As we stood overlooking a vineyard in Maury in the heart of rural southern France, Katie Jones asked: “What do you think of that?
The main feature of “that” was a small piece of land, with stony black slate soil, planted with twisted old vines. To be honest it was the end of the season and the vines looked a bit straggly and there was a strong cold wind blowing down the valley.
The most stunning part was the view. Overlooked by the majestic castle of Queribus, the last stronghold of the Cathars, perched at the top of a rocky promontory, this was a beautiful place.
“I think I might buy it,” said Katie.
This was five years ago and at the time Katie Jones was Export Director at Mont Tauch, the Fitou co-operative which had become one of the most important in the region. But at the back of her mind she had another challenge in mind and this vineyard was just the start. Katie is a bright and bubbly lady originally from Leicestershire who set off to live and work in France a couple of decades ago and is still there. Having built a successful career, she found herself looking for a vineyard, “so my parents could come and visit me and have a nice vineyard to sit in.” With a small dilapidated hut on site with views towards the castle, this piece of land had potential.
I remember that the question of price came up and just for a fleeting second I wondered about offering to chip in.
Everyone in the wine trade has a dream of owning a vineyard and this seemed like a good idea but then I thought what the family might say if I got home and said I had spent next year’s university fees on a piece of a vineyard. So my hands stayed firmly in my pockets and I forgot about that vineyard.
But over the last few years I have been receiving little updates about it. There were conversations at wine exhibitions – yes, she had bought the vineyard and there was a lot to do. Then I heard that the first harvest had been made and I tasted those wines later on. They were good, but I was determined not to let friendship get in the way of a straightforward wine evaluation, and anyway vineyards always take time to settle down under new ownership. Then I heard that Katie had left her job and was buying more land.
And just a few weeks ago a box of wine arrived on my doorstep. With simple, distinctive labels, Domaine Jones has arrived.
Those first two and a half hectares in Maury are now producing top quality grapes.
The straggly, twisted, old vines are in fact 80 year-old gems which have responded well to love, care and careful pruning. Unusually there are four varieties in the small block – Grenache Noir, Carignan, Grenache Gris and Muscat, and while daytime temperatures in the region are warm, that cold wind I noticed several years ago is still blowing, keeping flavours fresh as well as concentrated.
When another vineyard came on the market Katie fell in love again, this time there was just half a hectare of 100-year-old vines “halfway up a mountain” in Fitou planted with Carignan and an old clone of Grenache. Other growers in the region were not interested in it, but over time Katie has coaxed it into producing deep, concentrated wines, backed by her signature freshness. Despite a long career in the wine business Katie needed help to transform herself into a vigneron. She has been helped by David Morrison, an Australian winemaker based in the South of France who has provided advice and key skills.
Having started out in a friend’s spare garage, the project is now installed in a 200-year-old building in the delightfully-named Rue du Vatican in Tuchan. The building may be old, but the equipment and the techniques are right up to date.
With a few more additions to the vineyard portfolio, production has increased to sensible proportions and Domaine Jones is now starting to be recognised for the quality of its wines.
In particular the 2010 Fitou won a Gold Medal in the International Wine Challenge, and American wine guru Robert Parker rated it 92 points.
Domaine Jones wines are available in tiny quantities and the best way to get them is from the website www.domainejones.com.
You will also find Katie’s blog, some recipes and you can even sign up to go visit the region and maybe help out in the vineyard.
I haven’t been back to Fitou since I stood overlooking that straggly vineyard Katie was planning to buy. Perhaps it is time I went to see how her dream is progressing.
Domaine Jones Blanc 2011 (around £16 a bottle)
Made from Grenache Gris from that original windswept, 80-year-old vineyard, this has notes of melon and pear as well as a sense of the wild herbs which fill the air as you walk across the land. There is a broad, textured palate, perfect to pour alongside food such as oven-baked fish or a herb-roasted chicken. This wine won a Silver Medal at the Decanter Awards.
Domaine Jones Rouge 2010 (around £16 a bottle)
Again, made from those old vines in Maury, mainly Grenache with just a splash of Carignan this has a just a touch of oak, but the dark, damson fruit shines out, still fresh and appealing with silky tannins and a lightness which makes it very food friendly, especially if there is red meat or a game pie on your plate.
Jones Fitou 2010 (£20 a bottle)
With that half-hectare of 100-year-old vines as the core, bolstered by grapes from other vineyards in Tuchan, this wine shows just how good a simple appellation such as Fitou can be. With real concentration, bright berry fruit with streaks of herbs and supple tannins this is a serious wine to be enjoyed now, or in the next five years.