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Banyuls – Collioure

An exceptional Mediterranean terroir

Introduction

Located on the Vermeille coast, at the eastern end of the Pyrenees, the towns of Collioure and Banyuls have an incomparable historical and wine-growing heritage. The appellation area of these two AOCs is inseparable, although they do not produce the same types of wines.

Banyuls has made its reputation on its famous natural sweet wines, which since the 19th century have been exported throughout the world and now Collioure wines have been produced in red since 1971, rosé since 1991 and white since 2003.

Today, winegrowers must constantly overcome new challenges to enable this exceptional vineyard to continue through the ages. Winegrowers must now meet an ever-increasing demand while maintaining ancestral cultivation techniques and low yields per hectare.

The Vermeille coast has kept its superb beauty and now welcomes thousands of tourists every summer to enjoy its bright sunshine and mild evenings.

History

Since the Middle Ages, natural sweet wines have been produced which, at the time, were obtained “from the marriage of ancient sweet wine and fiery water”. In 1285, the discovery of the process of developing the mutage was attributed to Arnaud de Villeneuve, a doctor at the court of the kings of Majorca in Perpignan, then capital of the kingdom.

Collioure and the Côte Vermeille region has passed over the centuries into the hands of different peoples and nations who have inscribed their heritage there. The occupation of the territory began first with the Celts, then the Romans, tireless conquerors. Charlemagne and the Franks also passed through the region before leaving the territory in the hands of the Count of Barcelona and King of Aragon, Peter II, who himself left Collioure to the Templars of Mas Deu. The Knights Templar brought an episode of prosperity to Roussillon by revolutionising the organisation of the vineyard thanks to the principle of a network of filtering and drainage of rainwater (peus de galls), which is still used today.

Passed to the Crown of Aragon with the Kingdom of Majorca, Collioure passed into the hands of Louis XI of France for a period, then returned to Aragon and became the property of the Oms family until the 18th century.

In 1659 the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed, with which the territory was returned to France. In 1793, a last episode occurred in which the region passed back into Spanish hands until 1794. Later Collioure and the region lost its strategic interest with the pacification between the two countries.

As a smuggler’s land, Banyuls had been declared a “smuggler’s Republic” under the reign of Louis XIV because this activity had become so uncontrollable. Salt, tobacco, sheets, skins, sugar, piasters, the fishermen of Banyuls have, for nearly two centuries, passed these goods with almost total impunity. At that time, the vine was considered as a palliative care for smuggling.

In 1789 a road was opened, connecting Banyuls to Port-Vendres, before that nothing connected these two villages except the sea.

In the second half of the 19th century, Banyuls wines were exported by ship to the United States. At that time, the wines lacked stability and therefore did not travel well. Generally, the wines were good to drink in their region of manufacture, from the harvest to Easter, beyond that they became deviant and turned quickly to vinegar because the wine fermented again. The wines of Banyuls, at that time, are naturally more stable due to their high alcohol content. However, they keep a small amount of residual sugar which, during their journey, and in particular to the USA, caused the barrels to explode because the residual sugars caused the wine to ferment again. To avoid this, we had the idea of stabilizing the wines by adding a dose of expedition liqueur, which stopped the fermentation.

In 1875 the railway line was inaugurated in Banyuls.

In 1880, when the French vineyard was destroyed by phylloxera, Doctor Paul Olivier, a first-class pharmacist in Collioure, wrote in a letter to the prefect: “wherever I looked for the insect, I found it”.

On May 16, 1905, a new chapter in Collioure’s history opened. The painter Henri Matisse arrived in Banyuls by train, dropped off his luggage in the only inn in the village at that time, at Dame Rosette’s and set off to discover this village in search of inspiration. Collioure seduces, animates and surprises him, this city full of history, full of colour, bordered by the sea, surrounded by mountains and vineyards inspires him. Matisse then gave another turning point to his artistic career.

Matisse invites his friend and painter André Derain to join him in this city of a thousand shades, together they paint frantically paintings in dynamic shades. In autumn 1905 Matisse and Derain exhibited their works made in Collioure at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. It was an artistic shock, Louis Vauxelle, art critic of the time, spoke of “Donatello (angel sculpture by Marque, then placed in the centre of the room) in the middle of the wild animals”. This is how the name Fauvism came into being to name this new artistic movement. After Matisse and Derain, other painters of the time followed suit, including Etienne Terrus, Aristide Maillol and Daniel de Monfreid.

Their paintings, exhibited all over the world, have given Collioure an international reputation and have made this city a city of painters.

At the very end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Banyuls wine was given pharmaceutical virtues, so that in 1909, Banyuls was included in the Codex under the pressure of Doctor Bouchardat: “Banyuls is a generous, fortifying and restorative wine that gives the necessary vigour to stupid or overworked temperaments. It provides the most effective remedies for anemia. Banyuls wines were sold by pharmacies as reconstituents for the organization until 1945.

In August 1936, the Banyuls appellation d’origine contrôlée was recognised by decree, making it the first French natural sweet wine to obtain the appellation.

In 1971, the Collioure Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée was born, which produces dry red wines.

In 1993, the Banyuls vintage union was awarded the “Reconquest Landscape” label by the Ministry of the Environment to outstanding sites supported by economic activities.

In 2003, the white Collioure wines obtained the appellation d’origine contrôlée.

The vineyard in a few figures :

Hectares
% of the vines are cultivated on slopes between 25 and 50% slope
% of the vines are cultivated on slopes with more than 50% inclination

Geographical area

The Collioure-Banyuls vineyard, located on the Côte Vermeille, at the eastern end of the Pyrenees, silences the last four municipalities on the coast before Spain: Collioure, Port-Vendres, Banyuls-sur-Mer and Cerbère.

In a skilful movement that ends its journey at the foot of the Mediterranean, the vine envelops the steep slopes of the mountains and shapes a singular landscape, of remarkable legibility. The vineyard sits on a rugged terrain where the slopes form a succession of amphitheatres turned towards the sea.

The winegrowers of the Côte Vermeille, by adapting to the difficult conditions of the territory, have given the landscape a heritage status, reinforced by the presence of admirable historical monuments.

The vineyard has the particularity of marrying other types of vegetation (woods, scrubland, olive trees…); this mixture offers an abundant and recognized biodiversity (natural reserves, lands of the Conservatoire du Littoral, Natura 2000 sites…) as well as a generous fauna and flora.

It can be noted that viticulture, which occupies more than 1/4 of the total area of the territory, is the main support for landscape maintenance. It remains one of the main resources of wealth and contributes to the specificity of the landscape and the beauty of the site.

On this territory of the Côte Vermeille, two large Controlled Appellations of Origin are produced, which have the same parcel delimitation, Banyuls in Natural Sweet Wine and Collioure in dry wine, which in total have 7 different appellations.

Climate

The Vermeille coast would not be what it is without the southern Mediterranean climate that surrounds the Roussillon region. The sun takes an essential place in the local weather, summers are hot and dry with very little rain, however the drought is compensated by the humidity provided by the sea.

The region is crossed by strong winds that sweep across the vineyard and allow soil water to evaporate, thus protecting the vines from phytosanitary diseases. These windy episodes, called tramontanes, last three, six or nine days in a row and cause damage to vegetation but also to people.

In autumn, heavy rains fall on the region, damaging the slopes and sometimes creating landslides destroying plots of vines.

In addition to the windy passages, the Vermeille coast enjoys a mild climate all year round.

The Mediterranean climate is characterized by a significant amount of sunshine and relatively mild average temperatures, this microclimate benefits the entire terroir and the wine benefits from an ideal temperature range between day and night to develop naturally.

Banyuls and Banyuls Grand-Cru in a few figures :

Hectares in production
Hectolitres produced
Hectolitres
Average yield per hectare

Géology

The relief and the very rugged morphology of the terrain was formed during the Pyreneo-Provencal orogeny. This phenomenon has given rise to ridges in the region, the most remarkable being La Madeloc, which overlooks the village of Banyuls and peaks at an altitude of 656 metres.

France’s southernmost vineyard, the relief is tormented, on steep slopes of brown grey schist with, on the surface and debris buried in decomposing sandy clay. In order to resist potentially terrible droughts, the roots of vines must reach very deep areas in order to resist them.

The vines grow on terraces with thin and poor soils, often leaving room for rocky outcrops caused by torrential rains.

Mankind has learned over time to tame this land to make it arable, by becoming true mountain sculptors.

Traditionally built of dry stone, schists, found on the ground or extracted from the mother rock, are used to erect walls and walls that punctuate the slopes with horizontal lines. In this way, they highlight the structure of the landscape and reflect the value of the work of those who have shaped and maintain them today.

Put end to end, the walls would represent 6,000 km long
Each slope is therefore cut by a system of terraces and low walls in order to increase the flat and cultivable surface. Narrow triangle or wide rectangle, these lines form a puzzle wine landscape. The micro-parcellisation of the vineyard accentuates the mosaic phenomenon.

Indeed, these parcels, cut lengthwise, are intertwined by a set of lines that frame and reveal the landscape, reflecting all the genius and will of mankind to offer the terroir its wine-growing vocation.

The plots are most often small, on average 50 hectares, with slopes greater than 25% and in some places more than 50% inclination.

The terraces, schist walls, “agulles” (gullies) and “peus de galls” (in French: feet of rooster) are often accompanied by “casots” (tool huts), water tanks and some fruit trees.

The current wine landscape took its final form after the phylloxera crisis at the end of the 19th century.

Due to the slope, the soil (shale) and the dry stone structures, mechanisation is impossible in this type of vineyard. All these particularities have contributed to defining the character of this terroir, which is wedged between the mountains and the sea.

Cultivation practices

Through centuries, Collioure-Banyuls vineyard was not worried about management and preservation of his viticultural landscape.

Each family who lived in the region owned at least a vine parcell she maintain in additional of them real job. This vine parcell permitted to bring to the home an additional income.

This vine ancestral culture permit to pass down, through the ages the typical agricultural practices, themselves reproduced on elders techniques.

Vineyard is characterized by the instability of schist soils. The rock flushed in places and the Throughout the centuries, the Collioure-Banyuls vineyard has not been concerned about the management and conservation of the wine-growing landscape. Each family in the region owned at least one plot of vines that they maintained outside their professional activity and which provided the household with a small additional income. This ancestral culture of the vine has also made it possible to transmit through the ages the cultural practices of the terroirs, which are themselves reproduced on those of the elders.

The vineyard is characterized by the instability of schistose soils. The outcropping rock in some areas and the dry stone installations (low walls and hydraulic structures) make mechanisation projects difficult or even impossible if we want to preserve the architecture of the traditional vineyard.

In traditional vineyards, by the sea or in valleys close to the coast, viticultural work is carried out manually and involves very high production costs.

Until the 1950s, the control of grass cover, which is the main concern of winegrowers, was limited to mechanical tillage, manual or assisted by animal power. With the advent of herbicides, which have made it possible to manage the adventitious flora in the vines, tillage has been replaced by the so-called “non-cropping” technique. This method makes it possible to limit the phenomena of competition by reducing the difficulty of tillage and considerably reducing maintenance costs.

A few decades have been enough to reveal the limits of this farming practice, on the one hand because of the resistance of certain species to chemical molecules, and on the other hand because of the public’s awareness of water pollution by herbicides.

The return to ploughing and maintenance practices, replacing “non-cropping” techniques favouring the use of herbicides, therefore remains a priority. However, under the most extreme conditions of slope and width of the vineyard terraces, mechanisation, even with equipment adapted to the mountain vineyard, is impossible.

Faced with this situation, the use of animal traction, traditionally practiced until the 1950s, may once again become one of the alternatives to the use of herbicides.

The main obstacle to the widespread use of this technique is its cost, whatever the methods of implementation (by the winegrower himself, or by a service provider).

Unlike the traditional vineyard, which has only been able to develop and survive thanks to the protection system designed by the old ones: terraces, networks of rainwater drainage channels “peus de gall” (rainwater networks), the longevity of these new vines should be shorter, each new rainfall causing major damage and the transfer of materials downstream.

Experimented alternative techniques to chemical weeding (manual tillage, ploughing by animal traction or caterpillar, controlled weeding, thermal weeding, biodegradable mulching) could be a solution, but the additional production costs are very high, too high to be borne by the winegrowers.
Yields per hectare are very low on the vineyard, generally less than 15 hectolitres per hectare. Dry stones constructions (low walls and canals) makes mechanization works difficult even impossibles if we want to conserve the vineyard traditional architecture.

In traditionnels vines, seaside or in valley near the coastline, viticultural works are realized by hand, hence the production costs are considerable.

Until the 50’s, the weed control, what is the major preoccupation of  winegrowers, was limited weeding made by hand or with animal traction. With the market entry of herbicides who permit to control weed in vine parcells, traditionnal works were replaced by “non-culture” technique.

This method enable to limited competition phenomenon and diminish the onerousness of soil work and reduce considerably production costs.

Some decades were enough to shows limits of this cultural parctice. On the one hand because of resistance to chemicals of few weeds, on the other hand because of awareness of people concerning water pollution to herbicides.
The come back to ploughing and maintenance practices, in substitution of “non-culture” techniques is the priority. However, in theses extreme work condition of steep slopes and small terrace, mechanization even with appropriate tools is sometime impossible.

In view of this, resorting of animal traction, traditionally practiced in the 50’s, can be used again in substitution to pesticides. The main impediment to the spread of this technique is it cost.

la longévité de ces nouvelles vignes devrait être plus réduite, chaque nouvelle pluie provoquant des dégâts importants et des transferts de matériaux vers l’aval.

Each new rain provoque important damages and the longevity of the new vines are compromised.

Theses alternative methods to chemicals weeding (hand works, ploughing with animal traction, weeding control, thermical weeding, biodegradable straw-mulching) could be a solution but the production over costs are very important, sometimes too important to be assumed by winegrowers.

Yields are very feeble, generally under 15 hectolitres per hectare.

Collioure Cru in a few figures :

Hectares in production
Hectolitres produced
Hectolitres
Average yield per hectare

Typicity

The grape varieties of North Catalonia are all represented on the Collioure-Banyuls appellation air, Grenache is available in black, grey and white, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan complete the red range. Macabeu, petit grain muscat and Alexandrian muscat often combine with grey and white Grenache in the production of white and amber Banyuls and white Collioure.

In Banyuls, natural sweet wines are produced, obtained by mutage. Mutation is the addition of neutral alcohol, of vinous origin, to the fresh grape must. There are several types of natural sweet wines in Banyuls, on the one hand those that are protected from oxidation by ageing in a reducing environment and those aged in an oxidative environment. Initially, Banyuls Rimage are matured in a reducing environment, either in oak barrels or in vats, which gives them a typical blend of freshness, fruit and tannicity. Traditional Banyuls, Amber, Hors d’âge and Rancio are aged in oxidative environments in oak barrels, tuns, demi-muids, vats or outdoor glass bottles, exposed to the sun’s rays and climatic contrasts, a unique method accelerates the ageing process of the wines. These traditional wines are excellent wines to keep and their incredible aromatic palette evolves but never dies.

The Côte Vermeille hides in its fort wines of a rare typicality that will please the most discerning. We are obviously talking about dry Rancios here. These ancestral wines have passed through centuries of history and are a testimony to Roussillon’s wine-growing culture. These wines, aged in an oxidative medium in unfilled barrels and placed outdoors, are dry because they are fully fermented. They are therefore raised for at least five years and must have a high alcoholic degree to develop favourably under these conditions. They will be attributed aromas of nuts, roasting, pine resin or fenugreek due to their long ageing in oak barrels.

In this very atypical geographical area, there are a total of two PDOs that together produce 5 different wines, as well as a rather symbolic PGI Côte Vermeille that produces only 173 hectolitres spread over 12 hectares.

Conclusion

Over the centuries, the vineyard has suffered episodes of prosperity and stagnation punctuating the seasons with the sandstone of the winds and the moon.

Today Roussillon produces 80% of the national production of Natural Sweet Wines and the Banyuls appellation produces 13 144 hectolitres on its 785 hectares.

The atypical geography rules out any possibility of mechanisation and automation in the cultivation of the vine, which gives the wines of Banyuls and Collioure all their strength, character and preciousness. This laborious work, which the winegrowers have been carrying out for centuries, is rewarded by unique flavours, bursting with sunshine and aromatic intensity.

The landscape of the Côte Vermeille is recognized as exceptional and almost unique, it is a heritage property that must be managed, enhanced and protected.

Banyuls – Collioure | Maison Parcé frères