A local wise tale tells us that grapevines eaten by donkeys produced strong and vigorous new branches and fleshy fruits. After observing this themselves, the Greeks had the idea of pruning the vines. But when did they start to turn the grapes into wine? For certain historians such as Hugh Johnson, wine was probably known already during the Cro-Magnon period. The Greek historian Thucydide states that around the 5th century b.c., “the Mediterranean people began to leave a state of barbarity when they began to cultivate olive groves and grapevines.” In 600 b.c. the Phoenicians landed on the shore of the Mediterranean and founded the city of Massalia, today now known as Marseille, and founded the first vineyard. At the end of the 200 b.c. the Romans continued to develop what the Greeks had initiated, flooded the region of Gaule with vineyards, and made wine the first global product. While conquering the lands from Provence to Languedoc the Romans built Narbo Martius (Narbonne) in 118 b.c. Due to the proximity of the sea and the construction of the Via Domitia, a passage connecting the Alps to the Pyrénées, the transportation of wine was dramatically improved and trading flourished. It was only in 200 a.d. when wine began to be cultivated in Bordeaux, in 312 a.d. for Burgundy, and 400 a.d. in Champagne.
In history, wine has acquired a unique dimension; it has achieved significant political, economic, social, and religious presence. Also, depending on its quality, wine of the antiquity represented a certain social class that was associated with happiness and pleasure. A phenomenon of civilization, yet, also religious, there are numerous divinities associated with wine such as Dionysos for the Greeks and Bacchus for the Romans. Jars that contained wine were even found in the tomb of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun. For the last 2000 years, wine has been the center of the Eucharist, and is a crucial part of mass for Christians.
Sommières was founded in the 10th century, but the Roman Emperor Tibère constructed its bridge already in 100 a.d.. The bridge was the first of its kind to connect Nîmes to Toulouse. Several of the original Roman arches are still intact and in use.
Inspired by their love of wine and nature, Béatrice and Werner Althoff decided to look for an agricultural estate in the south of France. After living for over 30 years in Alsace, they believed the Mediterranean climate offered significant advantages for organic farming applying the principles of biodynamics. Three years of searching in the Drôme, the Alpilles, the Bouches- du-Rhône, the Lubéron, and the Pyrenees led them, finally, to Sommières in the département of Gard, at the juncture with the Hérault. At the time, the estate of Costes-Cirgues had been in decline for over 20 years. Only a few vines were still cultivated and the grapes harvested were sent to the wine cooperative; the rest of the estate, with its olive trees, fields, forest and garrigue, embodied an idyllic, untouched landscape, with little trace of human activity. The Althoff family fell immediately and irreversibly in love with it.
We took over the estate on February 1st, 2003. The different parcels were then restored, one after the other, while other vines were grubbed up to replant varieties typical of the region and likely to produce higher-quality wines. We devoted a great deal of effort to revitalising the soil, aerating the olive groves and restoring the garrigue, while taking care to retain the distinctive untouched quality that preserves biodiversity. The contract with the wine cooperative ended in 2005 and we undertook our first vinification operations: a first devatting of merlot for the rosé, a 100% cabernet-sauvignon and a 100% syrah – a total of 8000 bottles that were our pride and joy! Since then, we have carried out the official formalities for conversion to organic farming and increased our production every year as young vines came into production and as we acquired vines on different soils, thereby diversifying our terroir. Our son David Althoff, after studying at the University of the Vine and Wine in Dijon and obtaining a technical diploma in wine-growing and oenology in Montpellier, participated actively in the 2006 harvest. In 2007, we built the cellar, carved out from the rock, with a modern and functional architecture. David now works full time on the estate and his elder sister Gioia and younger brother Robin have also succumbed to the charm of this growing family enterprise. Today, we have three additional employees and hope to produce 60,000 bottles a year in 2011!