An appreciation of Aimé Guibert

The last time I saw Aimé Guibert was on a sommelier trip to Mas de Daumas Gassac several years ago. Having been shown around the beautiful and unique vineyards, planted in clearings in the forest of garrigue, we repaired to the winery next to the tumbling mill stream. Aimé suddenly appeared from a side door, fixed us all with a smile, his eyes twinkling mischievously: “Australian wine?” he mused. “It is not poison!”

Aimé was all about rejecting conformity. “Rejet de clones” is indeed one of the Gassac maxims. Presented with a unique terroir identified by Professor Henri Enjalbert in the early 70s, his family planted vines on slopes in forest clearings and proceeded to make world class wine. What wine with no appellation is considered by the expert and wine connoisseurs as «The only Grand Cru of the Midi» (Hugh Johnson), «A Lafite in Languedoc» (Gault & Millau); « One of the 10 best wines in the world» (Michael Broadbent) or simply «Exceptional» (R. Parker). But this was more than an iconic, garagiste wine – the Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge was truly about the terroir and the vineyard.

Aimé Guibert became one of the truly important figures in French wine, associated with wines that could be spoken in the same breath as those from the classic regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy. He could also be controversial and featured prominently in Jonathan Nossiter’s Mondovino (2004), a documentary about globalisation and conformity in the world of wine. “Le vin est mort” Aimé intoned mournfully as he climbed slowly to the top of the hill of his favourite vineyard. Fortunately artisan “vin” has survived the march of globalisation, and the market desire for homogeneity can never stifle the expression of individuality. Aimé’s legacy is in the safe hands of his sons who run the estate with equal passion and love for their patrimony.

When you visit Gassac you will see other signs of his legacy. Diversity is the key to the Gassac vineyards. With 40 different grape varieties planted in the valley, the vineyards are like museums of rare and uncloned vines from around the world: Israel, Portugal, Switzerland, Armenia, Madeira, etc. The estate was farmed in a traditional and natural way long before the Guibert family established the Grand Crus vineyards of Gassac. They were the very first estate in the Languedoc to adopt full organic farming and can honestly say that the Gassac estate has never seen any chemicals. The family commitment to preserving and protecting the land is unparalleled. After all, it’s where they eat, drink and live!

To meet Aimé Guibert was to be part of his extended family. He was a committed Anglophile (and loved Ireland also) and the UK response to him and his wines was equally warm and loyal. Many many people bought the Mas de Daumas Gassac wines on release in their famous en primeur offers. Despite the increasing reputation of the wines the prices were always very fair; unlike Bordeaux the prices never tracked the vintage. We were fortunate enough to be appointed UK agents for Mas de Daumas Gassac many years ago and have built a relationship of trust and mutual respect with the family. It has been a privilege to work with Aimé’s estate.

I remember once standing behind a table at the Decanter World Wine Fair in London a few years ago with his son, Samuel, in a room surrounded by the great and the good of Burgundy and Bordeaux. Our table was by far the busiest in the room – the knowledge and the appreciation of the customers for the wines was incredible. The commercial and reputational success of Gassac will stand as a monument to Aimé’s achievement; the deep love of his family and friends is a further testament to how profoundly he will be missed.

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