Most people think red when they think Languedoc, and they are right. So it is really surprising to find an enclave of corruscatingly clear and luminous white and sparkling wines in Limoux: the exception to the rule. "The diamond in a sea of rubies" as Jan and Caryl Panman like to put it.
And this brings us to another surprising thing, and that is Jan and Caryl themselves: not French, not even winemakers when they first set out, just an Anglo-Dutch couple who dreamed of making those white and sparkling wines for which Limoux is so famous.
"When we first bought Rives-Blanques just over a decade ago, we told everyone that we owned the most beautiful vineyard in the world" the passionate owners say. "But actually, now we know it is the most beautiful vineyard in the world that owns us".
Since those early days, this "most beautiful" vineyard has won handfuls of gold and silver medals from all the top international wine competitions; every vintage, without exception, has been selected by the Guide Hachette, and included amongst the best wines of the millésime by la Revue du Vin de France. Critics consider Rives-Blanques to be one of the main 'engines of the appellation' and one of the most important 'references' of white wines in the Languedoc.
Surprising? Not really, the Panmans say. "It's a question of terroir".
Chateau Rives-Blanques is indeed magnficently placed on a 350 metre high plateau, surrounded by woodland, under the unblinking gaze of the Pyrenees. It is a cameo of all that makes Limoux so specially suited to white wines: altitude, fresh Atlantic influences for elegance, Mediterranean influences for fruitiness, and a really clean environment (both Sustainable and Organic viticulture are practiced here). All the elements are in place to bring out the best in the great white grape varieties.
"We tend to go out on a limb a bit" they explain, "making wines like a 100% barrel-fermented mauzac, or a chenin blanc, or even a Sauvignon blanc in wood, which is an oxymoron for alot of people."
They were both delighted and surprised when KLM selected the Rives-Blanques mauzac, which is not exactly a well-known grape variety, as the 'Special Wine' for their most pampered customers. "That's actually as much of a tribute to KLM's wine buyer, who was not afraid of going out on a limb himself, as it is to our terroir" they say. "But what was really surprising is that the region chose our chenin blanc, which most properly belongs to the Loire, and our chardonnay, a grape that is of course truly at home in Burgundy, to be official Ambassadors of the Languedoc".
Surprising? Not really. Not in a wine region so full of surprising surprises.
A visit of Rives-Blanques is highly recommanded.
Caryl and Jan Panman
11300 Cépie - Limoux
tel 04 68 31 43 20