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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Practical Information on Distillerie Castan
55 Chemin de la Cardonnarie – just off the main Cordes-sur-Ciel to Albi Road
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂