We had spent the night in a "chambre d'hôte" in Saint Martin de Londres, a village in the Pic Saint Loup appellation. The temperature in the night was largely under 0°C , but the room was well heated .
Soon on the road , we enjoyed the nature wich looks so much like inland-Provence that when driving on its little roads you think you are in the Var departement . Same type of bushes, trees and aromatic plants .
We use our many stops along the road to pick some thyme ( other than wine, we occasionally indulge ourselves in thyme and rosmarin infusions...), the one we picked last summer in Provence was too dry . In fact the best season to pick is somewhere between february and april . While looking for thyme in the hills , I even found wild lavender. After stocking for infusion and cooking , we went to Domaine de L'Hortus near Valflaunes (map) . Being early ( we had called ), we stopped on the dirt road 100 meter from the domaine to eat sandwiches , actually paté persillé bought on the way in Burgundy , with local baguettes . Improvised picnic on a brisk but sunny day with a beautiful view . 3 dogs , that we will learn belong to the Orliac family, are the first to greet us and come around . (small) pieces of paté persillé and my fondness for dogs make for a playful friendship .
We drive the last 100 meters and Yves Orliac , one of the sons , receives us . The Domaine lies right between the Pic Saint Loup and Mont Hortus. The chai building and the owner's home face side by side the view . The architecture is a first surprise : Not the neo-traditional style, but a daring wooden architecture closer to north-american architecture . It may have something to do with Jean and Marie-Therese Orliac's pioneer spirit . Passion and adventure was what brought them here in the first place . Jean Orliac discovered this region in 1970, and climbed repeatedly the summits around here , especially the Hortus cliffs, enjoying the beauty of a place that was then even more remote . The road system had not improved as much, and Montpellier seemed light years from here .
The chai , with mont Hortus behind
As an agricultural engineer,he felt it also had great potentialities for wine . This was the time of big production and these remote locations and difficult terrain were not favored . The hectare price was of course very cheap in these conditions . They first rented vineyards in the 1970's . Now the Domaine consists of 50-60 hectares , not all in ownership . They also acquired a 10 hectares vineyard, "Clos du Prieur", located 25 km north from here , on very steep terrain , with everything done manually there .
Mourvedre, under the Hortus cliff
On Domaine de L'Hortus, the vineyard lies along this east-west oriented valley , on slopes either north- or south-orientated . Everything was planted or replanted 30 years ago . Yves Orliac, a son of Jean and Marie-Therese, works with his parents, 2 brothers and a sister, plus about 10 employees . He drives us in the vineyard , on the south-oriented slopes under the cliff, with the Mourvedre spots, that we reach through badly maintained gravel tracks . Royat cordon pruning, rather short . De-budding in spring, to limit yields . High trellising . In Languedoc, as there are no strict traditions, different pruning techniques are used, like in the new world, it depends of the domaines' tastes . Nearby, a small olive trees orchard . Uphill, between the vineyard and the bottom of the cliff, a small evergreen oaks forest . This landscape configuration is also favorable for truffle oaks, wich need open surroundings, and they could consider this option someday here .
The cliff , wich reverberates the heat in sumer, has a few caves at mid-height that have been proven inhabited in the neanderthal era . The woods on this side and beyond are home to wildboars . A few vineyards had to be fenced .
View on the vats in the chai
Back in the nice wooden chai, we have a look over the vats and facility and walk to the tasting space , that overlooks these vats and the bottling area and has windows on the valley outside and the vineyard .
__1 Rosé de saignée 2003 . Syrah-Grenache and a little of Mourvedre . 13° . 6,5 Euro .
__2 white . Bergerie de L'Hortus 2004 . Vin de Pays du Val de Montferrand . Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, Chardonnay and some Roussanne . 13° . Clear colour . Very fresh nose . 7,3 Euro .
__3 white . Domaine de L'Hortus , grande Cuvée 2003, Vin de Pays du Val de Montferrand . Chardonnay, Viognier, some Roussanne . In Vin de Pays because of the Chardonnay . 8 months maturing in casks . More coloured than the former . Very nice . Ripe fruits . Some honey . Complexity and elegance . 13,5° . 14,8 Euro .
__4 red . Pic Saint Loup, Bergerie de L'Hortus 2002 . Syrah, Grenache, a little of Mourvedre . Very few bottles left . On the fruit . 7,3 Euro .
__5 red . Pic Saint Loup , Grande Cuvée 2002 . Mourvedre, Syrah and a little of Grenache . Very very nice nose . Nice texture . Small millesime in the region that gave here a very nice wine . 14,5 Euro .
__6 red . Clos du Prieur 2001 . Located in the scenic Gorges ( means canyon in french ) de la Buèges near Saint Jean de Buèges, backed by the Larzac plateau , on steep slopes Very traditional work and vinification . Yves's sister takes care of this vineyard . old Syrah , Carignan and Grenache vines .25-30 hectoliter/ha instead of 40 . More concentrated this year, so . They did not make this Clos du Prieur in 2002 .
Exported , as far as Japan . In the US , Michael Sullivan's Beaune Imports , European Cellars . SAQ in Canada .
I took this picture of Jean Orliac at a tasting, at Pavillon Dauphine, in Paris . He poses with a bottle of his Rosé de Saignée 2004 , with a nice piece of Art on the label . We spoke of the time he climbed near Mont Hortus and decided to make wine there .