It is said that Æolius was a vigorous progenitor and his long descendancy was scattered by the winds. Of his twelve children, one of them – wandering like Ulysses – chose the Minervois for his exile. Here he found his new residence: a perfect ‘corridor’ between the Pyrenees and the Montagne Noire.
From there, well established on a rock surrounded by profound gorges with impressive summits, he took out his most precious possession, stolen from his distant ancestor, the famous Goatskin of winds. He opened it, releasing great gusts, which he sent towards the cardinal forces of the great blue deep. Since then, he has benignly directed, in Nature’s luminous theatre, the eternally regenerating currents of the air.
In the 6th century B.C., our wizard of the winds welcomed with open arms the Greek colonisers, worthy bearers of the first vine plants, who settled first in Agde before their descendants slowly worked their way up towards the vast amphitheatre of the Minervois and started cultivating and fertilising it during the Gallo-Roman era. From that time, little by little, the winds that had rooted here were baptised, venerated, and feared; even deified, like Cirius, who has his temple on the heights of Saint-Cyr.
Each winemaker then learnt the whims of the winds and how to turn them to their advantage. It is at the heart of this natural inheritance that the winemakers of the Minervois today marry grenache, syrah, and carignan to develop robust wines, each year’s vintage the fruit of the capricious winds, characterised by the softness and the richness of the tanins as well as their respect for the fruit.
Harnessing the energy of the winds
These winds of wild origin, willfully whipping across the vineyards of the Minervois, have produced, through the laborious and passionate work of the winemakers, seminal appellations known for their elegance, body and structure.
But take heed! It does not suffice to bow down before this wizardry of the wind, waiting for the plants to grow and the fruit to arrive. No, the wind in the Minervois is capricious, and holds the power of many armies in its breath. And the winemakers – the children of these unruly, mischievous winds, have learnt their lesson: you cannot conquer the wind, you must work with it! … Its direction, strength and frequency – different every year – directly influence the winemaker’s work, the quality of the harvest and of the wines.
Rich hours and little nuisances
For example, the wind dries the grapes and preserves them from disease by carrying away many parasites. This limits the need to use chemical treatments and thus respecting the environment.
It also purifies the vineyard, it ‘cleans’ the atmosphere and purifies the air. At the time of flowering it favours better pollination. In the period that precedes the harvest, a good breeze, often at night, contributes the coolness, which, working together with the sun, improves evapo-transpiration (1) ; a natural phenomenon that concentrates flavour and avoids excess water retention in the grape. But if it is too strong or violent it can break young branches, spread odium spores and insects, dry the vine out too much, or increase its hydraulic stress before the harvest.
(1) Evapo-transpiration : a quantity of water transferred towards the atmosphere by evaporation at ground level and by plant transpiration.
Vineyards sculpted by the winds
In order to achieve the maximum benefit from the wind’s effects without suffering too much from its excesses, the winemakers of the Minervois, who love their vineyards as much as they respect the wind, have provenboth their pragmatism and aesthetic sense.
They learnt to plant taking into account the direction of the prevailing wind and that of the slope to protect the plant matter as much as the ground. They often added hedges to act as windbreaks; evergreen (like cypress) to the east and west, fruit trees with deciduous leaves (like fig trees and almond trees) to the south letting in the winter sun and giving shade in summer. Hence these landscapes, delicately painted with long lines of colour according to the seasons, which match each other from the south-east to the north-west, illuminated by these tongues of green flaming up towards the sky.
In the salubrious cellar air
In the same way, the direction of the cellars is not left to chance : just as protection is needed from the wind, it must also be used for ventilation and natural air-conditioning. The round (or semi-oval) fenestrons that often adorn the top of cellar walls let the air pass through and reduce the amount of light getting in. The wind continues its work, even where the wine is stored, and adaptations have to be made there too. Simply reading a collection of local maxims proves it : ‘the lee comes back up when the wind blows from the sea, and drowns when it blows from the mountain’; ‘ the wine is less settled when the wind is blowing from the sea than when it’s the north wind’ ; ‘the yeasts are more active when the wind blows from the sea’. Thus winemakers, like all artisans, who burnish Nature’s treasures, do not work in the same way depending on the direction of the winds, whose influence extends to the heart of the vats.