Saturday, July 30, 2011

Val de Salis and Flooded Vineyards

Last night we tasted the entire line of six wines from Val de Salis vineyards in the Languedoc region of southern France. Val de Salis lies between Corbieres and Minervois, twelve miles from historic Carcasonne and twenty five miles from the Mediterranean Sea. This should place Val de Salis about a hundred miles southeast of Chateau Puech-Haut in St. Drezery.

Here is the interesting part: the vineyards are flooded annually for the health of the native vine rootstocks! You may recall the June 11th installment on Phylloxera and the early attempts to combat the disease in the 1880's by flooding vineyards to prevent the infection caused by the American aphid. The ultimate alternative solution chosen was to graft French vulnerable vines onto American disease resistant rootstocks. This unsettling choice left people wondering if the wines would perhaps be tainted by the new world imported rootstocks and be less than what they were.

Val de Salis provides an insight into this puzzle because it is one of the few European vineyards still using native rootstocks because their vineyards lie in a dry lake bed! At the end of the 17th century, Louis IVX began a process of draining a particularly brackish wetland that was formed geologically by the rising of the Pyrennes Mountains. Now that natural bowl is flooded at the end of winter annually and the vines are cut down almost to the ground so the entire vineyard is under water. No self-respecting aphid would be caught dead in such an environment!

If our tasting of Val de Salis wines shows anything about the quality of native rootstock French wine, it is that they are very good indeed. Sales of these wines last night were better than any (except Puech-Haut) in recent memory. All six varieties; Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Pinot Noir, and Marselan; showed well and sold equally well. Sauvignon Blanc was the best white although the Viognier at a lower price point was probably its equal value. The Pinot Noir was the best red but again an argument could be made that the Malbec was a better value.

For more information on the Languedoc see the July 14th and July 26th blogs. To experience these native rootstock wines for yourself, stop in the store and cite the blog for get a 10% discount. Say "yabba dabba do" and get 20% off on a piece of cheese.

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