Organic French Wine of Gaillac: The Plateau Cordais

Organic French Wine of Gaillac: The Plateau Cordais

More Wine Touring! More organic French wine that you won’t find in your bio shop!  Last year, I visited some organic vineyards in the Gaillac wine region of South-Western France. When we finally managed to see my parents in law this year, we did not leave the house much because of COVID restrictions, but we wanted to try some wineries close by to feed our organic French wine habit.

I was first acquainted with the local wine in the supermarket, and despite its low prices, it was really delicious. Value for money, as so often when you try something slightly obscure and local. It’s barely possible to buy any Gaillac wine outside France, let alone organic wine. However, I cannot recommend Occitanie as a travel region enough. Especially the are north-east of Toulouse is very little visited and full of wonderful landscapes and  monuments.

Organic French wine: The Gaillac AOC

Established by the Phoenicians 200-400 years BC, Gaillac was one of three  Gallic wine regions.  However,  a vine-killing winter over 300 years ago and a bout of phylloxera infestation let the Gaillac slide into oblivion… almost. It is now a rather obscure region with just over 100 vineyards. Most are open to the public and very little visited. The variety in landscape, along with low- key hill towns and unassuming towns make for a nice day – or week- of wine tasting.

Organic winery tour in Gaillac: the beautiful landscape
Ambling through the gentle hills of Gaillac is a pleasure

What kind of organic French wine can you expect in Gaillac?

Gaillac produces about 60% red, 30% white and 10% rose wines. The region received an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) certification in 1938. The area divided into three terroirs: The Rive Droite (Right Bank) of the River Garonne, in the South, considered by some the best, comprising clay and limestone soil and known for elegant white wines.

Occitanie, France, Organic winery tour in Gaillac: the vines
A typical vineyard in Gaillac: gently rolling fields interspersed with food crops

The Rive Gauche (Right Bank) at lower altitude and further north, stretches into the Tarn Valley. It has more sandy and pebbly ground. This is traditionally the terroir for bouncy red wines. It also has the largest number of vineyards.

Occitanie, France
Typical Gaillac landscape

Last not least, in the north of the region is the Plateau Cordais, the highest region, producing all types of wine. While the other two regions may be better known, the Plateau Cordais has the most varied rolling hills scenery and two beautiful small hill towns, Castelnau-de-Montmiral and Cordes-sur-Ciel. There are two small satellite regions, Lavaur and Cabanes, but they only have one or two vineyards, none of them organic.

The Grapes of Gaillac Wine

In terms of grape varieties, there are no big surprises – the traditional red wines are made from Duras, Fer Servadou and Syrah, while Bordeaux Classics of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are gown in smaller proportions.

organic French wine: white grape varieties in Gaillac
The harvest was just starting at the time of our visit in late August

From my amateur point of view, Gaillac wines are great wines for everyday drinking, and bottles can be bought for 4-5 EURO in Supermarkets. Wine from an organic winery may cost a little more, but starting at 7 EURO per bottle, is definitely affordable. Their red in particular is easy-drinking and fresh, great for summer and barbecue. This is how I first started… drinking the very reasonable “Chateau Cardboard” on my father-in-laws terrace and toasting with the local Methode Ancestrale sparkling wine! However, you cannot do Gaillac justice if you don’t try what is on offer through the entire spectrum. This time, I wanted to try the wine at the source, in particular organic wine.

If you would like to read more on the region, try this 2017 article from Decanter Magazine.

If you ever find yourself in that corner of France and you like the lesser known wines, pay a visit to Gaillac! Of the 100+ producers at least twenty make organic wine. I wrote about some of them in another post, and this year we finally looked  a bit closer to home on the Plateau Cordais.

Domaine La Gardelle/Distillerie Castan

Easy to spot from the main road between Albi and Cordes-sur-Ciel, Distillerie Castan makes award-winning organic artisanal gin and whisky.  In fact, they are considered one of the top five whisky distilleries of France. The Castan family have been distillers of grape and fruit spirits since the 1940s, starting out as mobile distillers. They still continue to do so, but what they are now better known for is their organic whiskies. Which is a bit ironic – the grains are imported from Northern France as  the local soil and climate isn’t really that great to grow grain.   They now also produce their own wine from a small chalky-soiled domain. They produce only organic French wine, two red and two white wines, which makes choosing relatively easy!

Distillery Castan, organic French wine: white grape varieties in Gaillac
The distillery and tasting rooms as seen from the road

organic French wine and spirits at Castan family distillery

Very professional service, with tasting opportunities under all COVID precautions

We tasted and bought both the As Camp and Douelle organic white wines, which are both fruity, and great summer drinking wines. They cost between 8 and 14 Euro per bottle.

organic French wine from Domaine La Gardelle
Our La Gardelle white wines

And bought a bottle of gin to elevate our rare gin and tonic moments. It isn’t cheap, but we’re not big drinkers, and we know the difference between a bog standard G&T and a bloody amazing one. so this small bottle will last a while.

organic French Vilanova gin from the Castan family distillery
Vilanova Organic Gin from rural Gaillac

 

Practical Information on Distillerie Castan

55 Chemin de la Cardonnarie – just off the main Cordes-sur-Ciel to Albi Road
81130 Villeneuve-sur-Vère

Telephone +33 (0)5 63 53 04 61

Open Monday to Saturday 09:30-18:00 with a 12:30 to 14:00 break

Domaine de LaBarthe

Domaine de Labarthe is a larger vineyard tucked away in the countryside amidst fields. If you are lucky, you may find their wines outside France. Like Domaine La Gardelle, they have a big sales room with a nice tasting area and knowledgeable sales staff, and a rather large range of different wines – all organic as well. They also sell other organic agricultural produce as well as olive oil fro a partner farm in Greece.

organic French wine
The offerings from Domaine Labarthe – from small budget to fine wine, they got it

Outside a pandemic,  this is quite a big operation.  They offer organised tastings as well, but… be aware that few of the staff may speak English, so some command of French is useful ifyou need to know inside details on the wines you are tasting. It is always a bit pot luck who will be there, as some people we met in the vineyards spoke English well, some didn’t, and you shouldn’t go with the expectation that English is spoken at all times.

 

Here is our haul from Labarthe – two full-bodied fruity  reds that will go well with the green lentil salad we make from the kilo of lentils we bough there  as well.

organic French wine from Domaine Labarthe
Slowly but surely our check luggage is filling up with wine bottles

Practical Information on Domaine de LaBarthe

Labarthe, 81150 Castanet, Frankreich

Telephone: +33 (0) 5 63 56 80 14

Open Monday to Saturday 9:00-12:00 and 14:00 -19:00

Domaine Cinques Peyres

Seeing various machinery in the vineyards, we  thought that perhaps grape harvest was already on. Which makes it the busiest time for the wineries, and not a great time to visit, especially the smaller ones, who have all hands full with the harvest of organic French wine.

organic French wine: vineyards near Cahuzac-sur-Vere
Vineyards along the Cordes-Gaillac road

This is exactly what happened when we approached Domaine Cinq Peyres, off a scenic by-road of the main Cordes-Gaillac route. 1980’s hits blasted from speakers outside  the entrance, the car park was full of vehicles. At first we seriously thought we’d come across some secret vineyard rave here, but seeing lots of people inside the vineyard cutting grapes, we soon realised we’d hit the vineyards at perhaps the busiest time of the year.

a rusty old Citroen outside a vineyard, France
Domaine Cinq Peyres: They got a sense of humor and some fine wine

We were about to quietly bugger off again when one of the young good-looking men jumped off his forklift and offered to take us to their sale shed. We hastily protested the offer of tasting the vines and retreated with a bottle of white, which I know nothing about – but such is the way of buying wine from really small producers.

Our random by from Domaine Cinq Peyres – recommended by the winemaker

Practical Information on Domaine Cinq Peyres

Cinq Peyres, 81140 Cahuzac-sur-Vère, Frankreich

Telephone:  +33 6 14 57 44 60

Open Monday to Saturday 09:00-12:00 and 14:00 to 19:00

How to get to Gaillac

The nearest airports are Toulouse Blagnac and Rodez-Aveyron, with Toulouse being much more convenient for international flights. A frequent shuttle bus connects Toulouse Airport with the city entre and its main train station, Matabiau.  There are roughly hourly trains from Toulouse Matabiau to Albi via Gaillac.

To make a start on exploring the region, pay a visit to the Vins de Gaillac Information Centre next to the abbey. You can get some information about the regions, its wines, and taste and buy some wines on the spot. Similarly, mnost restaurants in town are very enthusiastic advocates for Gaillac wine, with extensive wine lists and knowledgeable sommeliers.

To be close to the vineyards and to stay in a rural small town with some very decent restaurants, stay in Gaillac. To taste your way through Gaillac’s offerings, I recommend a visit to Au Fil des Saisons, a restaurant in central Gaillac with an extensive wine list and knowledgeable wait staff. They really showcase the local wines, and have a lot of organic French wine on offer. The food is good and if you visit during the week, extremely well priced. It inspired me to go on an organic wine tour of Gaillac. Another restaurant good on wine I visited in 2020 is Vigne en Foule right on the Central Square. A bit pricier and too meat-heavy for me, but they do do great wine and a reasonable fixed price lunch and dinner.

Otherwise, Albi with its magnificent cathedral and medieval centre makes a more interesting small-city base.

To get to the vineyard from either town you will need your own transport. If you have your own transport, a day trip from Toulouse would be possible. I highly recommend the Hotel Albert Premier for staying in Toulouse. The centre round the Capitole and especially the area around Marche St Pierre are the best places to stay in Toulouse.

Not just here for the organic French wine?

The Gaillac region is one of those wonderful little-known regions where you can easily spend some weeks on a relaxed holiday yet see some World Heritage gems. And drink organic French wine as a pleasantr side effect! The only snag is that for most you really need a hire car. I already mentioned Albi. Another noteworthy but somewhat also very popular place to visit is the nearby hilltop town of Cordes-sur-Ciel. The summer months make this place hopelessly overrun, but outside the summer it is rather lovely and charming.

A bit further north and great at all times of the year is the city of Rodez, noted for its amazing modern art museum dedicated to the work of Pierre Soulages, and the ornamental prehistoric standing stones in its city museum. Go further out, and you’ll find charming little towns with fresh produce markets, chapels full of art and some very scenic villages, among them Conques and Saint Circ Lapopie. The latter are super touristy, but if you are a fan of a flawless marriage of Romanesque architecture and modern art, Conques is almost a must-visit. More coming soon.

The Small Print

I visited Conques and the Plateau Cordais in August and September 2020 as part of a family visit. COVID-19 infections rates were relatively low but raising in both Germany and Occitanie.  We travelled as safely as we could, borrowing a car from family and minimizing trips outside the family home. I planned and paid for this trip using my own funds. This post contains affiliate links to Booking.com for hotels I have personally stayed at repeatedly. Wine has been partially consumed but forgive that I normally cook while consuming the wine, so no tasting notes other than that the wines are really good 🙂



16 thoughts on “Organic French Wine of Gaillac: The Plateau Cordais”

    • Hi Amy, thank you for commenting! It is not a famous wine region at all, but 95% of the wines I tasted are great quality and not that expensive. If you look for a nice wine region with a bit less buzz than the famous ones (and incredibly good food) this is the place to go!

  • This reminds me of my visit to St. Emilion and some other wineries. It’s so nice that in France, this is such an important part of the culture and is all about indulgence and not about getting wasted. Consequently, the cheapest bottle was around 8 Euros – and there was hardly a limit. It’s great that the vineries are focusing more on organic growth – in addition to great taste.

    • Hi, thank you for commenting! You are absolutely right! It’s about enjoying the wine/alcohol. Never have I see a really wasted person on my trips to Occitanie including big city like Toulouse! The wines we bought ranged from 7 -15 Euro per bottle wich is fine for a great quality organic wine that keeps a bit. Hardly cheap but not expensive for a great piece of craftmanship either. Would absolutely love to visit the more famous regions like Champagne and Bordeaux too !

  • It always amazes me when I travel to France that even the cheap wine found in supermarket is of incredibly superior quality to some of the most expensive we have in the UK. It’s fantastic to read more about where some of those come from! The vineyards looked absolutely incredible and charming to visit. And I had no idea that there was a whisky distillery (my drink choice) nearby, so that is now on my map as well!

    • Yes, try it! Apparantly it is one of the Top5 whisky distilleries of France (not that there are many). The local supermarkets carry a lot of the local wine and even the very cheap ones are of good quality. But sadly, you cannot find them out of the region much, which is a pity! We always book extra luggage and bring 10 bottles home from our visits as shipping is pricey as well!

  • I have never tried organic wine! But, now I want too! I may have to visit Occitanie since you said it doesn’t seem to get visited much. I love going to places like that. I think I would also have to visit Domaine De Labarthe since you mentioned it’s tucked away in the countryside and I could also practice my French that I am currently learning! Great article!

    • Hi Stephanie! I am not hooked on organic wine but will prefer it given the choice ! All wineries are pretty much in the countryside – some closer to a major road, some quite far in between fields, and most of the time, you are greeted by the owner as these wineries are relatively small. Speaking French will definitely help to talk about the wines on offer ans tastin – its a matter of luck if English is spoken but people were really welcoming in all wineries we visited

  • This sounds delicious. I love white wine – was any of it sweet? Thanks my most favorite! This vineyard looks like such a great place to visit and I appreciate on not visiting at the harvest. I would love to have more space to myself to explore the area while sipping on the good stuff! I’m glad you were about to make this adventure work – sounds great!

    • Hi and thank you for commenting! I think most wines are dry or semi-dry. I think some make dessert wines but most wines are definitely on the drier spectrum. When we first started to visit we used to visit between Christmas and the New Year and then in summer which was great but I’d say most smaller vineyards gets incredibly busy at harvest time so for long chats and tastings I would avoid August-September. I’ve updated the post to include the Maisons des Vins in Gaillac, where you can gather more information on the region, its wines and sample the first Gaillac wines. Gaillac is a pleasant little town with not too many sights but some excellent restaurants and hotels and well worth a nifght or two especually if you are into wine.

  • I want to love organic wines, but whatever garbage they put in non-organic wines seems to be necessary for them to taste good. After trying close to 20 different organic wines over the years, and so far, I haven’t liked any of them. Perhaps my mistake is that I haven’t tried a FRENCH organic wine yet?!? I’ll work on fixing that! 🙂

    • Oh, I know what you mean! I tried organic wine from supermarkets or organic markets and found them unexciting! We first started visiting organic wineries about 2-3 years ago because I generally prefer organic produce and it was a way to choose from the 120+ wineries of Gaillac..so we picked out the 20 or so organic ones. To be honest, I liked every wine except maybe one. I pretty much gone from drinking South African and some French and Spanish wine to drinking wine from Germany and France that I tend to buy if I happen to come past a winery and taste then buy!

  • Hi there – I just landed on your story! I live close-by and LOVE the organic-biodynamic wines of Domaine Cinq Peyres…pity you didn’t stay to taste them all! Just wanted to let you know that you are talking about the wines of Domaine Cinq Peyres here, of which Cap de Baux is but one, by the young and very talented Charles Bonnafont…not Domaine Peyres-Combe which is another organic vineyard down the road. Maybe we could do a visit together next time you’re here?

    • Hi Joanne, Thank you for your helpful comment! They were in the middle of harvest, so we did not want to disturb! There are two organic wineries aren’t they, Cinq Peyres and Peyres-Combe. We probably got a bit confused! We try to visit twice a year to visit my parents in law, and visit three or four organic wineries each time. All the wine I have tasted from the Gaillac with very few exceptions have been absolutely brilliant. A shame it is difficult to ship or to take on the aeroplane as I would much prefer to buy my wine from the producer which I always do in Germany. I’d love to visit together, and will message you when we plan our next trip. Thank you so much for the offer!

      • look forward to it! look out for my website coming soon @ https://www.joannedanslevin.com dedicated to the organic /biodynamic producers near me (Gaillac, Quercy, Cahors…) I’ve teamed up with a handful of my faves inc. cinq peyres to offer them to importers and wine merchants (not directly to consumers unfortunately- but you can order direct from the domaines via their websites) – there’s a whole group of fine natural winemakers in that little corner around Cahuzac sur Vere … cordes plateau … and they’ve just launched their own website which explains a lot (in French) check it out @ https://www.terresdegaillac.com. … look forward to meeting you!

      • Hi Joanne, Looking forward to meet you too! With current restrictions we fon’t know when we will be able to travel again, but as soon as we can, we will try to see our family in Gaillac! I’m pleased you are going to make these excellent wines more available to non-local customers… buying organic Gaillac wine here in Germany mostly involves tripping to one or two restaurants wine shops in Berlin who have a fairly limited selection. I didn’t even know there is more wine round Cahors and Quercy but I agree Cahuzac-sur-Vere is a great reasure trove of fine organic wines!

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