The South of France is legendary as an international vacation spot, but it also hosts one of the smallest and most beautiful Appellation d’origine contrôlée’s (A.O.C.) in the country – Coteaux du Languedoc, La Clape. Clapas in the ancient Occitan language means “heap of stones.” It’s a small area, ten miles long on one side between the limestone formations of the Montagnes de la Clape and the sloping hills and small valleys leading to the Mediterranean.
When this part of France was part of the Roman Empire, nearby Narbonne was a major port and administrative center. As a reward to Roman soldiers, the Senate granted property for vine cultivation on La Clape - which at the time was an island mountain range separate from Narbonne. Today the area has silted up, rejoining La Clape with the mainland. Here a hot and sunny Mediterranean climate provides over 3000 hours of sunshine a year. Grape ripening is tempered by moisture from the salt water lakes and estuaries, as well as the strong Mistral winds which blow in from the north.
In the last ten years, buyers from around the world have bought some of the 40 properties in the appellation. Among the new owners are an international group comprising of British, Americans, Germans, Swiss and Italians. Attracted by it’s seaside vineyards and its favorable microclimates, they have revitalized many run-down estates with the goal of making world-class wines.
Chateau Moyau has its origins in the Middle Ages. Legend has it that the original settlers were pirates whose leader answered to the name Moyau. Another story claims that Moyau is derived from the word marais or marsh.
The Chateau was owned by the Herteman family from the 18th century until 2004, when Dr. Bernhard Koehler, a German fund manager living in Switzerland, purchased it. He saw potential in the six residential buildings, two large wine cellars, pigeon tower and stables. Through benign neglect many parcels had not been replanted. As a result, the new owner inherited parcels of old vine Carignan, Grenache and Syrah, most over 60-year’s old.
Chateau Moyau covers an area of 128 acres with about 60 acres devoted to vines. Sixty percent of the vines are planted in parcels that border the Mediterranean. The remaining 40 percent are planted in the hills among the Garrigues scrubland of wild lavender and rosemary. Yields are limited to approximately 800 gallons per 74 acres (30 hl/ha) and are hand picked. State of the art de-stemming delivers grapes free from stems and leaves which can cause harsh, bitter-tasting tannins.
Claude Gros, who is the most respected consulting winemaker in the Languedoc-Roussilion works with the the winemaking staff.
With a rich assortment of red varietals such as Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache Noir, Carginan, Cinsault, the output is 90% red and rosé wines. The Chateau is also increasing its white wine output with new plantings of Grenache Blanc and Bourboulenc varietals.