The Remarkable Geology of the Agly Valley

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Located in the larger IGP of the Côtes Catalanes, the Agly Valley is nestled in the foothills of the Corbieres Massif, an ancient mountain range in the pre-Pyrenees. Coming from the west, you descend into the valley on narrow mountain roads flanked on either side by sheer walls of white limestone. Once the terrain smooths out enough to support viticulture, the unique soil composition of the area becomes apparent, with vineyards composed of schist stretching into the foothills of the mountain range.

Schist, a metamorphic rock that is rich in minerals such as quartz, mica, and feldspar, contributes to the distinctive character of the wines produced here. It has excellent drainage properties, allowing excess water to flow away easily and preventing waterlogged vines during periods of rain. Its lack of compaction also promotes healthy root development, as well-drained soil encourages grapevines to extend their roots deep into the ground in search of water and nutrients, fortifying the vines during the hot summers common in this part of France.

Additionally, schist is known for its excellent heat retention properties. The rocky nature of the topsoil allows it to absorb heat during the day and radiate it back to the vines during the cooler nights. The vineyards around Maury are particularly known for their rugged hillsides of black schist that offer a wide variety of exposures.

The climate, with its strong northwest wind known as the Tramontana, is favorable to organic and biodynamic farming, as the pressures of diseases such as mildew are lessened. With such rocky soil, erosion is a constant worry, making natural grassing and the development of plant cover a natural solution both as the prevention from erosion during heavy rains and also as protection from UV radiation and excessive evaporation.

One producer that is making the most of this unique Valley de L’Agly terroir is Christophe Marin. On his eponymous estate, he draws on generational know-how, capitalizes on the raw materials available, and is constantly exploring the potential of this large growing area. The viticulture and vinification on the estate is fully biodynamic, and respect for the environment is paramount in order to preserve the old vines. Christophe takes seriously his goal of creating great wines from the Côtes Catalanes that clearly express their origin.

A cornerstone of his production, the Origines cuvée is produced with a single grape variety – 100% Grenache. It is a blend of four plots in Maury, of which the two largest (Clos de Narrasat and Rec des Maillols) are on black schist soils. Foun del Bosc is planted on clay-silty soil, with an eastern exposure, and Petaillat is the youngest, planted on clay-sand soil with rolled pebbles. This wine is an expression of the overall character of a given vintage, as expressed through the Grenache grape.

Christophe’s only white wine, Cuvée Olivia, is made from a blend of Macabeu, Grenache Blanc and Gris, and Carignan Blanc. These old vines are all co-planted within plots of Grenache, and had traditionally been blended with red grapes to create the fortified wines of Maury. Here, they find a new expression as a dry white wine that is fresh, with good tension and great finesse.