History of Villemoustaussou Winemaking

cartulaire et archives de l'ancien dicese de carcassonne by m mahul

on loan from J. Heritier

The land and vines that we refer to as O’Vineyards have been around for a very long time and they’ve had many names and many farmers. I’m always picking up little bits about the vineyard’s history, and a friend just loaned a book to me that might help shed some light on the vineyard’s origins.

Cartulaire et Archives de l’Ancien Diocese de Carcassonne par M. Mahul.

Editeur: Philippe Schrauben
Mémoire de la Société des Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude

One passage on Villemoustaussou’s agricultural history notes that in 1777:

“Lorsque Monsieur, comte de Provence, qui depuis a régné si glorieusement sous le nom de Louis XVIII, passa à Carcassonne, on servit à ce Prince des vins de Limoux et de Villemoustaussou; il eût la bonté d’en faire l’éloge à M. de Bezons. Le vin de Villemoustaussou provenait d’une vigne qui appartenait depuis longtemps à la famille Don” (Journal de la Société d’Agriculture de Carcassonne vol IV p. 137)

Basically Villemoustaussou’s wines were served to somebody pretty important and they impressed him. What’s particularly interesting is that the vines were owned by a M. Don, and we bought our vineyard from a M. Dons. That’s likely a coincidence as locals have told me there were several owners between 1777 and Dons. But still a fun discovery! Wouldn’t that be interesting to find that Dons’ family owned the property long before him and made remarkable wines back in the 18th century!?

Learning more about the vineyard is a complicated process because we’re located on the edge of three different villages. Each of the villages may have records of the property and all under different names. And each of those names can change and evolve over time. Often, the area we call O’Vineyards is locally referred to as “Le Thou” or “Lieu dit Le Thou”. I see some records of places called Le Grand Tou (could easily be Le Thou since the H is silent) as well as Dittou (could easily be a name derived from lieu DIT THOU) but I’ll need to do some more reading to see if these are different areas.  I can probably also mention that Thou is a common word in old english texts so that makes searching a bit complicated too.  While searching for the uniquely named Villemoustaussou is a bit easier, it should be noted that there are lots of alternate spellings and older names (latin texts refer to it as Villamostansio, Villamonstantion, and Villamonstantione).

Some of the local vines still carry their older names, notably Barrau, Brau, Rivalz and La Mijeane. Unfortunately, I don’t see much about a winemaking estate named Thou or Tou. One passage describes a property called TISSOT that is on the high ground separating Villegailhenc from Villemoustaussou (this is a very accurate description of our vineyard, especially the Syrah parcel), and there is a Chemin Tissot near the vineyard.  But I can’t be sure without further research on the name TISSOT to see if it is not referencing some other vineyard.  A preliminary search shows we might be very very close to a property called “les hauts de TISSOT”  and we can imagine that the Thou might have been part of a larger TISSOT estate.  More to come.

Also, by extraordinary coincidence, there is an area in Villegailhenc that was called Podium like one of our wines. Podium Giberti, its full name in 1380, is now called Pechibert.

“I wish this website would devote a lot more space and effort to a ‘welcome to this website’ paragraph that no one will ever read instead of prominently listing their hours of operation.”

ironic praise for bad restaurant websites, Not anyone

I criticize a lot of websites for having ugly landing pages with cheesy flash animations, loud music, and no useful information.

It’s easy to cut out the flash animation and loud music… but what constitutes useful information?

One important story that should be included in every winery website is a biographical history section.  But how do you write that history?  How do you convey the right information?  And how much is too much?

Writing your history

People want to know about your history, but they will only remember things that are really unique and notable.  You don’t need to put this information on the landing page of your website.  It can be safely tucked away in a “Biography” section or “About” section.

And keep it short.  You can include a manifesto hidden deep within your website, if you must.  But there should be an easy to read, brief biography somewhere close to the landing page.  If you have trouble keeping the bio short, visit ten other winery websites and delete anything in your history that also appears in their history.

The fact is almost all winery history sections fall into two categories “we’ve been making wine for x generations in the proud tradition of Lord Soandso of Somethingrather” or “I’m passionate about wine so I started making it y years ago and it’s been hard but worth it.”  Unless you have something really special to say, this is the part of the website that people will forget ten minutes after reading it.  So only say the special stuff.

And again, it doesn’t have to be on the first page.  Even though you think your story is super interesting, people might be more interested in accessing basic information about your wines, where they’re available, and what food they go with.   So writing a website is about balancing all this information and presenting it in a convenient way for the impatient Internet surfer.

How O’Vineyards handles it

I try to show our personality on every page of the website.  The closest thing to a concrete biography is currently located in the “wines” section that talks about our winemaking.  But you’ll also learn a bit about my philosophy on tourism by clicking on the “visit” section.  There used to be a “Bio” section about our history, but I merged it into wine because it’s more useful there.  Still debating this one internally and you might see me move it around more in the future.  But it’s not very long and it’s certainly not the landing page.

People often cite the fact that ancient Greek and Roman winemakers burned sulfur to help preserve wine.  It’s actually difficult to track down any real evidence (depending on what languages you read).  So I have some secondary sources.  I don’t have a translation of the primary sources, so I encourage you to continue researching and send me more information that you might find.  I will gladly add it to this article.

I saw a lot of articles about the history of sulfites in wine in which the author would allude to ancient use of sulfur burning many many times without citing a source.  So I put a call out on Twitter.

While @ElieSl did some research in French and found sources that reject the claim that ancients definitely sulfured their wines.  The author insists that the first explicit mention of the use of sulfur fumigation in wine was in a 1487 German decree that authorized the burning of sulfured wood chips inside of wine barrels.

La première mention explicite de son usage dans la vinification remonte à un décret royal allemand de 1487. il autorisait les vignerons à brûler des copeaux de bois soufrés dans les tonneaux utilisés pour conserver le vin.

@ZevRobinson had the good sense to redirect my question specifically to @Vintuition of the Fine Wine Academy.

Here’s his answer with a secondary source:

@mroconnell @zevrobinson Re. sulphur fumigation | On application of the fumarium [sulphur fumes] by Romans see Ch 4 (4) http://bit.ly/gTODA1

Admittedly, this book seems to be from a trade press.  And what’s more, an evangelical trade press… so it’s open to debate, but the passage in chapter IV of “Wine in the Bible” specifically addresses my question and cites references to primary and secondary sources:

Ancient Use of Sulphur. The use of sulphur to preserve wine was known in the ancient world. In a chapter devoted to various methods used to preserve wine, Pliny speaks of Cato who “mentions sulphur.”81 Horace alludes to this practice in a poem dedicated to the celebration of a glad anniversary: “This festal day, each time the year revolves, shall draw a well-pitched cork forth from a jar set to drink the smoke in Tullus’ consulship.”82 The next stanza suggests that this fumigated wine was unfermented, because a hundred cups of it could be drunk without causing “clamor et ira,” that is, “brawls and anger.”83

In his book on Roman Antiquities, T. S. Carr says that “the application of the fumarium [sulphur fumes] to the mellowing of wines was borrowed from the Asiatics; and thus exhalation would go on until the wine was reduced to the state of syrup.”84 In its comment on this statement, John Kitto’s Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature says: “When the Mishna forbids smoked wines from being used in offerings (Manachoth, viii. 6, et comment.), it has chiefly reference to the Roman practice of fumigating them with sulphur, the vapor of which absorbed the oxygen, and thus arrested the fermentation. The Jews carefully eschewed the wines and vinegar of the Gentiles.”85

Those numbers are all footnotes:

  • 81. Pliny, Natural History 14, 25, 129.
  • 82. Horace, Carminum Liber 3, 8, 9-12.
  • 83. Ibid., 3, 8, 6.
  • 84. Cited by John Kitto’s Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, 1845 edition, s. v. “Wine,” vol. 2, p. 956.
  • 85. Ibid.

I will try to look these up later when I have some time.  The Pliny checks out but is a very casual reference to the effect of “Cato says winemakers do this, that and the other thing. Oh and Cato mentioned something about sulfur too.”  A light reference, but a solid one.

Otherwise, feel free to do your own research and send it in!!

How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
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North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Best by GPS.
    Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
  4. At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.