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Monday 18 March 2024

The vigneron with the Midas touch

Meet Jean-Claude Mas, the wine marketing genius who parlayed one small family vineyard into a wine empire with a global reach. 

Mas created his tongue-in-cheek alter ego, The Arrogant Frog, to spearhead growth that now sees Domaines Paul Mas control over 20 domains across the south of France. 

Mas once dreamed of being a big wheel in the motor racing industry - and will be in Australia for this week's Grand Prix in Melbourne.

But he also has wine in his DNA, and has made a huge impact since taking over that small Languedoc vineyard from his father a quarter of a century ago. 

Multilingual and technically minded, Mas first created a brand that struck a chord with casual drinkers around the globe. 

The Arrogant Frog - featuring wines that offer spectacular value - started as a light-hearted piss-take on a standard French stereotype but has blossomed into a huge business selling millions of cases of wine worldwide

The self-deprecating Arrogant Frog wines became a worldwide hit and helped boost the image of wines from the Languedoc. 

Mas now owns around 20 domaines around the south of France (at the latest count), has launched premium wine brands, is dabbing in biodynamics and has planted disease resistance grape varieties under his new "La Resistance" label.

As part of an eco-minded philosophy "the use of chemicals has been banned from our vineyards", Mas is using grape varieties like souvignier gris and floréal as part of a program to future proof the the industry with disease-resistant hybrid varieties.

Under Mas, Domaines Paul Mas has undertaken a 10-year project working with disease resistant hybrids that are genetically disposed to withstand issues like oidium and mildew in the vineyards.

Hybrid varieties are the product of European vines (vitis vinifera) crossed with hardy American vines, producing grapes which are significantly more resistant to disease. This means less spraying of copper sulphite fungicides on the vines, in turn reducing their carbon footprint.

“The varieties we’ve planted we need to spray only once,” Mas says.

“The project is about developing self-immunity with the vines - by having a clever approach and respectful approach in our vineyards we have managed to get the vines more resistant themselves."

While Mas is organic focused, he is also a master of reading the market.

If you want a bottle of wine between $12 and $100 there is almost certainly something in one of the Mas ranges to meet your needs.

He's a man who never sits still, is obsessed with quality and still has big plans.   

At school and later at university, he studied economics and advertising, hence his savvy business approach, which includes a distribution deal with Dan Murphy's in Australia. 

He lived in England and the US before returning home to make his first wine in France in 1995. He founded Domaines Paul Mas in 2000 - and has been on an upward trajectory ever since. 

Look for names including Chateau de Cres Richard (Terrases de Larzac), Chateau Martinolles (Limoux), Domaine de la Ferrandiere (Languedoc) and his showpiece wines under the Astellia label, named after the first names of his four daughters: Astrid, Elisa, Apolline and Estelle. 

All the standout Astellia wines are farmed organically according to biodynamic principles.   

Nowadays he is described as "a pioneer from the New Languedoc" and part of the "new wave" of producers from a region where wine production goes back more than 2000 years.

Recognising Occitanie has many microclimates, soils and growing conditions, he started to produce a wide range of wines in sufficient quantity to supply overseas markets. 

From Chateau Martinolles in the cool hills of Limoux, where bottle-fermented sparkling wines are crafted, to Domaine Ferrandière planted on old saltwater marshes close to Carcassonne, each estate produces its own wine, in its own vinery and matured in its own cellars.

But as well as owning many estates stretching from Nimes to the south of Perpignan, he is also the largest purchaser of grapes across the region, utilising over 50 varieties in total.

Mas has repeatedly created more labels, expanded the range of grape varieties and promoted the wines of the Languedoc to the world.

And he also has big plans in the pipeline with more small-batch high-end releases, as well as a plan for a Languedoc take on wines like Penfolds Grange; a blend of grapes from right across the south of France reflecting the best of each vintage, regardless of site. 

Stay tuned. 

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