percent Syrah, one third whole-bunch fermented, the rest de-stemmed. “We have a mini-cellar in La Livinière just to make this wine,” says Chansault, “it’s a beautiful expression of a single vineyard with some altitude (250m).” With lifted violets, blackcurrant leaf and a savoury, salami note, there’s elegant cedar spice, powdery tannins and a dreamy finish to rival Bridgerton. (RRP £40)
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