The Mas des Tourelles is a domaine located near Nimes and Beaucaire (map : Mas des Tourelles is indicated under "Beaucaire") , south of France in the Cotes
du Rhone- Costieres de Nimes appellation .They produce for years Costieres de Nimes wines and have been at the origin of an exciting new experience : The production of gallo-roman wines like the ones that were made more than 2000 years ago . Yes : They make and sell several of the very wines that were known in the Roman Empire , and that were so different from our "modern" wines .
It all began when archeological excavations revealed a gallo-roman villa and its surrounding buildings under existing vineyards of the domaine . Unearthed were several major structures , including what was a pottery production facility where "gallic 4" amphoras were produced . [See on the pictures left and lower , the site in the middle of the vineyard]
This potential archeological site was spotted as soon as 1909 but seriously searched with the help of the french research body CNRS , first in 1979-1980 . That was when the gallo-roman villa was located .;A 3-hectare built site is thought to have been busy and alive between the 1st to the 3rd century A.D.
In 1983 , serious digging under the vineyard unearthed the bases of the buildings and the amphora production facility . Young archeologists still patiently comb the place today .
Visitors to the Mas des Tourelles can also visit the open archeological site nearby and check the progress of the excavations under the scorching sun and with the deafening chorus of cicadas in the background .
So a special relationship grew between the CNRS archeologists and the Mas des Tourelles owners , Diane and Herve Durand , who found a new passion for these antique wines that were made in the region and the roman empire in general .
They looked for information ,beginning in 1991, mostly from the ancient texts of Pline , Collumelle and other roman writers . The blurred image of roman wines gradually took some sharper substance as many details about the wine production process and the different way to make them could be found in a multitude of roman and greek texts .
And this led to the construction in 1994 of the "cave archeologique" (archeological cellar) where the Mas des Tourelles produces today , with the only tools and techniques used 2000 years ago , several wines from the gallo-roman era .
The harvest is being conducted every year according to the Roman era ways, as you can see on this page, and even the way the workers were dressed has been taken into account.
The Mas des Tourelles operates its "modern" Costieres de Nimes production in a separate building . The "roman" building includes all the tools of this era : The Calcatorium where the grapes were foot-crushed by slaves , the huge press moved by workers pulling ropes together , the lacus where the juice flowed ,the Dolia (a Dolium is a big 500 liters amphora with a wide mouth , with is 2/3 burried in the ground to keep cool , and in wich the fermentation process starts). Many herbal and mineral additives were added in the Dolia .
The Domaine has a museum in a building wich explains the antique roman wine and displays artifacts from the roman times , some found on the property .
Additives , wich were an important part of the roman wines , were many and diverse , depending of the type of wine and the regional wine tradition . Let's look at what was added to the wine . This also tells a lot about all the way the wine went, from the roman wines to what we drink now :
__Plaster (according to Pline) To fight bitterness in wines .
__Lime . To de-acidify the wines (Pline)
__Marble powder . Cited by Pline . Recommended by Caton and Collumelle . same benefit than lime .
__Salt or sea water . Same use than plaster (Caton , Pline , Palladius)
__Resin . To enhance "flat" wines (Pline) .
__Lees . To prevent corruption of the wine . Also to soften hard wines (Collumelle)
__Saffron . To colour a wine . (Plutarque)
__Whey(milk) . To clear black wines . (Palladius)
__Vine stock ash . To change a black wine into a white wine .(Palladius)
This is just a selection of what was mixed with the wine . without modern techniques and sulphur , they could thus control the wine and conserve it . Additives were also for better taste (as weird as it seems...) and for health benefits .
Let's taste now . Diane Durand serves us in the nice tasting room of the Domaine . The "modern" wines first :
__1__Chateau des Tourelles Rose de Saignee 2003 . Syrah-Grenache 50% each . Good summer wine . 4,9 Euro .
__2__Chateau des Tourelles red Cuvee classique 2003 .Mostly Syrah-Grenache ,with a little mourvedre and some vieux carignan . On the fruit .
__3__Chateau des Tourelles Costieres de Nimes red "Cour des Glycines" 2001 Syrah-grenache-mourvedre about 1/3 each .Nice nose . Melted tannins . 14° .I like it . Comes from the oldest vines on the property . 1/3 in casks. 6,8 Euro .
__4__Chateau des Tourelles Costieres de Nimes red "Grande cuvee" 2001 Syrah 85% mourvedre 15% 14,5° .Very dense . Very flavoured . 9,8 Euro .
__6__Mulsum . No year . 5% honey . Aromatic herbs . Favorite drink at "gustatio" (as aperitif , before a meal) 13,5° . There were variations as for the alcohol depending of the wine maker . Intense nose : Cinnamon . Honey .10,5 Euro for a 75,5cl bottle .
__7__Carenum 2002 . Nice golden colour Tuile . Very good wine . To drink with Roquefort cheese . Defrutum added . 12,5° . Priced 11 Euro for a 37,5 cl bottle . I'll take a bottle of this one .