Whilst the Roussillon region is now rightly recognised as a place of fine wine, Gérard Gauby saw this potential for excellence back in the 1990s. And many of the region’s trendiest wine makers were trained at the “Gauby school”. But this success has been no reason for complacency!
Domaine Gauby is located 20km north-west of Perpignan, and its land spans 85 hectares including 44 hectares of vines, some of which are as much as 120 years old. The other 40 hectares are made up of grains, meadows, forest, and brushland, which altogether make for a beautifully diverse natural and agricultural landscape.
The history of this domain began with Gérard Gauby, grandfather of the current owner, who gradually moved away from the local cooperative to work on his own vinifications. At the time, he owned 3 hectares of vineyard.
It’s his son, who goes by the same name, who would reinvigorate the domain, giving it new direction. Many more vines were acquired in the 1980s, and chemical products were totally abandoned in 1996: “One morning, my father found a load of dead birds on a parcel he’d disinfected the previous day,” recounts Lionel (Gérard’s son). “He decided overnight to stop using chemicals, it was radical.”
The environment at the domain has been well-preserved, in the sense that there are wild, arid, sloping, and hilly parts left as they are, with some areas reaching an altitude of 300 metres. The Calce region, and the Roussillon more generally, is complex in geological terms. Vertical faults are many and they are deep. There are some truly magnificent terroirs here, and the vertical layers allow roots to push deep into the soil. These soils are rich in chalk, marl, and schist, with areas where all three thrive in close quarters.
As you can tell, the natural world is respected here, a philosophy reflected in the domain’s viticulture. Nature is an ally and a source of inspiration, with ‘homemade’ preparations created using over twenty plant varieties, as well as other natural products like essential oils and compost. This thorough work helps to draw out the quintessential character of the terroirs, striving always for elegance and freshness in the resulting wine.
Lionel Gauby joined his father in 2000 after spending time learning from Olivier Jullien at Domaine du Mas Jullien. By this point, he had a good idea of what it means to make wine. He agreed with his father that many southern French wines were too heavily concentrated and had excessive levels of alcohol. Extractions were often dense and too much new wood was used during maturation, leaving terroir-specific features out of the equation. He admits, though, that these were the kinds of cuvée that brought Domaine Gauby into the limelight at the end of the 90s. For around a decade now, the Gauby family have been working differently, seeking finesse and elegance in their production.
Their methods greatly evolved after the turn of the millennium, going from heavy, oaky wines to a fresher and more elegant style, something that threw certain clients off to begin with. It didn’t take long to convince them, though, and the domain is now considered a model example of how the region’s viniculture is developing. At Domaine Gauby, the bunches are not destemmed, and the wine is matured only in foudre and demi-muid containers. Some of these casks come from the Austrian cooperage Franz Stockinger, where the wood is dried for 4 years instead of the usual 12 to 18 months. There is also a tendency to reduce the time spent maturing the wine, with the view to keeping it on the fruity side.
The radical evolution in style seen at this domain has certainly had people talking, as it’s quite rare for a domain already doing so well to rethink its own methods so profoundly. Yet it’s becoming increasingly clear that Domaine Gauby had a real headstart, with enthusiasts developing more of a taste for finesse and delicate profiles. This is a wine to be enjoyed at the table, rather than on its own. The work done at this domain is undoubtedly exemplary, demonstrating how the actions of a big name can shake the table in a really influential way.