Collioure, the picture-postcard seaside town on the Vermilion coast near the Spanish border, is celebrating its golden anniversary this year. Banyuls, which is produced in the same appellation area as red Collioure, is a household name. The anniversary is a great opportunity to get to know its alter ego where every single bottle is a labour of love by passionate winegrowers, both independent and co-operative, and where there can be no compromises, such is the rugged terrain they have to work with. Here is the history of one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions, home to ‘heroic viticulture’, which come what may is determined to reinvent itself.
- Collioure / Banyuls: the history of a dual appellation area
- A remarkable wine region, between the sea and the mountains
- Vineyard endorsement
- Grenache, the varietal calling the shots
- Collioure appellation wines
Collioure / Banyuls: the history of a dual appellation area
The Collioure appellation area shares the same footprint as Banyuls. The difference between the two is thatBanyuls is for dessert wines (VDN), and Collioure for dry wines. Until 1935, the dry wines produced within the boundaries of Banyuls were known as ‘natural wines in the Banyuls area’, to differentiate between them and fortified Banyuls. In 1971, the head of the local winegrowers’ association, André Parcé, spearheaded a bid to secure stand-alone appellation status for Collioure and the red wines gained AOC status. It was a victory for what became Roussillon’s very first dry wine appellation, now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary!
Currently, 44 independent winegrowers and 3 co-operative wineries produce approximately 20,000 hectolitres of AOP Collioure wine annually and 14,000 hl of AOP Banyuls.
A remarkable wine region, between the sea and the mountains
This incredible wine region, France’s most southerly, was established in the 6th century BC by the Phoenicians and the Phoceans. Down the centuries, vineyards gradually spread across the dizzyingly steep terraces overlooking the sea.
1,400 hectares of vines rise up from sea level to an elevation of 400 metres. Over one third of them are located on steep slopes where the incline is over 50%! Here, the landscape is home to terraced vineyards divided up by stone walls (known as feixas), built from the local schist stone. The walls are meticulously maintained, stone by stone, by the men and women who farm the vines independently or as part of a co-operative. They are surrounded by oak trees, chestnuts, maquis or scrubland and olive groves. This abundance of plant life protects the local fauna, and vineyard sites from erosion. In the very apt words of the new, and young, chairman of the Collioure appellation, Romuald Peronne, a winegrower at Clos Saint Sébastien: “Here, work in the vineyards is still very people-focused, as if time had stood still. It is extremely challenging for winegrowers who have to literally put their back into everything they do, because of the steep slopes, but at the same time it guarantees the quality of work in the vineyards. Biodiversity and the landscape are protected and maintained. This is a hallmark feature of these historic vineyards, which deserves to be better known, to promote the strenuous, yet humble work carried out by every winegrower in the Collioure appellation”.
In 1993, the Ministry of the Environment singled out the vineyards by awarding them a ‘landscape endorsement’. They are also part of the group of nature reserves, come under the authority of the coastline conservation trust and Natura 2000 sites. In 2011-2012, a Landscape and Environmental Charter for the Vermilion Coast was launched and aims to promote of the role of local winegrowers as custodians of the environment, especially water resources.
Grenache, the varietal calling the shots
If you had to single out one iconic grape variety for Banyuls and Collioure, it would definitely be Grenache. It comes in black (for red wines), white and blush versions (for white wines). On these schist soils between the sea and the mountains, Grenache shows distinctive site-expressiveness, acting as a catalyst for power and finesse, ripeness and salinity. It is one of the salient markers of the area’s identity.
Other varieties include Vermentino, Macabeu and Tourbat for the whites, and Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre for the reds.
Collioure appellation wines
Collioure appellation wines are divided between 50% red, 30% white and 20% rosé. Romuald Peronne feels that “the Collioure appellation is multi-faceted. The style of red Collioure is defined by fleshy, sun-ripened wines, made in such a way that they bring out the finesse and elegance of the brown schist soils exposed to the drift of the sea spray”. One such example is the 90 % Grenache noir and 10% Carignan Inspiration Céleste label (€29) by Clos Saint-Sébastien. Peronne explains: “The appellation’s future lies in white wines, because they are the most age-worthy offerings”. The new generation though, which shows commitment and thought, is already producing many gems – red, white and rosé – that can be indulged in locally, in this fantastic corner of paradise along the Vermilion coast.