Jim and Sarah Pearce of Domaine de la Souterrane make wine but their initial interest was in farming rather winemaking. Jim had a farming background in England and in 2005 he and his wife bought a fruit farm near Argeliers in the Minervois which was mainly peach trees but also included some vines. Their first year was a baptism of fire when the jam factory which had bought all the peaches went out of business and they were stuck with plenty of fruit but no market. This enterprising couple quickly put up a sign advertising 'pick your own' peaches in an effort to salvage at least some of the fruit. 'Pick your own' farms are not well known in this part of France but locals loved it and the Pearces now have extended the concept to raspberries, strawberries, melons, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and sweetcorn. And branched into pig farming as the pigs gorge themselves on the surplus peaches which fall to the ground.
As regards the grapes, these were all sold to the cave co-operative in Argeliers but prices were so low that Jim and Sarah felt they would get a better return if they bottled the wines themselves. Luckily, they had inherited well-tended vineyards with good quality varieties; the fashionable Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot and some 50 year old Carignan. With the advice of Australian flying winemaker David Morrison, they have developed a small but sound range of varietal Vin de Pays wines.
Their 2007 Chardonnay-Viognier is a rich, peachy, simple wine with a touch of spice which is still drinking well. They have just bottled their first straight Viognier from the 2008 vintage. Partially barrel-fermented this is very aromatic and exotic on the nose with good rich, apricot, fruit flavours and fresh acidity to balance the richness and alcohol. It has only just been bottled so needs a couple of months to come round but is an excellent example of Viognier.
I also liked the 2007 Merlot. I'm not a huge fan of Languedoc Merlot but this had lots of rich, cherry and blackcurrant fruit with grippy but not aggressive tannins. Not a subtle wine but very appealing. The old vine Carignan is the top of the range. The nose was slightly grubby but there was oodles of sweet, ripe black fruit on the palate and a long, sweet finish.
Overall, impressive, fruit-forward wines which offer excellent value for money. The Pearces have only just started and with Syrah vines coming into production next year, things can only get better.