It’s no coincidence!
Gaillac is one of the oldest wine-growing regions of Gaul (an ancient region of Western Europe including northern Italy, France, Belgium, part of Germany, and the southern part of the Netherlands). Grape vines, imported into Gaul by the Phoenicians during the 4th century B.C., grow in three main vineyards: Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, and Gaillac. The presence and use of the vine for making wine is revealed in the village of Montans. From the 2nd century B.C., this town near Gaillac had a large pottery that was essentially dedicated to making amphorae used to transport wine.
The 2000-year-old history between Gaillac and wine was certainly no coincidence. In fact, the development of our vineyards resulted from proper climate conditions for growing grapes, presence of the ancient wild vitis vinifera grapevine in the neighbouring forest of Grésigne in addition to another important key factor: geographical location. The town of Gaillac is located on the inner part of the Tarn River at the beginning of the waterway that meets the Garonne River and leads to Bordeaux. It is also situated at an intersection joining important roads, such as Toulouse-Rodez, going toward Lyon. This network made it easier to transport merchandise and wine. Gaillac continued to be an important port up until the end of the 19th century.
Could it have been the monks?
In 972, Raymond I of Rouergue gave the village of Gaillac to Abbot Saint-Michel, who established Saint-Michel Abbey on the banks of the Tarn River. Previously destroyed by the Moors, part of the vineyard on the Tarn River was replanted and nurtured by the Benedictine Monks of Saint-Michel Abbey. Viticulture quickly became a true regional economic strength and gained the support of the Counts of Toulouse.
The strict regulations applied to viticulture and winemaking today originated in this well-known area. Also, eight centuries before the creation of AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée
or “controlled designation of origin” in English), the Gaillac wine-growing region was one of the most protected and organised vineyards in France: ban on mixing wines with “foreign” wines, controlled pruning, officially scheduled harvesting, protection against fertilisation, etc.
The only fertilizer permitted was animal excrement from pigeons called “stock doves”. Therefore, many dovecotes were placed in the vineyard. Finally, the Les Vins du Coq
wine brand was established, which was very unusual at the time. Used since 1387, it was officially recognised in 1501. It is most likely the oldest wine brand in the world of winegrowing.
The vineyard quickly became famous thanks to the hard work of the monks who carefully selected grape varieties and respected the strict regulations. Its reputation was then spread by the pilgrims following the Way of St. James. Gaillac wines were enjoyed by French kings and also sold in England and the Netherlands, which incurred the wrath of the Jurats of Bordeaux for many years.
Vines were attacked
In 1709, a terrible winter hit France. Like in other regions, viticulture in Gaillac was strongly affected. Vines were harmed or destroyed by the cold and wine was frozen in wine storehouses, causing barrels to burst. Due to a shortage and rising prices, winegrowers began to frantically replant while the quality of wine suffered. This symbolic and tragic event marked a noticeable decline in reputation. In addition, wars with the Netherlands and England as well as restrictions imposed by the Jurats of Bordeaux up until 1776 made it very difficult to export Gaillac wine. The brand Vins du Coq was gradually forgotten and Gaillac wine was sold as a wine for blending to merchants of Bordeaux.
Thanks to the creation of the Canal du Midi, Bordeaux continued to grow and develop, travelling to the region of Languedoc to buy its wine used for blending. This did not help to improve the rise in Gaillac wine, which was weakened once again by the religious wars and French Revolution in 1789. In June 1879, winegrowers of Gaillac experienced a great shock when phylloxera appeared in the vineyards. This insect, arriving in France with vines from the United States, practically destroyed all of the vineyards in France. In the region of Tarn, 46,500 hectares out of 60,000 were destroyed. Gaillac was paralysed due to this terrible crisis. However, the region gradually fought back and was able to graft together the hardy vine trunks that survived the phylloxera. Within thirty years, the vineyard was completely reconstructed.
Fall only to rise again!
Although the vineyards were reconstructed, they suffered once again during WWI and WWII where many winegrowers disappeared. However, the people of Gaillac continued to fight for high quality production. One of the first cooperative wine cellars in France was created in 1903 and located in Saint-Michel Abbey. Its goal was to sell bottled red and white wines and organise wine courses.
INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine
, French organization responsible for regulating French agricultural products with Protected Designations of Origin [PDOs]) was created in 1935 and boosted the confidence of winegrowers in Gaillac. It did not take long for wines to be recognised thanks to the long-term discipline in the vineyards, as white wines became AOC certified on 2 February 1938. Red wines were then approved in 1970. Gaillac finally found part of its identity, which had been previously damaged over the centuries. Informed and always ready to face major changes in consumer behaviour, winegrowers of Gaillac knew how to bounce back and recognise that tradition is compatible with progression and development. The first professional slogan used during the 1990s demonstrated this idea: “Because future wines always have a past!” This constant search for quality, rooted in the history of the vineyard, was recently recognised by the INAO, who approved Gaillac dessert wine as a “late harvest” wine in 2011.
Now is the time!
Today, the Gaillac wine-growing region maintains a qualitative dynamic. Winegrowers do their best to increase the reputation of their appellation. They invite you to come and share their passion during major events such as Printemps du Gaillac
(Springtime in Gaillac), Fête des Vins
(Wine Festival) or other events associated with the release of Gaillac Premier
Finally, they are able to count on an important partner: Confrérie de la Dive Bouteille
(Fellowship of the Divine Bottle). Created in 1952, it initiates influential people (prefects, politicians, athletes, actors, etc.) throughout the year, who are willing to promote Gaillac wine. Figures such as Bernard Laporte, Paco Rabanne and actress Marion Cotillard are members of this organisation.