What do you do when you’ve made a mint from the soundtrack of The Matrix and are unsure about what to do in the future? Why, buy a run-down winery in the Languedoc and bring it back to one of the hottest properties in the South of France. This is what ‘Clubbed to Death’ composer Robert Dougan did with La Pèira in the Terrasses du Larzac, as Victor Smart discovered when he met Dougan for lunch at Corney&Barrow HQ and tasted through a wide selection of his remarkable wines.
“The South of France region in general, is the region that’s unfolding before our eyes, in our lifetime. In the way that we’d love to go back to Burgundy and see the nascence of Burgundy when the discoveries were made,” says La Pèira’s Robert Dougan.
If you were a sommelier presenting a wine to a customer, how does this sound for a compelling backstory? Robert Dougan wrote the track “Clubbed to Death” which featured in the soundtrack of the Matrix film, made his fortune from it, bought a no-hope vineyard called La Pèira in the undistinguished Languedoc wine region and, twenty five years later, is making wines that are internationally recognised as stunning.
Dougan, meanwhile, remains self-effacing and insists that his real passion isn’t wine at all, but Beethoven, Shakespeare and the ancient French language Occitan. La Pèira, by the way, is Occitan for “stone”.
Sold? Well, it’s hard not to be. The only catch is that the production volumes of the wines are small. Wines are produced in a few thousand or even a few hundred bottles for each vintage. So prices, if not exorbitant, are not cheap.
Corney & Barrow, which now distributes four La Pèira wines from 2019 and 2020, invited us to a lunch hosted for Dougan at its Wapping HQ in London. Dougan, who is dressed rather like a well turned-out merchant banker, has been caught in traffic. But, a former actor, he has immediate presence and charisma – rather like his wines. It’s hard not to like him partly because of his self-deprecating candour. He says, for example, that the vineyard was “shamed” into going organic once that became widespread.
La Pèira has 15 hectares in Terrasses du Larzac, the Languedoc appellation north west of Montpellier, that gets ever posher. Since this AOC is for reds only, the whites are labelled as Pays d’Hérault IGP. All four of the wines have an ABV of 14.5%.
So how were the La Pèira wines tasting?
For openers we have the 2020 whites. Autumn rains led into a mild December and warm February. There was then a dry summer without heatwaves. The cheaper of the whites is Deusyls de La Pèira Blanc 2020 (£175 case of six bottles in bond). This is the estate’s second white with four varietals, including the local Clairette grape. There are aromas of pear and peach and even this entry level wine is luscious and full.
On to La Pèira Blanc 2020 (£395 for six bottles), a blend of Rousanne, Marsanne and Viognier in equal parts. This is even more elegant, with rich stone fruit hints. The Viognier, according to Dougan, was a lucky mistake. When they first acquired the estate, they found three rows lurking in a plot of Syrah which the previous owners had chosen to ignore.
And then the 2019 reds. First there was a June heatwave, which broke France’s historical record (since beaten by 2022). Then an extended summer period made for a concentrated vintage with tannic strength and lower acidities.
Las Flors de La Pèira 2019 (£235 for six bottles) is the second red wine of La Pèira. It has Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan. With bramble and both white and black pepper notes this is fresh and opulent. The cheapest red, it is, arguably, also the best value of the range.
And, finally, we sample Las Pèira les Terrasses du Larzac 2019 (£395 for six bottles). This is predominantly Syrah with some Grenache. This is red that is far denser and more powerful. There’s a wonderful silky texture and dense fruit flavour. Quite exceptional. With raspberry and dark fruit, it’s a bridge between wines for the expert and wines for newcomers likely to be put off by aggressive tannins.
Last year I had the rare experience of trying some of the wines of Napa Valley icon Tor Kenward in London. They were unfeasibly good and, though mostly made in tiny volumes, made other wines look ordinary. La Pèira does something similar.
Birth of a wine nation
As for Robert Dougan, he believes that where the Languedoc is right now is a special moment in time – much like the birth of the great wine regions, Burgundy and Bordeaux.
“…the South of France region in general, is the region that’s unfolding before our eyes, in our lifetime. In the way that we’d love to go back to Burgundy and see the nascence of Burgundy when the discoveries were made,” says Dougan.
“What would we not pay to go back to that time? and be part of that? and see that all happening? And see those famous, wonderful expressions in their first moment of lighting that flame? Or to go back to Bordeaux, when the Dutch engineers were draining the swamps, and they were going to plant the first of these famous vines? When they had no certainty about what was going to be achieved, and they were just discovering that.”
“But we have that process unfolding before our eyes, in our lifetime, and we have the key to be part of it. And that for me is extraordinary, and we can do that in the French wine region, and we can do that in a wine region that’s not just making history now but is also the oldest wine region in France. The idea that we can make history now, and we can be a part of that is exciting.”
The wines of La Pèira are imported and sold in the UK by Corney & Barrow which is a commercial partner of The Buyer. To discover more about them click here.