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Plaimont – Where the past holds the answer to the future

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Almost half a century after its foundation, the French cooperative stands as a beacon of collaboration and pioneering research

When Plaimont was founded in 1979, bringing the Plaisance, Aignan and Saint Mont cooperatives together, it started a project that, almost 50 years on, is still remarkable for its scope, focus and ambition. Today, with more than 800 growers, 5300 hectares and 10 châteaux under its umbrella, Plaimont produces wine under the Madiran, Saint Mont, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and, since 2023, Jurançon AOCs, as well as the Côtes de Gascogne IGP. The ‘super-cooperative’ is one of Europe’s most respected independent research centres on historical ampelography, known for the characterfulness and uncompromising quality – across price points – of its extensive range.

Ahead of its time

Many questioned the assumptions and principles Plaimont was founded upon. ‘At the beginning, I guess we doubted ourselves and whether the project would be sustainable,’ says Olivier Bourdet-Pees, managing director at the cooperative. ‘The market was focused, almost obsessed, with the dominant [international] varieties.’ The fight against the severe loss of biodiversity this represented and the determination to preserve and propagate local grapes – many of them nearly extinct and not grown commercially – defined the project’s ethos. This philosophy was in turn founded on the belief that these varieties had unparalleled ability to express terroir, on the one hand, and were uniquely adapted to local conditions, on the other – therefore better able to cope with natural challenges. Both aspects would prove increasingly relevant as the end of the millennium approached.

Today, the varieties and viticultural approach Plaimont has championed are held up as an example of how to face the challenges of climate change and market saturation through the prism of history and nature – while building a sustainable business that supports the livelihoods of a large community of growers and collaborators.

Always looking back – and ahead

The prescience of the cooperative’s mission has been borne out, over the years, both by Plaimont’s commercial success and by the importance – recognised internationally and seen as a case study for other regions – of its research efforts and experiment-led approach. With fierce determination, Plaimont has built a network of like- minded viticulturalists, ampelographers and historians that has informed the cooperative’s pioneering projects, including its research winery and vine conservatorium (the largest private collection of vines in France).

Having forged its trajectory along two parallel, complementary paths – a shrewd alertness to market demands and changing drinking habits, and the preservation of Gascogne’s viticultural heritage – Plaimont has been able to strive commercially while remaining true to its mission. ‘We want to establish direct links between varieties, terroir and [historical] origin,’ explains Bourdet-Pees. ‘Fortunately, our approach appeals directly to a new audience that is interested in background, history, stories and context.’

An ongoing mission

The alignment of market trends with Plaimont’s original mission has long proven the cooperative’s founders and growers right – but they are not resting on their laurels. ‘There’s so much work to do,’ Bourdet-Pees continues. ‘We’ll keep working on drinkability, with a special focus on reinventing the reds. And we hope to remove the use of pesticides across all our vineyards. Above all, we want to remain true to our mission.’

This translates into ongoing work on the preservation of local varieties (Tardiff, Manseng Noir, Gros and Petit Manseng, Arrufiac, Petit Courbu, and others) by collecting and propagating plant material and exploring their winemaking potential. The results can be found not only on wine shelves across the world but also, and perhaps more importantly, in the growing consensus that these grapes – many of which were once at risk of extinction – can offer the key to the future of quality, balanced winemaking in Gascogne.

A taste through Plaimont’s history…

es Vignes Retrouvées, AOC Saint Mont 2021

Les Vignes Retrouvées, AOC Saint Mont 2021 
Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Arrufiac; 12.5% abv
Ripe yellow fruits dominate, topped with elegant floral nuances and a nutty savouriness. Two years on the lees have imparted texture, gentle oiliness and weight on the mid palate. This generosity is offset by a fine acid line. Long finish with lingering lemon curd and blanched almonds. Will benefit from more time in bottle to develop and unveil its full complexity.
92 points

Novel, AOC Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec 2021

Novel, AOC Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec 2021 
Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu, Petit Manseng; 13.5%
With incredible tension and focus, this is an elegant and food-friendly wine that strikes a perfect balance between drinkability and laidback complexity. The filigreed nose is dominated by notes of hay, apple and chamomile. The palate is built around a core of crunchy Asian pear and ripe citrus, lined with blanched almonds and a delicious layer of green olive brine.
92 points

Vignes Préphylloxériques, AOC Saint Mont 2021

Vignes Préphylloxériques, AOC Saint Mont 2021
Tannat (interspersed with other local varieties); 14% abv
An incredible snapshot of the incredible genetic lineage of Saint Mont’s vines. The parcel the fruit hails from and entered the Historical Monuments registry in 2012. A characterful, unique wine of incredible concentration and complexity. The firm tannic structure and vibrant acidity work in counterpoint to the deep black fruit. Red apple crunch and an undercurrent of cranberry juice add further freshness. Incredible ageing potential. Limited release of 1500 bottles, numbered.
95 points

Le Faîte Rouge, AOC Saint Mont 2020

Le Faîte Rouge, AOC Saint Mont 2020 
Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinenc; 14% abv
The ‘original’ Plaimont wine, very classical and poised. Albeit from a particularly hot vintage, it preserves the region’s trademark freshness and focus. Pure and deep back fruit (plum, blackberry, blackcurrant), lined by liquorice, dried sage and rosemary. Alcohol and wood are extremely well integrated. Drinking very well now but with extraordinary ageing potential.
93 points

…And future

Projoe, AOC Saint Mont 2021

Projoe, AOC Saint Mont 2021 
Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu; 13.5% abv
An alluring and vibrant wine, showing a particular, lively expression of Saint Mont. Soft, elegant and so drinkable, with lemon zest, crunchy pear and apple blossom over a juicy core of ripe yellow apple and quince. Succulent yet also so refreshing.
92 points

Quadra-Colombardde Vieilles Vignes, IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2022

Quadra-Colombardde Vieilles Vignes, IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2022
Colombard; 12% abv
A fine mineral backbone defines the essential character of a wine that showcases the potential of this sometimes underestimated grape variety. With zesty purity (lemon, yuzu, clementine peel) and a subtle herbal nuance (freshly cut parsley, fennel top), it finishes with a saline and flinty twist.
91 points

YURA, AOC Jurançon Sec 2022

YURA, AOC Jurançon Sec 2022 
Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng; 14% abv
The first label from Jurançon (Yuransoû in old Béarnese) released by Plaimont in partnership with Les Vignerons de Yura. A real Pyrenean wine, with vibrancy and a robust acid line. A core of juicy fruit serves as a perfect counterpoint. A delicious and joyful wine with white peach, yellow apple and crunchy pear lined by apple blossom and chamomile. Delightful zesty finish.
91 points

J’aurais dûêtre...Tardif, Vin de France 2021

J’auraisdûêtre…Tardif, Vin de France 2021 
Tardif; 13.5% abv
Plaimont is fighting for Saint Mont AOC classification for this late-ripening local variety which the cooperative has saved from near extinction. It shows great expressiveness on the nose, with deep black fruit under a layer of spicy liquorice. Smooth tannins carry the velvety fruit, lifted by refreshing black and white pepper, which lingers on, driving the long finish.
92 points

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