Roussillon Rising

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Discovering the power and finesse of France's Catalan terroirs

by Robert Camuto -- Wine Spectator Nov. 30, 2015

Fifteen years ago, the Roussillon wine region, on France's Mediterranean flank near Spain, was a backwater. Today, more and more winemakers see Roussillon as France's next big thing. The area boasts terroirs that are often compared to those of Priorat, Spain's rising star some 150 miles to the south

"It's just a question of time," says winemaker Gérard Bertrand, 50, who is part of a wave of newcomers helping to transform this Grenache-rich region of rugged sea and mountain landscapes from a producer of fortified aperitif wines into a bastion of fine dry reds. "There's a rebirth of Roussillon happening now, with modern winegrowing, modern winemaking, a new way of thinking of about terroirs and a will to make high-class wines," explains Bertrand, a southern France native and leading biodynamic producer from neighboring Languedoc who moved to Roussillon in 2003 with a 20-year deal to manage the local Tautavel cooperative's grapegrowing, winemaking and marketing under his namesake label.

"Roussillon has more diversity of varietals, old vines and terroirs than Priorat," he adds. "It will take another 10 years to fully develop the image and notoriety here."

Among the dozens of adventurous outsiders who have arrived are big names such as the Rhône Valley's Michel Chapoutier and Pierre Gaillard, St.-Emilion's Jean-Luc Thunevin and California's Dave Phinney.

They've come for the things that define Roussillon: a hot, dry climate; abundant old Grenache vineyards; naturally low yields; varied, hilly terroirs dominated by rugged schist-based soils; and fierce northern tramontane winds.

"Roussillon is the most undervalued, underappreciated, underrecognized place I have ever made wine," says Phinney, 42, founder of Napa's Orin Swift Cellars. The globetrotting winemaker launched his Department 66 winery here in 2009. "In Napa we would kill to have those kind of soils…read the full article at winespectator.com