Vintners revive wine tradition near French Pyrenees

Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:02am EST
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By Marcel Michelson

MIREPOIX, France (Reuters) - With the Pyrenees mountain range firmly set on the southern horizon, a few enthusiastic vintners are trying to resuscitate a local wine-growing tradition that has been lost for many decades.

"We were four at the start. Only one of us was already a wine-maker, I was in agriculture. We just could not understand why Ariege was the only area in France without vines while it had been an important producer in the past," said Philippe Babin, one of the pioneers and a former vegetable seed grower.

He said the fledgling movement had little support at the start but that older local people would tell them how vines used to run everywhere in the region. Abandoned wine presses and barrels for making wine can still be found on many local farms.

"We encountered a lot of skepticism but in the end, wine is the noblest product of a region and we felt that Ariege merited wine," Babin said.

On the other side of the Pyrenees, the sunny side in Spain, there are the wines from Navarra and Rioja. To the east lie the French vineyards of Corbieres and the cotes de Malepere, while Irouleguy in the Basque country and Madiran lie to the west.

Here in the Ariege region, the vines had been uprooted to make place for grain farms for bread in Toulouse and to feed the cattle in the gentle plains along the river Hers, which meanders past the Mediaeval town of Mirepoix, best-known for its carved wooden arcades along the central square.

The Ariege's Mediterranean climate provides good conditions for growing vines with its warm days, while the cool mountain air helps to concentrate flavor in the grapes.

"The nearby mountains provide cold nights and it is that daily difference in temperatures that makes the grapes retract at night, putting a concentration of taste and color in the skins," Babin said.   Continued...