Cathy Sisqueille, Château de Rey

Cathy Sisqueille's story is somewhat unlikely: who could predict that a gymnastics teacher from Toulouse and a Catalan pharmacist would end up running a wine domaine in deepest, darkest Roussillon? But this is precisely what happened when Cathy and her husband Philippe turned away from their respective careers and took over the Château de Rey, an estate which had been in Philippe's family for four generations.

Complicated French inheritance laws meant that after the death of Philippe's father, the Château was eventually put into the hands of a tenant farmer, until finally Cathy and her husband came to the rescue in 1997, purchasing the 40-hectare estate and breathing new life into this run-down, formerly regal domaine.

Throwing herself in at the deep end, Cathy took a diploma in Agricultural Management, followed by oenology and wine marketing studies, and a great deal of learning on the job. March 1999 saw the new owners bottling their very first wines, and throwing a special party to mark the occasion; Cathy admits to a creative streak and she revels in the role of chatelaine-hostess, as evidenced by the three smartly decorated, pastel-coloured self-catering holiday homes which form part of this extensive southern French domaine.

The Sisqueille's 35 hectares of vines are currently farmed according to lutte raisonnée (minimal intervention) principles, with ploughing used to keep down weeds, and the couple are considering conversion to organic viticulture in the near future. They grow grape varieties which are indigenous to the Mediterranean: Syrah, Grenache and Carignan for their reds, with recently-planted Mourvèdre due to come on line in three years; Grenache Blanc, Roussane, Maccabeu, Muscat Petits Grains and Muscat d'Alexandrie for their whites and dessert wines. Above all, explains Cathy, they strive to showcase the different expressions that can be found in each. The “Oh” range features three fruity Vin de Pays, while in AOP are the Sisquo mid-range, tank-aged cuvée and the more complex, barrel-raised Les Galet Roulés line.

This extensive range is joined by no less than five vin doux naturels (sweet wines).

Cathy confesses that these “stickies” are her personal passion (“my husband prefers dry, red wines”). Asked to choose a wine that most resembles her personality from the Château de Rey line up of over a dozen, this artistically-inclined, colourfully-dressed teacher-turned-winemaker nominates Le Chou Chou, a Rivesaltes Tuilé. Why? “It was the very first vin muté that I ever made, so it was a high point in my life, and it appeals to my creative culinary side; it's a wine with which you can make the most amazing food matches, which is something I love to do.”  

An active member of Languedoc-Roussillon women winemakers group Les Vinifilles, Cathy is a keen photographer and her love of colour is clear to see, be it in the funkily-decorated Chateau de Rey tasting room, on her distinctive wine labels or the magenta-hued, markedly modern website.

With more than a decade of winemaking under her belt, Cathy looks back on the early days in amusement: “We only made three wines – a red, a rosé and a muscat – but our  love of experimentation soon led us to play around. Not all our experiments were successful, mind you,” she laughs. Asked about future developments, Cathy reveals that she plans to introduce yet another wine to her range: a special, limited edition cuvée for connoisseurs, made from 100% Carignan. Watch this space.