Horse power: Mas Amiel and Maury

I find it rather therapeutic when I occasionally see horses being used in the vineyard, particularly in Europe where machine power has long been the norm. Some producers are reverting to using horses (or mules) in  Priorat in Spain and other regions where steep terraces makes the use of machines almost impossible. Horses have also been adopted by those practising biodynamic viticulture where using a tractor goes against the grain.

Mas Amiel* is the largest producer of sweet Maury wines in the Roussillon region in the far south of France. Here horses have been reintroduced to work in some of the estate’s oldest vineyards where vines, mostly Grenache, were first planted early last century. The reason for the move is to protect old vines: the roots of very old vines tend to be closer to the surface making them more vulnerable if a tractor is used so using horse power can be a better bet.

When I visited the region last month, two of Mas Amiel’s horses (including Angelo, pictured, top) were pulling ploughs by early morning. They are managed by a team of young vineyard workers, male and female, who have been encouraged to work in the vineyard by owner Olivier Decelle (pictured, below left).

The aim is to tease the best possible quality out of the vines for wines which, in some cases, are destined for ageing over many decades – Mas Amiel’s oldest current release is the 1969 Classic Maury.

When the harvest comes round, typically in early September, the vineyard team works closely with winemaker Nicolas Raffy to establish when each parcel is ready to be picked. For natural sweet wines, the grapes are fermented for 15-30 days in stainless steel tanks which are wider at the top than the bottom (unlike those typically seen for dry wine vinification these days where the reverse is the case) to encourage a wide and thin crust on the surface of the wine. The next step is to stop the fermentation as quickly as possible in order to capture as much aromatic character as possible and this is done by the addition of alcohol which breaks through the thin crust. Once fortified, the wines are aged according to the style desired.

Mas Amiel’s sweet wines are offered in three different styles:

 Sweet white wines

Muscat de Rivesaltes, 2010: This wine, the lightest of the Mas Amiel sweet wines, is made predominantly from the citrusy Muscat à petits grains with the richer Muscat de Alexandria adding richness and body. Try it with fruit tarts, fruit mousse and tropical fruit salads.

Sweet Red Wines: Maury Rouge

Made from Grenache Noir, these wines include:

Mas Amiel Vintage Maury, 2010: A delicious, youthful wine with rich summer fruit flavours.  This wine is a great introduction to the sweet Maury wine style and it pairs well with tiramisu.

Mas Amiel Vintage Charles Dupuy, 2008: A delightfully fresh wine with rich black fruit and long lasting flavour. Delicious with a chocolate dessert.

 Sweet Red Wines: oxidative wines

These wines are aged for a year in the open air in glass ‘bonbonne’ demijohns before long ageing in large traditional oak casks. Current releases include Cuvée Speciale 10 ans, a blend of Grenache (90%) with Carignan and Maccabeu. This complex wine offers a mixture of fruit and spice flavours. It also pairs well with chocolate as well as foie gras and blue cheese.

 To find these wines in the UK contact Bancroft,

* Note: Mas Amiel also produces an impressive range of dry wines but only a limited selection is available in the UK to date.



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