Domaine de Ravanès is fairly unusual in Languedoc, insofar as the vineyards are planted predominantly (though by no means exclusively) with Bordeaux grape varieties. The estate was purchased by Felix Benin in 1955, but it wasn't until 1972 that Felix's son Guy planted Merlot, followed by other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and - of all things - Ugni Blanc (a.k.a Trebbiano). Ugni Blanc is actually the most widely-planted grape variety in France, although the majority of it is used for the production of Cognac and Armagnac. It is otherwise considered to be a rather undistinguished grape, but in the right hands, it can be the source of some really rather good wine.
In 1989, Guy's son Marc obtained his Oenology-Ampelography PhD, following his studies at the Institute of Oenology in Bordeaux, and took over the estate in 1990. In 1994, Marc grafted Petit Verdot (another Bordeaux variety) onto the rootstock of a Cinsault vineyard that had existed for 25 years or more. The Petit Verdot vines are therefore effectively around 45 years old. Other varieties planted include Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Macabeu. There also exists a small plot of Aramon, but this is retained merely for historical purposes, rather than wine. The total area under vine is 32 hectares.
Some plots are large, some small, and the soil (which is mainly clay/limestone) contains varying amounts of stones and pebbles (from the "gravières" - gravel pits, of which there are many here, washed down from the hills by the adjacent River Orb), making for a terroir very similar to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, or even Graves in Bordeaux. The proximity of the river also means that the late-harvested sweet white wines (extraordinary wines, made entirely from Ugni Blanc) benefit from botrytis (noble rot). Merlot ripens very easily here, and is usually harvested at the end of August, whilst the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are often picked as late as October, depending on the characteristics of the vintage.
We have met Marc Benin on a couple of occasions now (firstly at Vinisud in early 2012 and then on a visit to the Ravanès estate in June. And despite his rather shy and retiring nature, he comes across as a passionate, dedicated and supremely talented winemaker, and we are proud to have re-introduced his fabulous wines to the UK market. If you are curious, then please give them a try - and your curiosity will be richly rewarded.