Winemaker Katie Jones: Fitou and loathing in the Languedoc

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

07 December 2018

Imagine being so unpopular that your year’s work was sabotaged by your neighbours, your partner was spat at in the street and your co-workers were beaten up just for wearing a T-shirt with your name on it. Such is the life of Katie Jones. Her crime? To be a British woman making wine in the Languedoc. Or, more accurately, to be a British woman daring to make good wine in the Languedoc.

Winemaker Katie Jones
Winemaker Katie Jones

Jones moved to the south of France in the 1990s, to work for the Mont Tauch co-operative. She bought her first vineyard, a bijou 2.5ha plot in Maury, Pyrénées-Orientales, in 2007 and moved seriously into making her own wine a few years later when she purchased another couple of plots of land in Fitou. She now has around 12ha of vineyard, none of it planted with vines younger than 45-years-old, and many of them much older. Her oldest vines are 110-years-old.

‘The yields are a lot lower and the fruit complexity much higher with old vines, but growers don’t put a premium on them because the co-operatives don’t pay more for it. The growers laugh at us for farming old vines,’ she says.

Jones’ problem was that her departure from the Mont Tauch co-op in 2009 coincided with the last financial crisis. Selling wine suddenly got a lot harder. And as the winery struggled, so did the growers. And, unfairly, they held Katie Jones responsible. Locals froze her out, her winery’s road sign was painted over,  and, in 2013 vandals broke into her winery and drained all her tanks of white wine.

It was a shattering experience. But fortunately, it wasn’t without its upside. One lone barrel of Grenache Gris survived the vandalism, and in a silver lining kind of way, the story proved the inspiration for the label on her Along Came Jones 'Sleeping Beauty' Grenache Gris.

Her ‘Along Came Jones’ labels are brilliantly distinctive, cartoon strips that tell her eventful story of making wine in Fitou in picture narrative form. The sexism and xenophobia she has to face on a daily basis come over strongly, though they're warm and ironic rather than angry. Customers love them, and since they provide an instant story for somms to talk about, there are clear benefits to restaurants too.

There are a dozen or so wines in the range, none of them at more than 1000 cases. At an impromptu tasting, Imbibe got to try three of the most important.

  • The lucky-to-survive Along Came Jones 'Sleeping Beauty' Grenache Gris 2013, a hefty oaky, structured beast with impressive acidity and a saline finish (£23.69),
  • Along Came Jones ‘Difference’ 2017, an 80:20 Carignan and Grenache blend with juicy blackberry flavours that’s perfect for bistros and by the glass, particularly for its £8.46 price tag,
  • And the estate wine Domaine Jones 2016 Vieilles Vignes, A 40:30:30 blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah, with well-judged oak use. Its inky dark fruit and traces of cedar and pepper betray the age of the vines that gave birth to it. It’s also excellent value at £12.18.

‘We set out to prove that Fitou doesn’t have to be supermarket wine,’ says Jones. ‘The potential for quality wines down here is enormous. The challenges have made us more determined – and we must be doing something right, that’s why they get so annoyed.’

Here’s hoping she continues to annoy the locals for many years to come.

Domaine Jones wines are available from Gonzalez Byass UK.

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