WWC21 – La Roque, Languedoc

WWC21 Jones K - La Roque Vineyard in autumn

'Please find attached my first ever piece of prose. La Roque vineyard belongs to Domaine Jones and covers a third of a hectare. I created Domaine Jones in 2009 by buying up old parcels of vines that no one wanted.' Thus writes Katie Jones, an English winemaker gone native in France, and no stranger to the pages of JancisRobinson.com. See our WWC21 guide for more old-vine competition entries. 

My name is Isidore. I am 96 years old, and I have my roots in a small non-descript vineyard called La Roque on the back road between the villages of Tuchan and Paziols. 

WWC21 Jones K - Isadore

I should say my roots are 96 years old - as my wood goes much further back. I was brought here by my first owner Monsieur Francis in 1925 after he took a shoot from my mother, a formidable looking Carignan high on the Tauch mountain.

Monsieur Francis had already prepared the way for our arrival in La Roque. Two years previous he had planted over a thousand American rootstocks, with the help of Mignon the horse who wearily dragged the plough up and down the poor, stony soils.

WWC21 Jones K - vieille photo
Planting rootstocks with Mignon

I and the other shoots (gathered without much care and attention by Monsieur Francis) were amongst some of the very first vines to be grafted after Phylloxera. It had taken a while for the disease to reach our remote part of France in the foothills of the Pyrenees on the Languedoc Roussillon borders but now it was definitely here. Canette, the village blacksmith had converted into the village ‘greffeur’. I can’t say it didn’t hurt having my basal end whittled with a pen knife, but I did fit very snuggly into the spliced rootstock. I choked a little as Canette tightly bound up the wound with raffia and made a mound of earth to stop me drying out. 

The dry tramontane wind made the heat of the Mediterranean sun even hotter in our coveted valley bottom site. I was hoping that Monsieur Francis would bring me a drop to drink, but that never happened. I learnt to survive on the meagre rainfall and started to push my roots far into the subsoil to find the dampness of the cold clay soils that lay below. 

I will never forget the look of disappointment on Monsieur Francis’ face the first year he saw the colour of my grapes. He was expecting, and hoping, for large bunches of red Carignan to take to the newly opened Cooperative in Tuchan. I do believe he almost wept when he saw that my grapes like many others in the vineyard were a pale pink colour. I had put all of my energy into producing big bunches of grapes and was exhausted by the time Mignon the horse brought the cart of Spanish pickers my way. They seemed happy enough singing and chattering. But I, like Monsieur Francis, knew that my pink grapes would produce a lighter wine than the red which meant less payment for Monsieur Francis and his family. I remember one of them asking Monsieur Francis if he should bother picking my pink grapes. And the reply I will never forget. ‘Yes, but make sure you hide them under the red grapes so no one sees them.’

WWC21 Jones K - Isadore's pink grapes
Isadore's pink grapes

I spent the next few decades hoping and praying that I wouldn’t be ripped up and replaced with a proper red vine – red carignan or the superior grenache for the new aperitif ‘à la mode’ Rivesaltes. had seen how quick Monsieur Francis was to replace Mignon the horse with a new, narrow caterpillar ‘chenillard’ tractor that had caught his eye at the annual Foire in Tuchan.

I did my best to behave producing as many grapes as I could but without Mignon’s manure it was hard work. I didn’t grumble when Monsieur Francis divided up his vineyards between his two sons and Jean took over La Roque. Jean had learnt all about farming at college in Carcassonne and particularly the increased yields that could be achieved with chemicals and artificial fertilisers. He bought a brand-new Fendt tractor and ripped up every 6th row in my vineyard so he could get through it to spray us from head to toe. The soil tasted nasty, it was compacted and hard, my leaves burnt but I never complained. Well, Jean was happy - it meant he didn’t have to work as hard; he could buy more vineyards and still go wild boar hunting at the weekends. 

We had bumper crops, but my pink grapes still didn’t please Jean. 

I was weak and exhausted and had almost given up when I overheard Jean talking to a voice I didn’t recognise. ‘No I’m not a member of the Cooperative and I’m particularly interested in the Carignan Gris’

WWC21 Jones K - Katie Jones
Katie Jones

The voice belonged to a young lady not from these parts. She stared at the view that I have looked at for the past 96 years, the Tauch mountain, the 11th century Chateau D’Aguilar and told me how lucky I was to live in such a beautiful place.

She looked at Jean and nodded. Jean looked a bit taken aback and quickly shook her hand.

That was the last I saw of Jean. Now I am only fed organic food, my soils are ploughed once again by my old friend the ‘chenillard’ and I’m not even asked to produce many grapes – just make them the best that I can. I have my own wine made only from Carignan Gris from La Roque and it even says Carignan Gris in big letters on the label. Our lower alcohol has become a positive and I overheard our new owner describing us as the grape of the future.

WWC21 Jones K - Isadore's old friend, 'le chenillard'
Isadore's old friend, 'le chenillard'

And would you believe, it has been the weirdest year. Whilst it has been much quieter than usual, Katie has been out to see us every day talking to herself and pointing a strange rectangular object into our foliage. I hear her saying ‘Bonjour’ to all her friends around the world, asking them questions and telling them how proud she is of us old vines and the wine we make. Apparently, some of them are so keen on us they actually want to adopt us and even come and see us one day all the way down here in the back of beyond.

Can you imagine that!

WWC21 Jones K - Katie in the vineyard

The photos are all provided by Katie Jones.