Perches Gallery Gaillac vineyards, Tarn

The Gaillac Vineyards around Perches.

Despite Gaillac having been one of France’s earliest wine-growing areas, Gaillac and its wines have been pushed into the shadows by bigger names in Bordeaux and Burgundy. It should be remembered, however, that at one time the Gaillac vineyards around Perches produced wine which was enjoyed by Henry VIII! Gaillac is also home to the oldest wine cooperative in France.

Gaillac’s winemaking has a history dating back to Roman times: some of the first vines in the area were planted in the first century BC, a fact which can be backed up by the Roman remains of a pottery in the nearby village of Montans, which produced amphorae specifically for the transportation of Gaillac wine up the Tarn river to Bordeaux.

Subsequent years of warfare saw many of the vineyards destroyed and it was the monks at the Benedictine Abbaye-St-Michel in Gaillac who tenderly and meticulously brought the Gaillac vineyards back to life. It was then Henry VIII, several hundred years later, who did a great job of marketing them in the UK! In 1520, he met the French king François I in Calais, who gifted Henry with 50 barrels of Gaillac wine – clearly a quality wine he held in high regard. Henry allegedly very much enjoyed his present and drank it frequently afterwards, introducing the wines from this part of France to the rest of his friends. (This was much to the annoyance of Bordeaux wine producers.) In jealousy, they obstructed the ease of exporting Gaillac wine through crippling tarifs until its reputation abroad faded to almost nothing.

Gaillac wines

Domaine de Perches has a situation and a soil-type which lend themselves perfectly to wine making and to this day 5 hectares of the estate are dedicated to vines. After years of being allowed to deteriorate, the vineyards were brought back to life in the late eighties by the then owners who replaced many of the aging vines and introduced more modern production methods. Their success was endorsed by the oldest wine merchant in the UK– Berry Bros. & Rudd – who described Perches’s Sauvignon Blanc as displaying “a wonderful purity of fruit”.

Gaillac wine

When Alain bought the domaine, he wanted to keep the connection to wine alive so, despite the cuves having been long-hidden behind walls as the house was slowly renovated many years ago, there are still discreet clues within the house as to its former purpose.

The pigeonnier at Perches has also been retained although it is now home to a Barn Owl and her two babies! It was originally built to provide a plentiful supply of pigeon droppings – strictly the only form of fertiliser allowed on the vines according to the rules laid down by the Benedictine monks.

Another recent little discovery was a pile of notes pinned to an old door at the back of a barn. The notes date from 1961-1969 and are a record of quantities of marc (the solid residue of stems, pulp, seed and skins remaining after the grapes have been pressed). It is clear from these notes that the marc was sent off for secondary usage, possibly to make an eau-de-vie de marc or as a fertiliser.

Gaillac wine

The present vines are now looked after by Bernard Auque at Mas Pignou

vine de Gaillac

It was perhaps serendipity that brought Alain to Perches: when he came on his first holiday to the house he had just bought in Cordes in 1999, he very much enjoyed the Gaillac wines. When he flew back to the UK, he could not carry enough Gaillac wine for his friends and took it for granted that it would be available in London. As it turned out it was almost impossible to buy and the only one he eventually managed to find was the white wine from Domaine de Perches!  Nobody could have possibly guessed then and not least Alain himself, that 14 years later, he was going to become the happy owner of the Domaine de Perches and its vines!