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Domaine Plageoles - Past, Present and Future: A Gaillac Primer

Domaine Plageoles - Past, Present and Future: A Gaillac Primer

“To call Domaine Plageoles an icon of the Gaillac appellation would be an understatement.” Jacqueline Friedrich, The World of Fine Wine
 
One key reason Gaillac has succeeded is because of the fierce determination of the Plageoles family—Bernard, his father Robert, and now his sons Florent and Romain—to preserve local traditions. Indeed, Gaillac’s modern revival has largely followed a path that they forged.” Jon Bonné, Punch Drink
 
The Plageoles family has left its mark on the recent history of Gaillac wine. They continue to produce off the beaten track, wines with a strong personality... The work of the head, heart and hands is reflected today in a range of wines that are absolutely flawless, pure and righteous.” La Revue du Vin de France

Off the bat, we’re delighted to offer a new parcel of righteous Gaillac. The latest release notes are a mere scroll away for those familiar with this pioneering organic grower. For curious souls, we also include an account of the domaine and the history of the region with which it is so closely entwined. Carl Edward Sagan, an American astronomer and planetary scientist, famously wrote, “You have to know the past to understand the present”. This is especially true of the complex legacy that lies at the heart of Domaine Plageoles and its wines. Sagan also noted, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known”. Welcome to Mauzac country.

The Past


Few wine regions have a rise and fall story as epic as Gaillac’s. Before it all came crashing down, Gaillac was on fire. You might even call it the Burgundy of its day. Over lunch many moons ago, Bernard Plageoles told us that the Phoenicians introduced the vinifera vine to Gaillac as early as 300 BC. The Romans came next and, never a bunch to look a gift horse in the mouth, got to work creating the first ‘Grand Cru’ of Roman Gaul (the other was in the Northern Rhône around Vienne). Roman potters even built a nearby facility to manufacture amphorae to facilitate the transport of the local wines. 
 
Later, the Benedictine monks—who knew better than most that some areas make finer wines than others—arrived to do their thing, using their viticultural nous and well-honed monastic wine traditions to raise quality further. So, by the Middle Ages, Gaillac’s wines were some of the most fashionable in Europe, drunk by counts of Toulouse and kings of France and England. By the 16th Century, Gaillac even had its own official brand—Vin de Coq—named after the city’s heraldry. 
 
How times have changed. Gaillac’s wine country predated Bordeaux by 1500 years and, had it not been for a series of fateful episodes, it might have achieved the same renown. The first stone was cast in 1224 when the Bordelaise received privileged access to the lucrative Britannia market, and proceeded to strangle the wine exports for Gaillac and other upland areas of the Garonne and Dordogne basins. Then came Le Grand Hiver (The Great Winter) of 1708–1709 , which exacted a heavy toll on the region’s vineyards. Finally, around 1860 phylloxera delivered the coup de grâce, obliterating three-quarters of Gaillac’s vineyards. The region’s vineyards today occupy one-twentieth of their former size. 

The Present


How to sum up Domaine Plageoles in one word? Tradition. But this is not a tradition—to paraphrase Frederik Tristan—in the form of a return to an obsolete past, but rather in the permanence of its origins through time. If Gaillac is taking baby steps on its way to becoming trendy again (and we like to think so), it is primarily thanks to the influence of one man—Robert Plageoles.
 
Established by Marcel Plageoles in the early 19th century, the domaine we know today took root when Robert Plageoles was handed the keys in the late 1970s. Described by Andrew Jefford as “The great viticultural archaeologist”, Plageoles was the most widely admired Gaillac grower of his time, going on to become a regional icon for identifying and preserving many indigenous cultivars and then, with revolutionary zeal, pioneering their resurgence. Yet, Plageoles’ fame was not limited to the Southwest. He also won the esteem of some of the most outstanding winegrowers in France, including Lalou Bize-Leroy, who described him as a “fortress of humanity” and a “well of knowledge”.
 
Robert Plageoles was also an outspoken critic of the regional authorities, often using colourful language when addressing those he accused of attempting to bury Gaillac’s proud past. “When I taste Merlot in Corbières, it makes my hair stand on end and my stomach sick. We’re in the process of betraying 2,000 years of history,” he told Jefford in 2001 (The New France). These old, born-again varieties—including the Mauzac family, Prunelart, Verdanel and Ondenc—now take pride of place in the Plageoles vineyards. Over the years, the family has created a 0.15-hectare conservatoire ampélographique, an unrivalled collection of ancient and long-lost Gaillac grape varieties that were not replanted by the local vignerons after their own vines were destroyed by phylloxera.

Plageoles was also well ahead of the curve in bringing back his region’s traditional methods of farming and artisanal winemaking. Ploughing was reintroduced in 1986, and the Plageoles vineyards are mostly goblet-trained: the traditional (and most quality-focussed) pruning method in the region before growers opted for recipe viticulture and trellising to mechanise and use harvesting machines. He was also the first in the area to recognise the benefits of organic farming, a progression that allowed him to use natural yeasts for fermentation. 
 

The Future


Bernard Plageoles was, and is, no less of a thorn in the side of Gaillac’s lawmakers than his father. His long-standing rap sheet with the syndicat includes shunning Gaillac’s so-called ‘improving’ varieties (such as Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc), bottling all his wines as single varieties (still frowned upon in Gaillac) and even receiving fines for ‘under-extracting’ his reds. We’re not making this up. Now, building on the ground-breaking work of their celebrated father and grandfather before them, today it is Florent and Romain Plageoles who carry this domaine’s progressive baton. 
 
Not only have the brothers of the new generation inherited their forebears’ infectious passion for Gaillac’s old traditions, they are also leading a regional renaissance, making ever-better, more charming wines, and inspiring others to follow. With the same brand of revolutionary glee as their elders, Florent and Romain Plageoles have instilled more precision in their white wines, while upping the energy and bounce in their reds. They have also been challenged by their grandfather to carry on his study in the possibility of domesticating the phylloxera-resistant wild vine that grows around the old oak trees in the forest of Grésigne (see image above). But let’s save that for another time.

 

For full information on Domaine Plageoles and to see the full range, click here. 

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