Facebook iconTwitter icon
Alexandre Fontaine and Jean-Claude Mas
Jean-Claude Mas is known as “one of the great wine entrepreneurs of Languedoc.” Through his leadership, vision and daring spirit, he has been one of the driving forces that propelled the Languedoc into the realm of the world’s great wine regions by opting for an approach based on quality rather than quantity. This legendary winegrower came to SOMM360 to present his “entrepreneur story” and to explain the requirements of a multi-faceted profession. But he didn’t stop there. With his chef Alexandre Fontaine, from the renowned restaurant Cote Mas, he also enjoyed organizing a cooking competition among the 300 participants!
For his master class, Jean-Claude Mas had chosen a theme that reflects his values: The Irrevocable Luxury of Rural Life and Entrepreneurship. In his opinion, it illustrates a very simple principle: “To make great wines, you have to be immersed in your vines, your soil and your environment. On our estates, the vines are very generous, and we try to be extremely attentive to what is happening around us.” In his introduction, Mas insisted on the fact that you must walk through the vines and the land in all directions, soak them up and feel their vibration, if you want to succeed in this profession. “You have to have your land tattooed on your heart,” he says. “That’s why our logo is a heron that escapes to the pond: to give people a sense of nature from the first contact.”
“As a winegrower you need to know how to play all the roles and enjoy them. You must also feel comfortable with marketing, because you must accompany these wines until the finish line and sell them!”
—Jean-Claude Mas
The luxury of rural life
But the “rural luxury” that Jean-Claude Mas spoke of is also, in his view, the ability to be a one-man orchestra. “It’s the luxury of getting up at dawn and being able to wear all the hats,” he explains. “From 6 to 11 a.m., I am a pure peasant who works in his vineyards. Then, in the afternoon, I put on the entrepreneur’s suit before transforming myself into a financier a little later and then into a manager. And very often, I end the day in the clothes of the perfect host to welcome visitors at the estate.” He believes these requirements are the same for all winegrowers, at least those who are viticulturists and operators, whether they produce 20,000 cases or 20 million. “You need to know how to play all the roles and enjoy them. You must also feel comfortable with marketing, because you must accompany these wines until the finish line and sell them!”

Mas believes, “the more sommeliers can understand this role of the winemaker, his history, his requirements, the easier it is for them to make the wines they serve be appreciated by their customers.” In this context, Jean-Claude Mas offered another vision of his profession, with its innumerable responsibilities and requirements, which is too often ignored.
From left to right: Reeze Choi (China), Mattia Cianca (Australia), Raimonds Tomsons (Latvia), Fredrik Lindfors (Sweden) and Piotr Pietras MS (Poland) during the creative cooking session at SOMM360
Making Languedoc renowned
The flamboyant winegrower, who has worked hard to ensure that his region would abandon mass wine production in favour of reduced yields and high quality, has followed a unique path. First, he is deeply rooted in the Languedoc region to which he returned after years in finance and marketing positions that kept him away from home. It is the land of his ancestors, a part of the country that he wants to take ever further so that we can appreciate all of its richness, full potential and beauty. It must also be said that he took many risks that have proved successful in making the 35-hectare estate he inherited from his father Paul grow beyond all expectations, to become one of the main producers in the Languedoc. He founded Domaines Paul Mas in 2000.

Through the years, Jean-Claude Mas has acquired several small estates (there are now 18 of them, 8 of which bear his name). “We cultivate 800 hectares of vines from all the indigenous varieties of the Languedoc and many Vitis vinifera for a total production of 20 million bottles,” he explained to his audience at SOMM360. Other winegrowers have joined the group, cultivating 1,500 hectares of vines for him. “I have belonged to a family of viticulturists since 1892. But I feel a certain pride in saying that I am the first winegrower of my lineage.” His father’s passion, he says, was for his vines, while Jean-Claude Mas has a passion for his wines. And his daughters are also involved with the business. His love of wine and of his region explains his almost all-consuming desire to take Languedoc wines ever further. So far, he has converted 20 percent of his production to organic farming. “However, we practise sustainable viticulture everywhere in our estates, and we are not very much in favour of the use of sulphites,” he confides.
“In this process, which lasted several years, I wanted to take the time to understand how to work the soil better, to train, to prune, to be attentive to the adaptation of the grape varieties to their environment, so that we would be even more respectful of our terroirs and our wine history,” says Jean-Claude Mas. He wants his domains to play a specific role in the Languedoc landscape and to contribute to its identity. “With its 21 appellations, Languedoc is a phenomenal patchwork of soils, climates and varietals, with 45 hybrid grape varieties plus the Vitis vinifera,” he explains. “And I wanted my work to reflect this diversity.” During his master class, Jean-Claude Mas used the occasion to offer a cross-section of his wines for tasting: Paul Mas Origines, Château Martinolles (Blanc de Blancs), Clos Astelia, Château Jérémie and its Cabernet and Grenache blends.
creative pairing
With his creative and rather jocular nature, it was no wonder that Jean-Claude Mas also decided to surprise his SOMM360 audience: he came to Montreal accompanied by chef Alexandre Fontaine, who runs the kitchens of the Côté Mas restaurant. After the tasting, Mas invited the sommeliers and wine professionals to test their skills by creating a simple dish: a scallop tartare. “At our restaurant, which is located in a magnificent vineyard landscape, Alexandre ensures that gastronomy can be embodied in food and wine combinations,” Mas explained. “And since a major part of your job as sommeliers is to suggest perfect food and wine pairings to your customers, I propose you divide into teams of 10 participants and create a tartare that will perfectly match our wines from Languedoc.” The winning team would leave with an assortment of wines from Jean-Claude Mas’ different estates.

After giving his instructions, Chef Alexandre Fontaine made a crucial point: “Note that I love simplicity and boldness; and because I come from Reunion Island, I have a weakness for citrus fruits and exotic fruits.” This was an additional challenge for the competitors, given the acidity of these ingredients. It was quite a scene: teams made up of perfectionists who often have a competitive streak! For their tartare, they were provided with oils and condiments from Maison Orphée in Quebec City, apples, lemons, a few vegetables and herbs, and everything had to be finished within 25 minutes sharp!
Team spirit at work
“Be careful not to put too much vinegar, it kills the wine,” says a sommelier to his colleague, while a member of the team next to them thinly slices an apple and red pepper, while another teammate snips chives. “I think it offers a nice contrast of flavours,” says one of the contestants, after tasting a little of the mixture. Jean-Claude Mas walked among the teams, assessing the work. “It seems like they have a mission, it’s nice,” he says with a smile on his face. Chef Fontaine, on the other hand, was observing each table closely, taking notes. “Don’t put too much salt at this point, we’ll adjust afterwards,” we can hear one of the participants say from another table. The final plating was definitely the one step that elicited the most passionate comments all around, with everyone making their own suggestions.

This fun exercise, spiced with a shot of adrenaline, combined the practical with the pleasant by offering participants a moment of relaxation, while underlining the importance of the harmony between wine and food and the many challenges that poses for sommeliers.
“I have belonged to a family of viticulturists since 1892. But I feel a certain pride in saying that I am the first winegrower of my lineage.” His father’s passion, he says, was for his vines, while Jean-Claude Mas has a passion for his wines.
Chateau Paul Mas, Clos Des Mures vineyard
Photos: André-Olivier Lyra, Jean Bernard (creative cooking photo), André-Olivier Lyra (event)
Share this article:
SOMM360 is a platform for every sommelier seeking perfection through continuous education and training for competition.
Get the latest info about Somm360
© 2018 SOMM360