Grape Variety: Ondenc

Colour: White

Ondenc (Oundenc, Oundeng à Gaillac) was once widespread throughout the south west and the Loire; after phylloxera it virtually died out. Robert Plageoles preserved it in his sensational sweet wine Vin d’Autan. He also makes an Ondenc sec, “a dry wine with the allure of a moelleux”. This seductive beauty has subtle aromas of pear, quince and white flower, an imposing mouthfeel and is structured and fresh with remarkable length and lingering notes of honey and beeswax. After a spell in the glass the wine will assume delicate aromas of sherry and even ginger beer!

The Vin d’Autan, on the other hand, is made from the obscure Ondenc (“the grape which gave Gaillac its past glories”) in vintages when the grapes shrivel and raisin in the warm autumn winds. The style: similar to a Beerenauslese or a Tokaji, contriving to be sweet, yet subtly fresh:  bruléed autumn apples and pears flecked with syrup and a persistent elegant finish hinting at walnuts. According to Paul Strang, Plageoles describes it as “a nul autre comparable, il est le vin du vent et de l’esprit.”

The Autan wine, the flagship of this domain, is made from Ondenc, a grape variety originally from the Tarn Valley and which had been widespread in the southwest region of France since the Middle Ages. Phylloxera, however, almost wiped it out. Dr. Guyot, who invented cane pruning (taille Guyot as it is called in France), used to say that Ondenc produced wines that could rival the best Sauternes. Robert Plageoles replanted almost five acres (2 ha) of it in 1985.

The Plageoles don’t just stop there. They also perpetuate a way of working which was prevalent in Gaillac from the 12th to the 18th century. Robert, an avid reader of old manuscripts, has found writings on this type of work in some forgotten archives. While the way they prune the vines combines tradition and new methods (gobelet and trellising), when the grapes are ripe, the vintners go through the vineyards and pinch the peduncles to stop the sap from flowing to the fruits. The grapes then slowly dry out, thanks to the Autan wind, which blows from the southeast. Later they are carefully picked and left to desiccate even further on straw mats, with a method similar to the one used to make straw wines. After pressing, the grapes ferment and the elevage in concrete tanks lasts 12 months. Robert Plageoles and his son have always refused to use wood barrels for the elevage, as they want to keep the purity of the fruit and the characteristics of the terroir.

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