Blanquette is the precursor to champagne and the ledgend says that Dom Perignon, he of great fame and wisdom, visited the region centuries ago and took the secret of sparkling wines to the Champagne region, where it became a worldwide success story. That may or may not be true, but the vintners around here swear by it, and I'll buy into the legend until I see proof otherwise.
This gentleman, Andrieu Peyret, is the owner of the vinyard and it has been in his family since the 1850's. In 1986 M. Peyret stopped selling his grapes to the winemakers in Limoux and began making his own wine. A bold and courageous move if you ask me. Here, he stands in front of his Moissac vines, which make up the bulk of blanquette.
The grounds of the vinyard were very picturesque and rustic. It is one of the smaller producers in the blanquette industy and all the functions are performed by three people, mom, pop and one employee (except during the harvest when they hire ten grape pickers). It is from January to March that they actually work the hardest, pruning and preparing the vines for the growing season. Monsieur himself works from sun-up to sun-down, seven days a week. His son is a teacher and the mayor of Cepie, and our interpreter, a rather hardworker himself. He declined to get involved in the business because of the long hours of hard work and I can't blame him.
Here are the grapes themselves, early on in the process. The grapes have only emerged 15 days previously and are not yet fat and juicy, bursting with ripeness.
This is the scale used to weigh the grapes before they go into the crusher. We marvelled at the rather ancient machine; it wasn't digital or electronic and it didn't plug in. But as Monsieur said, " Ca marche." It works.
Here, we're being shown the sediment in the bottle of wine. They store the wine, neck down in a bottle stand, and every day, Monsieur turns the bottle one quarter turn for 21 days. Later on, they extract the sediment in a process which we could not understand given the language problem, but I know other producers have frozen the neck of the bottle and pulled out the frozen sediment and recapped the bottle. Peyret uses some other method, and we saw the machine but failed to understand the process.
Some bottles are saved, at least one bottle for each production run, for each year and they are opened on occasion to check quality and how well they are aging. The rest of the bottles go off to market. About 80% of the blanquette produced around Limoux (the only place it is made) ends up in France and a few other countries. Almost none goes to the U.S.; I would be surprised if you can find very many American wine enthusiasts that know what blanquette is.
After checking out the production aspects of the operation, we retired to the tasting rooms where we sampled three types of blanquette and the other varieties, all very tasty and delicious wines. Monsieur Peyret, it was obvious, was a working stiff. He had dirt under his fingernails, hard callouses on his hands, sweat stains on his t-shirt and clearly did not expect us to show up for a tour today. This was not a slick operation like his nearby neighbor, Gayda wineries (the champion of corporate, highly capitalized vinters) . The buildings were in need of some maintenance, the grounds were in need of someone to pick a few weeds, and Monsieur Peyret could have used a fresh shirt. We've toured the Gayda vinyard several years ago and the contrast couldn't be more obvious. Corporate versus family, new versus old, stark versus friendly, groovy, gourmet restaurant versus nothing, and I could go on. Frankly, although I like the Gayda wines just fine, I'll vouch for the integrity and soul of Peyret's operation every day of the week.
Here's Mimi on the left, my sister Amy and Dan's daughter, with the Peyret's grandaughter, Chloe, and their ferocious dog with the gimpy leg outside the tasting room. We bought some lovely wines and took up some more of the proprietor's valuable time talking about wines and France, and the politics of city management and headed back home to Leran. Remember kids, click on 'em to enlarge 'em.