Monday, September 8, 2014

Limoux AOC: Creation of a sparkling wine terroir

Absent the "skullduggery" of Friar Dom, Limoux would have been the world's bubbly of choice. Because, according to the region's boosters, sparkling wine production was developed therein 150 years before its introduction in Champagne. Furthermore, Dom Perignon had been hosted at the Monastery at St. Hilaire (in Limoux) where he learned the production method that he later introduced as his own. Bubbly production in Limoux today does not approach Champagne in volume or quality but the region is certified to produce three AOC sparkling wines: Cremant de Limoux, Blanquette de Limoux, and Blanquette Method Ancestrale.

Limoux is located in the Aude departement of Languedoc-Roussillon, 100 kilometers west of the Mediterranean Sea between the Chalabra and Lacamp plateaus to the west and east, respectively, and hard-up against the foothills of the Pyrénées-Orientales to its south.

Languedoc-Roussillon. Source:

The Aude wine region. Source:
Communes of Limoux winemaking. Source:

Limoux, though close to the Mediterranean -- and subject to its effects -- has three distinct "climatic terroirs," as reflected by the grapes grown therein. Areas to the east of Limoux experience a warm climate and annual rainfall of 650 mm/year. Sugar levels accumulate rapidly necessitating harvest-initiation here. Areas west of Limoux are affected by the Atlantic and experience the highest rainfall -- 780 mm/yr -- and a humid climate. Mediterranrean effects do penetrate to this region periodically. The Auton terroir is located in the heart of the appellation on the slopes surrounding Limoux. This terroir is sheltered from Atlantic and Mediterranean effects by the the surrounding Corbières and Chalabrais Mountains. The climate is warm and dry with cool nights and rainfall of 570 mm/year. This is the second area harvested. The fourth climate zone is referred to as the terroir of the Upper Valley. It is located up the river Aude in the foothills of the Pyrenees above 300 m elevation. The weather is wetter and cooler -- rainfall of 750 mm-- with a late spring and cool fall.

Landscape Formation
Because of its location, the Limoux region escaped the Mesozoic marine incursions experienced by Champagne, for example. As a result, the region has no deposits from that period included in its formulative strata. It is not until the Eocene that the seas intrude and deposits of that era mark the occurence.

Limoux Landscape Formation
Lower Eocene marine invasions that 
submerged region
Alternating layers of hard and soft deposits:
  • sandy limestone (Thanatian period)
  • red sandy clays (Spanacian)
  • hard foraminiferal limestone, blue Turritellae-bearing marls, and oyster-bearing sandstone banks (Llerdian)
Mid-Eocene Pyrenean uplift
Stage 1 deposits overlaid by Lutetian detritus stripped from newly formed peaks and washed downstream by rivers

Upper Eocene formation of Massif de Mouthoumet due to compression of land between the Pyrenees and Montagne 
Creation of east-west fault that divides current-day Limoux into two distinct landscapes:
  • southern half with hills ranging between 980 and 2600 feet and south-sloping strata
  • northern half with lower elevations (460 - 1300 feet) and north-sloping strata
Source: Jacques Fanet, Great Wine Terroirs.

From Landscape to Vineyard Sites
The vineyard soils above and below the Limoux fault are limestone-based but their derivation have been markedly dissimilar. In the south, for the most part, the Paleocene-Eocene formations have been eroded away, laying bare the bedrock in the form of a cuesta (a long. low ridge with a relatively steep face on one side and a long, gentle slope on the other -- Small basins have been dug out of the softer formations (red Spanacian marls in the Luc-sur-Aude; blue Turritellae-bearing marls in the Couiza-Coustaussa valley; and red Maestrichtian marls in Campagne-sur-Aude) and vineyards have been established thereupon (Fanet).

In the northern portion of the Limoux AOC, we also have a cuesta topography. The Lutetitian detritus was laid down in two layers separated by a layer of lacustrine limestone. Erosion of this mass formed a cuesta with alternating bands of sandstone and marly beds. According to Fanet, the "cradle of production lies to the west of Limoux in the molasse basin of Magrice and de Toureilles, an ideally suited location tucked between Massif de Mouthoumet to the south and the Lutetian lacustrine limestone to the north."

I will present the sparkling wines of Limoux AOC in my next post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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