Jean-Claude Mas, blazing a trail for Languedoc-Roussillon wines
In the past 20 years, the Languedoc- Roussillon has undergone, and continues today, a revolution in its winemaking practices.
Here, the world’s largest vineyard is beginning to produce high quality wines from low yielding vines. From the Terrasses du Larzac near Montpellier, through to the Grès de Montpellier, Pezenas, Corbières and on to Limoux and Côtes du Roussillon wines, this change can be felt, including within the IGP wine category.
Leading the way in both quality and wine style are a few ambitious winemaker- vignerons, such as Jean-Claude Mas. Acting as ambassador for the Southern French way of life and wines, he is reconciling large volumes with premium wines and an attractive image for the region as a whole.
In 2000, he created his company, Domaines Paul Mas, from the very modest 35 hectares of family land. Of these, only 5 hectares were planted with noble grape varieties, the rest were the classical high yielding traditional varieties. The modest earnings from 20,000 bottles per year at that time have exploded through his hard work, business savvy and unique wine style, to represent over 20 million bottles sold worldwide in 2016. Owner of 650 hectares of vineyards, with a further 1,400 hectares under contract, Mas admits that he derives great pleasure from building his company, adding that he only purchases estates to be able to produce the wines that he can sell. Jean-Claude Mas describes his wine style as “Old World wines with New World attitude”, believing firmly that “tradition has to reinvent itself, or one day, French wine will belong in a museum”; and some of his strongest brands were born from this philosophy. In 2005, he launched the Arrogant Frog, inspired both by international brands and by the reputation of French winemakers in Francophile countries. Today, a powerhouse of the Domaines Paul Mas portfolio and ambassador of Jean-Claude Mas’ expertise as winemaker, the Limoux based Château Arrogant Frog is the flagship of this brand, selling over 5-million bottles in 40 different countries.
He relies on a team of twelve experts who are knowledgeable in all areas of winemaking, from viticulture, to wine making and blending, and not forgetting a competent marketing team, to carry his ambitious projects. Jean-Claude Mas himself defines every step of production, from vineyard to bottle. This allows each estate to maintain its own unique identity, linked closely to its unique terroir and winemaker, whilst maintaining a stylistic thread throughout the product offer, the Jean-Claude Mas personal signature. All the major decisions are reserved for his consideration, giving him a unique vision of his wine business from A to Z, which is exceptionally rare in large winemaking organisations such as the Domaines Paul Mas. His biggest personal challenge is maintaining the style for which he is known across large volumes and varieties of wine. He says he wishes to maintain the rich aromas of fruit, spices and owers in his wines, inherent to their complexity and quality.
Mas aims for opulent wines, with “a balanced, full and rich mouth, that maintains all the freshness of a young wine. Whilst I can accept a gentle hint of bitterness, I refuse the presence of astringency in my wines. I cannot abide by thin or dry wines, or wines that are disguised behind technical constructions”. His knowledge of terroir and full control of the winemaking process, from temperature to maceration and vinification allows him to achieve this ambitious aim for his wine profile.
Passionate in all his endeavours, Mas participates in every step of creating his wines, taking ampelography into account (the study of vineyards and vines), allowing him to cultivate over 40 different grape varieties, of which several are local and sometimes even “forgotten” varietals. To this end, he has created the Carignan Embassy at his Côté Mas wine tourism site. He has played a central role in reviving the Clairette du Languedoc grape variety and appellation, and improving the notoriety of the Pezenas cru. He is also a key player in updating the image of the Limoux appellations and their reputation, drawing on local history to highlight the local knowledge of sparkling wines, first created in the Saint Hilaire Abbey.
Ever the humble winemaker, he insists that it is simple to make good quality wines in the region, owing to the incredibly varied and rich terroir, the different climactic influences coming from the Pyrenees Mountains, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. There are no less than 4 different winds that in uence the Languedoc- Roussillon climate, as Mas explains, “Nature is generous, it is simple to make great wines in the region, even organic wines”. It all begins with good vineyard management, and a real mastery of all the steps that follow, and a break from the traditional “mentality of raw producers”. A meticulous perfectionist, he is driven not by money which is primarily “a source of inevitable frustration”, but by the ego, taking great care to leave a good impression of who he is as man, winemaker and businessman.
It is safe to say that he is as much a part of the region as it is a part of him. “I would never buy vineyards abroad. I only know how to produce wine one and a half hours from home.” He truly believes in the terroir, his passion drawing in so much more than just wine as a product.
A true believer in wine tourism, he has opened his luxury suites, restaurant, bistro, and even horse riding activities, linked to his philosophy of “rural luxury”. “Wine is the binding agent, one of the tools that will highlight and push forward the region, which lacks the image it truly deserves. Wine can create an ultra-positive environment for economic development”. Jean-Claude Mas is not only blazing a trail for the regional wines, he is building the reputation of the region to which he belongs, to which he owes all his passion, knowledge and history.
Hall 1, Stand AB15
JEAN-CLAUDE MAS: 4TH GENERATION WINEGROWER
Jean-Claude Mas was born on 18th August 1964 in Beziers to a family of grape growers near Pézenas (4th generation after Auguste – butcher and grape farmer, Raymond and Paul) on his father’s side, and a farmer from the south of the Aveyron on the maternal side of the family. We asked him to outline some of the highlights of his life…
The family culture of wine was limited to the vine: to the high yield Aramon and Cinsaults of the lower valley fertile soil that satis ed very basic needs.
Several trips abroad from 1986 to 1990 gave me the desire to work internationally, and it was while I was working in Miami that I discovered the world of wine, through the promotion of French food and fashion. At this time, I started to learn about New World wines, especially those of Argentina.
In the early 90’s I travelled to Bordeaux to join the Bernard Magrez William Pitters group, and in 1995, I left Bordeaux and joined Domaine Virginie in Béziers as their Sales and Marketing Director. I began to follow the family estate’s production and moved back to Château de Conas, where I was born. With very little technical skills, between 1996 and 2000, I took a pointed interest in oenologie, and established a working protocol between the family estate and Domaine Virginie, and 1998, I helped with the development of my first ever Cuvée.
In 1999 Domaines Virginie was sold, at which time I left the company (January 2000) and created the company Domaines Paul Mas. The choice of name reflects the respect I have for my father, who spent his life in the vineyards, through both obligation and passion. My aim was to sell the 20,000 bottles produced by the family estate, but mainly to create a wine merchant business.
Growing the company from 35 hectares in 2000 to 650 hectares in owned vineyards and 1,400 hectares of contracted vineyards today, marketing 20 million bottles in 65 countries, has only been possible through the deep attachment and commitment that I have to the Languedoc region, which provides the perfect environment for producing great wines. This is coupled with my training and true passion for marketing, and a high sensitivity to nature, art and “taste”.
The 4 major steps in my wine range development:
• Paul Mas Estate, 2000: “Old World wines with New World attitude”
• Arrogant Frog, 2005: “Daring to be different”
• Côté Mas, 2011: “Luxe Rural”
• Jean-Claude Mas Origins 2016: “The Artisan”
Photo: Jean-Claude Mas, Founder and Executive Manager, Les Domaines Paul Mas