Katie living the winemaking dream in the Languedoc
Winemaker and owner of Domaine Jones, high in the hills of Cathar country in the Languedoc-Roussillon, explains how she swapped a business suit for jeans and wellies (not cap and whistle!) but doesn't regret a thing.
Domaine Jones has only been in existence for four years and despite its tiny output (fewer than 16,000 bottles) and the fact that its owner Katie had never made wine before, it has already won international acclaim. Wine Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams has followed Jones from the beginning, 'I had known Katie when she was director of sales and marketing at the Mont Tauch Co-op. When I heard that she had bought up some plots of old vines I was interested to see what she would do with them. These are not easy vineyards to farm…this area is often called "the land of great hope and early graves," it's such a wonderful place, but so many have tried and failed here. We get more calls from expats making wine here than anywhere else. The wines are usually terrible. Katie Jones is a one-off.'
From Leicester to the Languedoc
Originally from Ashby de la Zouch, Katie moved to the tiny village of Paziols (population c500) 20 years ago. 'I was beguiled by the drama of the scenery, the charm of the villages, the warmth of the people and the obsession with winemaking.' She took up a position with the local Mont Tauch Co-op, one of the more dynamic in the region, and stayed for 16 years. She bought her first vineyard on a whim, intending to use it for gardening and, like everyone else in the village (bar one), to sell the grapes to the co-op. 'I met someone with 2½ ha of Roussillon vineyard for sale high up in the picturesque Maury Valley. There was something special about this site. It reminded me of why I moved here in the first place.' The vineyard was going cheap. The ancient vines were not high-yielding enough and the slopes too steep to be worked by tractor – too much pain and not enough gain for those growing grapes to sell to the co-op. Katie had believed she was buying a plot of grenache noir grapes, but it turned out to have grenache gris, muscat and carignan vines too (she bought the vineyard in winter when the vines were not in flower). Quite unusual for such a small vineyard.
As the recession started to hit and Katie's job became less and less about wine and more and more about haggling over price, she got itchy feet. Taking a leap of faith, Katie left the day job and started to look more seriously at the potential quality of her vineyard. She had no winemaking experience and had intended to take a sabbatical to learn the ropes. Her friend, David Morrison, an Australian based in Barcelona who makes wines all over the world, gave her a shopping list and offered to see her through her first few vintages. He told her to grasp the nettle and get stuck in straight away.
The Vatican, Katie's miniature winery
The first wines – an overnight success
Katie acquired a 200-year-old stone building, which she called 'The Vatican' (it's on the rue du Vatican), and turned it into a miniature winery with the contents of David's shopping list. 'It really is tiny,' Katie told us, 'All of my vats would fit into one of the co-op's, with room to spare!' Katie wanted to vinify the grapes separately to establish the quality and style of each and planned to spend the first two years setting benchmarks for her wines. Her first vintage was in 2009; the red won the grenache trophy in a Vin de France competition and a silver medal at the IWC (International Wine Challenge) awards, as well as coming to the notice of a certain Robert Parker. The white won similar accolades and also came to the notice of Marcel Orford- Williams, who snapped it up for members to enjoy. As the winery is in the village of Tuchan in the Languedoc, the wines from the Maury vineyard, cannot be labelled as appellation d'origine protégée.
For the love of Fitou
Fitou has always been Katie's first love since moving to the region 20 years ago, so when the opportunity arose to buy some vineyards in the village of Tuchan, she leaped at the chance. The vineyards were just what she had been waiting for – small plots of old vines of the classic Fitou grapes of carignan, grenache and syrah. Surrounded by fig and almond trees and a free view thrown in, each brings a different flavour to the final blend. Once again, the land was sold at a very reasonable price, the locals wanting to off-load difficult to farm property. 'The very things that make my small vineyard unattractive to the big growers make it a paradise for me,' says Katie.
Explore Katie's wines here