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The secret of Mas success

“Selling wine to the French is like selling hamburgers to Americans.” Or at least, that was Jean-Claude Mas’ (pictured) thinking when he started Domaines Paul Mas, in France’s Languedoc region, which includes the quirky cheapie brand, Arrogant Frog (tastings). Hence he focused on the export market. He succeeded in stunning fashion, but he’s changed his mind about the hamburger thing, and for the last two years has been marketing his wines in France.

Far from being an arrogant frog, Mas is a broad-minded and highly energetic wine man. His wines sell for super-sharp prices in Dan Murphy’s, and Arrogant Frog is an example of self-deprecatory humour uncommon among French winemakers. 

It’s just four years since I last saw him in Sydney, but since then he’s added a restaurant (Côté Mas, 35km from Montpellier) with its own range of eponymously named wines; another substantial winery with 100 hectares of vineyards attached called La Ferrandière; founded an acting school in local town Pézenas (birth-place of the great playwright Molière), and added several more wines to his ever expanding portfolio. 

As well, he trebled his wine sales in France in the past year. This is from a small base, because until recently he didn’t believe the French would buy his wines, and preferred to focus on exporting. Now, he says, there’s a more receptive generation of wine drinkers in France who don’t take it all so seriously. “This generation of French have embraced the (Arrogant Frog) label. They think it’s fun.”

The new winery he bought in 2013 is La Ferrandière, a 100-hectare estate in the Aude region near Carcassonne. It’s a major purchase, but we are talking about a producer who owns 476 hectares of vineyards, and takes grapes from another 1,285 hectares of growers’ vines. His harvest encompasses 30 grape varieties. 

All this has been achieved since 1998 when he made his first wine (in someone else’s winery) and decided to become a full-time producer.
Jean-Claude created Domaines Paul Mas (tastings), named after his father, who was a grapegrower but never made wine, the family having been grapegrowers since 1892. Domaines Paul Mas brands include Château Paul Mas, Paul Mas Estate, Mas des Tannes, Château des Crès Ricards, Domaines Astruc, Château Martinolles, Domaine de la Ferrandière, La Forge, Vinus, Claudeval, Côté Mas, and of course Arrogant Frog. 

I tasted a handful of the latest wines with Jean-Claude, of which two struck me as outstanding: a chardonnay and a cabernet merlot, both $15. Domaines Astruc Reserve Limoux Chardonnay 2012 combines elegance and freshness with richness: Jean-Claude has always been keen to make generous chardonnays and is keenly aware not all drinkers are thrilled with the current trend towards delicate chardonnays. Paul Mas Estate Nicole Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 is from the original Mas vineyard near Pézenas, which Jean-Claude inherited from his father. The ‘99 was the first vintage of this wine. It’s a smooth, rich, medium-bodied red with spot-on ripeness and great drinkability. 

Although Jean-Claude is pleased the new French consumers follow their own palates, and his French market has grown from nothing two years ago to having wine in every supermarket today, he’s still battling the French establishment, who don’t acknowledge his wines. So he energetically enters wine competitions, with the result that in the last five years he’s won 125 gold medals, and in the last Paris Concours Géneral alone, 15 gold medals.

The wines are inexpensive (Arrogant Frog is $10) but Jean-Claude is very happy with the arrangement and positive about the future. I doffs me beret to him.

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