The Romans first planted vines
The Romans first planted vines in the Terrasses du Larzac area. The land around Lodève had great appeal, stretching as it did along the busy Roman road which linked Cessero (St Thibéry)with Segodunum (Rodez).
In 782, Witizia, (the son of the Count of Maguelonne and cupbearer to Louis the Pious) who had become known as Benedict, founded the Monastery of Aniane. This Abbey, the ‘mother’ of the European Benedictine order, was behind the foundation of some 50 abbeys stretching from the Pyrenees to the Rhone. In that it was very important to the Benedictines that they should establish themselves in areas where vines could thrive, they only ever decided to build an abbey once they were certain that this was the case. It was this introduction of abbeys, combined with the introduction of vines, that opened up the vast unoccupied hinterland in the area around Clermont l’Hérault and Lodève.
The number of Romanesque churches and priories stretching up to the Buèges valley are proof of the influence of the Benedictine monks of Aniane and St Guilhem le Desert. The early Buèges wines, produced from grapes grown on terraces overlooking the valley, were made in the cellars of Benedictine priories founded by the Abbey of St Guilhem le Desert in the X and XI centuries. Later, local producers emerged using vats lined with glazed stone blocks situated in the vaulted cellars of village houses.
The XVI century
From XVI century onwards, the landowners authorized the clearing of scrubland in the foothills to allow vines, olives and almond trees to be planted, frequently on stone-covered terraces (faysses) which needed regular clearing. Local records from the time show that each inhabitant owned at least one patch of vines which were often interspersed with fruit trees. The fruit was destined for personal consumption, the vines brought in cash.
Eaux de vie, local trade
The XVII and XVIII centuries saw two important developments in the viti-vinicultural life of the Terrasses du Larzac area. The first, which became a source of considerable wealth for grape producers, was the expansion of eau de vie production : practically every village had a distillery.
As business and local trade developed, access was needed to the Massif Central (XVIII century). But before the Pas de l’Escalette above Lodève came into being, this was only possible along mule trails passing through Arboras and leading to Montpeyroux which was ideally situated to become an important trading centre.
Trade was lively with those living in the Massif Central who exchanged metal from local mines, meat, milk and cereals for wine, as well as dried fish and spices from the coast.
The countryside around Pégairolles de l’Escalette is covered with little horizontal stone walls forming a sort of geometric mesh against the vertical, rocky hillsides. And there are some fifty XVIII century ‘capitelles’ (igloo shaped stone huts) well away from the homesteads in the commune, which served as storage space for grape producers or shelter for roaming shepherds. All these walls and ‘capitelles’ were built as stones were cleared over a long period , thus allowing the crumbling Larzac hillsides to be stabilised, creating terraces for the vines, and improving the soil.
The Marly decree
The Marly decree of 1770 allowed for large scale land clearance. This allowed the vineyards to expand into the garrigue and, as the land was ideal, wine production become a serious activity.
XIX and XX centuries
Disaster struck in 1850. First oïdium, then phylloxera. The vines were almost totally destroyed. And although a way of fighting the insect had been discovered in Montpellier, most producers chose to dig out their old vines and replant plants grafted onto American stock.