In southern France it's called garrigue (gar-eeg). In California, it's chaparral. In Chile, it's matorral. In South Africa, it's fynbos and in Australia it's called mallee. Terms like these in wine parlance are either nouns or descriptors depending on their usage. Garrigue and all of the others above are names given to the vegetation common in their wine regions. When describing a wine they refer to the influence of the terrain on the grapes growing in the vineyards. In short, it's about terroir. What garrigue imparts to a wine is an herbal character.
Southern France, including the Rhone, Provence and much of Languedoc, has a hilly scrubland terrain with isolated thickets of small oak trees, bushes and herbs. Four thousand years ago this region was heavily forested with rich topsoil but deforestation for agriculture resulted in the garrigue landscape today. Herbes de Provence, strictly speaking, would include all of the minty and floral herbs that thrive in the region. Sage, rosemary, thyme, juniper and lavender all contribute to that pungent bouquet which is evident in the air.
Today the garrigue of southern France is protected by law. Over the course of centuries the soil of the region has become a chalky lime alkaline clay. It has a high pH, low infiltration capacity and a hard calcareous crust. The plants that have thrived there in the long term show an allelopathy, a unity of purpose with each other which disallows newcomers to the area. Many emit an oil into the soil that asserts their dominance and maintains the open spaces around the plant clusters. That oil becomes part of the soil and eventually internalized by grapevine roots.
Please join us this Thursday between 5 and 7pm when Cheri Rubio presents a tasting from her fine wine portfolio. That evening we'll be tasting Lurton White Bordeaux, The Crossings New Zealand Pinot Noir, Villa Pozzi Sicilian Nero d'Avola and Kunde Family Estate Zinfandel. Please join us.