Hands up if you’ve heard of the Fronton vignoble. If you don’t live here, you probably haven’t come across it, like us before we moved to France. It’s a very small wine-growing area, and only a limited proportion of the wine is exported. We have spent 22 years happily drinking Fronton wine, but we had never set foot there. This changed last Friday, when we went with friends who kindly arranged it all.
Ours is not a wine-growing area, although we are told that much of it was under vines until the 20th century, mostly for the locals’ own consumption. Several years ago in England, a rather snooty wine merchant asked me which wine area we lived in.
“We don’t; but we are between Gaillac and Cahors.”
“Oh, can’t sell any of that,” he said with a dismissive wave.
“Leaves more for us, then,” was my riposte.
Fronton, so-called after the main town, is effectively next to Gaillac, a rather larger vignoble. Fronton straddles the Tarn-et-Garonne and Haute-Garonne départements and covers only 2,400 hectares. Around 40 winegrowers produce between them around 650,000 hectolitres of wine per year. Compare this to the Bordeaux appellation’s 5 million hectolitres (2018 figures), and you get some idea of the difference.
Vineyards are said to have been planted in the area in Gallo-Roman times. This tradition continued with the donation of the town of Fronton and large tracts of land around it to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in 1122. The main grape variety grown is Négrette, which is reputed to have been brought back from the Holy Land by the Knights Hospitallers.
The Négrette grape variety
The Négrette grape is not common in other vignobles, and the vines are susceptible to fungal diseases. But it produces a dark red wine, fruitier and less tannic than Cahors wines.
To merit the appellation Fronton, the domaine must be planted with at least 50% Négrette vines and blended wines must contain at least 40% Négrette. Some Fronton wines are 100% Négrette. Fronton produces 35% rosé and 65% red. You can’t make white wine with Négrette. Some of the domaines make whites, but they can’t be called Fronton.
Château Bellevue La Forêt
Our first stop was Château Bellevue La Forêt, where you can buy wine directly. I didn’t take any photos, since I didn’t want to be accused of industrial espionage. However, you get an idea from the above scan from their price list, and you can visit the website.
We were greeted by a rather patrician gentleman, whom I mistakenly assumed was the Irish owner, owing to his flawless English diction. So I rabbited on about having recently become an Irish citizen. He looked at me quizzically.
“I’m not the owner,” he said.
It turned out he was French. Collapse of stout party.
Despite my initial idiocy, he good-naturedly took us on a guided tour and spoke in some detail about the château and the Fronton appellation. We then had a dégustation. By a strange chance, it was Black Friday, and the château had considerably reduced the prices of some of the wines. Reader, we took advantage.
Next stop, the cooperative winery, Vinovalie, in Fronton itself. This is a wine supermarket, where you can also taste the wines. They stock not only Fronton wines (some of them you won’t find easily elsewhere) but also some Cahors and Gaillac.
We didn’t see much of Fronton, since the winery is on the outskirts. We’ll leave that for another 22 years.
After Vinovalie, the main priority was lunch, and so we drove to Montech, on the Canal du Midi, some 30 minutes distant. We ate in a former lock-keeper’s cottage, now a restaurant called Le Constant. Picture windows give a good view of the canal and the little marina alongside.
After years of driving past the Fronton vines on the A62 to Toulouse and saying…
“Do you know what?”
“One day we’ll go to Fronton.”
…mission was accomplished.
Find out more about Fronton. And don’t forget, à consommer avec modération.
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