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During the whole ride, the Mediterranean was within a stone's throw on the left. Collioure being washed by its waves; while on the right there is a succession of hills and vineyards; and in and around the village are trees covered with figs, oranges, olives, and flowers of the most brilliant hues. Ascending a steep hill, we soon arrived at Port-Vendres; an unpretending little place, but with a deep harbour, completely protected by hills and mountains from any gales that can blow. As the railway will soon be finished, it is probable that its proximity to Algiers will ere long make it a town of considerable importance. At present, it is known for a safe harbour, and as a great dépôt for the wines of the district. I went through the two largest establishments, and found both on a scale of such magnitude, that, although I had seen many, in various countries, these altogether exceeded every other.
Here, for the first time, I saw wine-rooms formed entirely of masonry, each capable of containing about 8,000 gallons. They are called cures, and are used to form cuvées of one quality, from the growths of many vineyards, which have been put into this cuve to remain till the whole has become homogeneous. Ascending by a ladder to the top, I experienced a strange sensation, on looking through an opening into the lake of grape-juice contained in each of these vast chambers.
When the various kinds have lain long enough to be sufficiently amalgamated, the clear wine is
LAKES OF GRAPE-JUICE.
conveyed by tubes to the great store-casks, containing two or three thousand gallons each.
It is easy to imagine the mass of 'marc,' of stalks, and of skins which must be left in each room.' In parts where wine is not so plentiful, these are collected together, water is poured over them, and they are put into the press; and that which is pressed out is made into wine for the workmen. In other places it is converted into brandy, but here the residues are usually thrown into one or two chambers, to keep them fresh; when pieces are cut off as from a haystack, to feed the mules, pigs, and sheep during winter; and are found very strengthening and fattening.
We must not go to that quarter to seek for fine qualities; still, it is from the South that France receives her great supplies, and from which the means are gained of rendering more palatable many kinds from the more northern provinces, which are usually too thin and poor without admixture.
As a rule, in all wine countries, the actual farmers or growers of wine rarely keep it even for a year, selling it, if they can, to merchants, so as to have their casks ready for the next year's vintage; and, for some time past, there has been so great a run upon the South wines, that scarcely such a thing exists in the growers' cellars as even a '62. They are now in the hands of merchants and speculators.
The first time I tasted the wine of this department was about forty years ago, when I was shown sample hogsheads sent over to try the London
market; and the same have ever since been known as Masdeu. This name is given from a very extensive property a few miles from Perpignan, on the road to Spain, belonging to a rich banker, who has bestowed upon it such care as is rarely known in France.
The first arrivals were not much liked, for they had a mawkish, sweetish flavour and taste; but ports
were then dear, and although it was generally thought that the price fixed for the Masdeu was much too high, yet, being evidently a true wine, and suited for cheapening ports, considerable quantities were sold.
Many were disappointed, and its very name seemed to have vanished; but about ten years ago the same gentleman who had first introduced it took it again in hand, and it is now sold to a large extent.
He has been well supported by rich, intelligent men, who had always a just, well-grounded confidence in him, and acceded to almost any suggestion he offered. As an instance, I have been told, that when he informed them that the peculiar flavour and taste were attributed to the casks being of chestnut wood, they immediately put those aside and incurred great expense in getting oak casks made.
Their wealth enabled them to act according to his wish to keep up a regular stock, as is done in Oporto and Xerez; so that those who give an order this year for the same class they had received one, two, or three years before, may get it, as nearly as nature will admit.
I am not aware of any other house in these great districts which holds stock in the same way. This gentleman has assuredly had such support and cooperation as seldom fall to the lot of anyone but his friends have shown a shrewd appreciation of their own interest; for I have no hesitation in saying there is not one other man in the wine trade of London who could have accomplished what he has done by his straightforward, indomitable energy, perseverance, and resolution.
The next day, I returned to Perpignan, and thence to Toulouse, through vines on all sides; and thence to Bordeaux, passing the white wine vineyards of Langon, Preignac, Barsac, and Graves, a few miles from Bordeaux.
It was easy to remark in all parts a decided
improvement in the care of the vines during the last few years. Every weed extracted gives additional vigour to the plant and its produce.
The encouragement of high prices has induced many to root out their olive-trees, and to plant vineyards; which, with the greater care bestowed upon them, will lead to the production of increased quantities and superior quality.