Isla Gordon: Meet the Carlow Woman Running a Winery in the South of France
Isla and Paul Gordon arrived to Languedoc in 2009 to start their wine making adventure “in a beaten up old car and with a fat Spaniel.” She was six months pregnant and they both were under a lot of stress, but the Irish-Aussie couple was determined to follow their dream at Domaine la Sarabande in the southern French wine region.
Isla, who was born just outside of Carlow town and grew up at her family’s farm in the Irish county, always had a love for the countryside: “after school I went on to the agricultural college in Edinburgh as I knew I wanted to work in the outdoors”, she tells us. Paul, her husband and partner at Domaine la Sarabande, is originally from Australia and they met in New Zealand, when she was broke backpacker looking for a job.
“Paul’s boss came to the hostel one night looking for pickers for the harvest so my friend and I signed up straight away. The next day Paul was my boss and it all went from there!” After that stayed for 5 years in the country and worked in vineyards as a viticultural assistant, eventually getting a diploma in viticulture.
During that time, she had the opportunity of being mentored by Jeremy Hyland, regarded as one of the best viticulturists in New Zealand and one of the main names behind prestigious winery Astrolabe. Some of the teachings that caused the biggest impact on Isla’s approach to winemaking were to always “look after the soils, as vines extract so many nutrients year on year”, “keep an eye on the vinyeards at least weekly from bud burst the whole way through the growing season” and the most important, “use common sense in every aspect.”
Languedoc: Land of great potential, closer to Ireland
New Zealand was just too far from Isla’s family and fortunately for her, Paul didn’t need much encouragement to move to Europe and start their own winery.
We really discovered Faugères at Millisime Bio one year, and after tasting many wines from the appelation, decied this was a good region for us to start something new. We also loved the soils which are schist or slate so retains water and gives fantastic acidity and minerality to the wines.
Their vineyards are small, just over 6.5 hectares tucked away in the Cevennes foot hills, about 20 km from the sea, where a microclimate of very hot dry summers and cold winters favours their endeavor. Isla points out that their wines are now about 22 years old, which adds to their wines depth and character.
When asked why the Languedoc, Isla highlights the region’s “huge potential” and of course, the fact that land there was more affordable than in most coveted terroirs such as Burgundy or Bordeaux. “Although Faugères also has endless different varieties to work so we are always learning every year.”
There’s also a pioneering spirit in the area, with “plenty of young wineries starting here too” as Isla explains, in 2009 there were only about 42 private wineries, now there are over 56. “We have also learnt over the years the culture here is far more relaxed than most and of course plenty of sun in the summer!”
Not so sunny, but always shining in Isla’s heart, there’s Ireland and being relatively close was also another important factor when choosing their location to set roots. “as as much as I love France, I also love any excuse to go back to the green isle for a visit!”.
Regarding Irish wine drinkers, she adds that “they seem to be becoming more and more educated on their wines as the years go by and the Irish are extremely loyal customers, especially to other Irish, I say hopefully!”
Crowfunding: A Collaborative Approach to Dream Building
On Domaine la Sarabande’s website you will notice an unusual menu tab: “Crowfunding Offer 2017“. Contributors from France, Ireland and/or the UK can choose across different ways to support starting from just €10. Discounts, exclusive content, tours and other perks come with the different plans on the site and since they begun with the initiative at the start of 2017, “the response has been incredibly positive”, Isla says.
She sees crowfunding as an extension of the many good relationships they’ve built over the years and she is enthusiastic about the whole idea of getting “people involved in the winery and our wines and in exchange for wine” and many other things.
Its a way for us to generate funds without involving banks and for people to be re paid in wine and other things and not cash.”
When speaking about relationships and networking, the group of winemakers known as The Outsiders from the Languedoc comes to mind. Comprise of many foreign entrepreneurs in the region, we asked Isla if she has approached them or is part of the pack.
While she has spoken to them on a few occasions, she explains that she’s not aiming to join at the moment. “They are doing well I think, but we don’t really want to be seen as outsiders, we just like to keep to ourselves and do our own thing.”
Domaine la Sarabande’s Wines
“We just want to make good clean wines that show the character of the vineyards we work.” Isla and Paul work organically and its all natural fermentation in the winery.While she admits to adding a minimum of sulphur “as a preservative more than anything else”, she adds that the natural acidity in the soils “just make life so much easier” as it contributes to help the wines “retain their freshness and depth for a very long time”.
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre
€16 – Available at O’Briens Wine
Bright, with purple gleams and the vibrant acidity that distinguishes Grenache and the extra punch that Syrah and Mourvedre give to the blend.
Its name is Spanish for “mysterious” and that is what its seductive combination of cranberries, earthiness and minerality can be described as.
Domaine Sarabande Faugeres AOP
Grenache, Carrignan, Syrah
€21.45 – Available at O’Briens Wine
A complex combination of youth and maturity, with ripe red sour cherries leading the fruit front and a savoury and meaty feel that reminds of black olives.
On the palate, a floral violet note is met with grippy tannins and a remarkable minerality that balances it. Structure and intense, it’s a fine reflection of the powerful sun that makes the fruit ripen to perfection in the Languedoc.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.