The story Mas de Daumas begins with the purchase of the property by Aimé Guibert, a Parisian glove manufacturer; he and his wife Véronique were looking for a family home away from city life, and had no intention of making wine. They stumbled across Mas de Daumas Gassac, an abandoned farmhouse owned by the Daumas family in a valley shaped by the flow of the Gassac.
The pair purchased the farm (mas) and set about its renovation, but they also surveyed their land and naturally considered what they should plant there. It may have been olive trees, or a fruit orchard, had it not been for a friend, Professor Henri Enjalbert, a renowned oenologist, who provided the spark to light the tinder of Mas de Daumas Gassac. Whilst walking around the estate he recognized that the combination of the red glacial soils beneath the local garrigue, together with the altitude and the nocturnal currents of cool air that passed over the slopes made this an ideal spot for viticulture. His enthusiasm seemed to ignite a passion within Aimé Guibert and his wife; it was barely a year before the first vines were planted, the beginnings of perhaps the most significant Languedoc vineyard of all. These were un-cloned Cabernet Sauvignon vines, propagated from cuttings taken from Bordeaux vineyards decades before. With the first vines in place in 1972, work began on constructing a cuverie on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman water mill, which was completed in 1978, just in time for the first vintage.
This was undertaken with advice from another great name associated with Bordeaux, the oenologist Professor Emile Peynaud, who agreed to come on board as a consultant in 1978. Peynaud’s watchwords were “finesse, complexity and balance.”
Under his aegis the 1978 Mas de Daumas Gassac went from fermentation vessel to barrel and then, in 1980, to bottle. The buzz about Gassac started with a story by a Dutch journalist in 1981. British wine writers found them, and the Times of London compared the wine to Latour, and the French magazine GaultMillau has called the estate “the Lafite Rothschild of the Languedoc.” In the early ’80s, they were the producer that caused the wine world to focus, for the first time, on the Languedoc as a potential source of top quality wines. This is what eventually led to Mondovi’s interest in that area.
All the vineyards are organically farmed, and they have never used chemicals. All the wine is estate grown, and all of the wines they produce are blends. The estate is planted to 20 varieties of red grapes and 20 varieties of white. The red plantings, which make up two thirds of the estate, are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, but also include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Tannat, as well as Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. The white varieties planted are mostly Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Petit Manseng, but also include Marsanne, Roussane, Sercial and Muscat.
The fruit is harvested with yields on the order of 35-40 hl/ha (where over 100 hl/ha is typical of lower quality wines) and the harvest is entirely by hand into 20 kg open weave baskets. Once these have been carried to the cellars, the fruit is sorted by hand on tables, de-stemmed and then fed by gravity into the inox (stainless steel) fermentation vats. After these the red wine is run into barrel, which are replaced every seven years, so the new oak influence is minimized. The red rests there for 12-15 months before bottling, after a light egg-white fining and no filtration. As for the white, this has some skin contact for up to seven days, then fermented in inox and filtered by passage through fossilised seashells.