eA castle can be a love, so it can be. Even when the object of desire is about to collapse. At the end of the 1970s, Alan Geddes happened to be on his way back from Bordeaux to Paris, where the Scotsman worked for an oil company, to the Tarn department in southwestern France. In the Crêtes, the gently rolling vineyards north of Gaillac, there was a fortified castle for sale – or rather what was left of the Château de Mayragues dating back to the twelfth century. The rock on which the back front once rested: broken. The half-timbered gallery grafted onto the stone building: rotten. Thick cracks in the outer walls and a partially collapsed roof signaled that a decision had to be made quickly.
On top of that. The castle included a dozen hectares of vineyards, from the grapes of which the then owners, a Pieds-noirs family repatriated from Algeria in 1962, produced a mass drink that was hardly drinkable. However, Alan Geddes had no idea of viticulture or of renovating a dilapidated medieval building that is a listed building. And yet. After the tour, Alan Geddes quickly returned to Paris and returned quickly to Gaillac with his French wife Laurence, who as a curator at the Musée Carnavalet was able to bring in some expertise in art history. “It was a fourteen-hour drive back then,” recalls the now successful organic winemaker, “and none of our Parisian friends had any idea where Gaillac could be, nor does it taste like a Gaillac wine. At that time there was no tourism in the Tarn. “
Forty years later, the trip from Paris to Gaillac takes just seven hours thanks to the highways that have now been built. The paintings on the preserved ceilings of the Château de Mayragues have been restored. Concrete injections stabilize the rock surface. All the walls are upright again, and the separate pigeon tower from the sixteenth century rests on solid stone columns. There are two chambres d’hôtes in the castle, which can be reached via the restored rampart and are a welcome alternative to the rather meager hotel offer in the Gaillac area.
A lot has happened in the vineyard and in the cellar of the Château de Mayragues. In addition to the plaque of the Grand Prix des Vieilles Maisons Françaises on the castle itself, which the Geddes were awarded for saving the walls, the Demeter logo of the winery, which was converted to biodynamic cultivation in 1999, is emblazoned on the cellar. In the vineyards themselves, Geddes, who has become one of the leading winemakers of the appellation, pulled out all the grape varieties that are not typical for Gaillac and replaced them with indigenous varieties.
A sea of vines
The Scotsman was not alone in returning to the original Gaillac varieties. Thanks to the Terres de Gaillac wine association, which has been advocating the planting of indigenous vines and the strengthening of the terroir since the turn of the millennium, the quality of the AOP Gaillac wines has increased pleasingly. However, the appellation, which is just under four thousand hectares in size, is still lost between the vast Languedoc sea of vines in the south and the prestigious Bordelais in the west.