Along with a class of sommelier students from Toulouse, I visited, almost exactly a year ago, the Villa Dria, a 50-ha vineyard in the Côtes de Gascogne wine appellation just west of Toulouse. My notes and photos went forgotten until I remembered them when I received my invitation to the annual Concours du Vins du Sud-Ouest wine competition, which is held each March in the school where these students study.
The sommelier students from the Lycée Hôtelier Toulouse and I were in the Gers (the French department that includes the Côtes de Gascogne) for a wine competition. Jean-Pierre Drieux, the owner of the Villa Dria and the president of the appellation, had invited us to visit his new wine cellar. Until 2009, Drieux sold his grapes to a local wine cooperative. This new cellar, filled with shiny stainless steel tanks, is built, he explained, on géobiologie principles that sound similar to the Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing buildings or spaces using Feng Shui.
He told us that the cellar was constructed using the same cosmic and earth forces that were used to construct medieval cathedrals. A dowser identified underground water flowing beneath the site for the new wine cellar, while electromagnetic fields were located by two geobiologists. Capturing the force of underground currents of water, magnetic fields and subterranean metallic forces may strike many as being as esoteric as biodynamic farming, but the four Villa Dria wines that we tasted– two dry and one sweet white wines, along with a red, were made from vines farmed used conventional viticultural techniques. He explained, however, that he’s continually reducing the chemical herbicides and pesticides used to protect the vines. Drieux topped off the ecologically-friendly wine cellar with a photovoltaic roof that converts solar energy into electricity; the excess being sold back to Electricité de France.
Villa Dria whites, which are made from Colombard, Gros and Petit Manseng, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon and Chardonay grapes, have a refreshing level of acidity, with a generous structure and good length. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes are used to make the red wines. Their emphasis is on the fruit, with soft tannins and good balance. Whether or not some invisible power is at hand here, these sommelier students will have an interesting back story to tell when they present Villa Dria wines to customers at restaurants where they work after graduation.