Roquefort, a village of the Corbières

We would like to warmly  thank Mr Andy Partington from Keswick, who has carefully translated all the texts about the village, the surrounding countryside and the vine. He has always been keen on reading our booklets and thanks to him, we can now reach English speaking readers.

The three windmills

To reach the three windmills whose imposing silhouettes you can see, from the Place du Marché, in front of the church, go up Rue des Trois Moulins; at the end, turn right, take Rue du Camin del Bosc for 200 metres, follow Chemin de la Serre and take the first track on your left to climb towards Pla de Roque (Col de Naut).

You’ll see on your left a first windmill, probably built in the 18th century and the property of the Alexandre family until it was demolished in 1863. In the second half of the 20th century, what remained of the windmill became the property of the commune, which sold it in the 1970s. The windmill has since become a holiday home.

The story of the second windmill is a bit different: – it was built in 1821 in joint ownership. Sold in 1859, the sale deed described it thus: “a working and grinding windmill, producing wheat flour, situated on the Pla de Roque”. The new owner, baker and miller by trade, was married to a member of the Alexandre family. In 1880 they left it to their nephew who was also a miller. Abandoned in the second half of the 19th century and sold in 1968, it has also been converted into a holiday home.

The third windmill, located further east on the plateau, also belonged to the Alexandre family. Probably built in the 18th century, it was referred to in1829 as “an old tower of a dressed-stone-built windmill which has been abandoned”. It became the property of the commune and is now a holiday home. On the Land Registry of 1817-the so-called Napoleonic Registry- it is shown as “old, abandoned windmill”.

The old windmills of our villages in Corbières ceased all activity over a century ago. Today the local cers wind turns new wind turbines on our hills: they await the new Don Quixote.

Sources:© Une Famille Roquefortoise: Les Alexandre par Bernard Péricon et Robert Masquet. Edition de l’Association Roquefort Histoire et Patrimoine

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The Chapel of St. Martin

The chapel is located west of the village on a wooded hill offering a remarkable view over the village and its surroundings and as far as the coast. “Up here the landscape is at least as rewarding as the chapel itself. Everything is beautiful and it does you good to walk up here and see how the view changes here and there as you catch glimpses of it on the way up”.

This cultural site is mentioned in the 13th century. In 1320 it was absorbed into the deanery of Basses-Corbières. The report of the visit of the Bishop of Narbonne in 1404 tells that Roquefort was linked to the church of Montpezat.

In the 17th century, more precisely on 25th May 1624, a petition was addressed to Robert Fabre (consul of the area) by Rev. Fr. Barthélémy Hugonenc who wanted to repair the parish church of St. Martin following the damage suffered during the Franco-Spanish war of the previous century so that it could be used for divine service. The parish registers state that from 1608 to the end of 1709 the area around the chapel, as well as its choir, was used as a cemetery for the most prominent members of the community. A second cemetery, referred to as the Hospital and located away from the site, was used for the rest.

In the 18th century the diocesan map of 1763 referred to a ruined building on this site.

The present building was probably erected in the 19th century, although no record can be found of the circumstances of its re-building. “It is a vast, solid building supported by massive buttresses; topped with a square, particularly squat, bell-tower pierced with arched bays. (The tower and its surroundings remind us of Tuscany)”.

From the south door you can see two capitals, carved quite high up on the pillar, depicting a mass of flowers. Judging by their sharp-angled foliage, they could date from the end of the 13th century – perhaps this is re-cycling a bit of the old building? It’s a shame that the so-called ‘Door of the Dead’ has been blocked up on the south facade facing the choir. There remains very near the present chapel a section of wall which according to local tradition is a vestige of the original chapel.

The hill and the chapel are registered historical monuments

Sources: A.D. 11 3 E 16194
Les Anciens Pays de l’Aude par Elie Griffe, Doyen honoraire de la faculté de théologie de Toulouse, pages 101/102, imprimerie Gabelle, Carcassonne 1974
Dans le jeu de la terre et la mer par Robert Pirault, pages 145/148, Serge Candéla éditeur, Narbonne

St Martin

Allée couverte (dolmen) of the Pla des Courbines

A covered megalithic burial place, located on the Pla des Courbines, this dolmen is the only one of its kind in Basses-Corbières and the nearest to the coast of all those identified in the Aude département.

It stands about 300 metres from a small sheepfold, on the edge of a gully called the ‘Aigue Migal’.

This ancient site consists of five slabs of local limestone taken from this hill itself. Their average thickness is 0,15m (6 inches). They indicate a rectangular chamber measuring a little under two metres long by 1,10 metres wide at its base, laid out on a Northeast Southwest axis.

Source: Mégalithe et tumulus à Roquefort des Corbières par Yves Solier. Édition de l’A.R.H.P.

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La Clotte

In about 1869 Théodore Marty, a learned man of Roquefort, discovered in the valley of the Clotte (3 kms southwest of the village) two milestones dating from the Augustinian era. These milestones were placed at the side of roads by the Romans at regular intervals every 1481,50 metres (or Roman mile). One of them, still standing and indicating a distance of 16 miles from Narbonne, bore an inscription, intact but now largely erased:
Imp. Caesar/Divi F(ilius) Augustus/P(ater)P(atriae) Pontifex Max(imus)/(Cos) XII Tribunic(ia) Potest XXII. Imp.XIIII [or] Emperor Caesar Augustus/Son of God/Father of the Country/Supreme Pontiff 12 times / Honoured as Tribune 22 times / Honoured with 14 Triumphs

Théodore Marty concluded that the milestones were in their original location. He thought that the whole site was a ‘mutatio’, a kind of staging-post established along the Domitian Way, the oldest Roman road in Gaul. It was not until 1949 (the discovery in the Rieu de Treille of the 20th milestone bearing the name of Cneus Domitius Ahenobarbus, who built the road) and the excavations carried out at a Clotte in the 1970s by the archaeologist Yves Solier that the truth was established.

The Domitian Way did not run through the scrublands of La Clotte, but rather along the coast (near the present motorway). Nevertheless, the site of La Clotte with its four milestones, including two entire stones re-used in the construction of a medieval building of indeterminate date (remains of an olive-oil production facility, fragments of troughs and of counterweights for the oil-press), represents an important centre of settlement and agricultural production. This bears witness to the presence of agro-pastoral communities living there off the natural resources.

© Marc Pala pour l’ARHP, mai 2014


The Church of St. Anthony

The former church of Roquefort des Corbières stood to the south of the castle and immediately below it (at the end of Rue du Soleil where it meets Rue Jean Cathala in the upper part of the old village). The report of the visit to the parish by Mgr. Henri de Bonnechose, Bishop of Carcassonne in 1851 stated that it was too small for a constantly growing population and poorly located. It was abandoned between 1853 and 1857, the year of the consecration of the new church. In 1869 the commune decided to sell the old church and presbytery, the funds thus raised going towards the construction of a new cemetery.

The Church of St. Martin

This is the present church, located in the centre of the old village, the construction of which was started in1853 and completed in 1857.

It consists of a vast nave preceded by a gallery, a multi-sided apse and an uninspiring transept. The whole edifice is topped with a massive bell-tower.

The paintings which used to decorate the interior of the church were classified as Historic Monuments in 1975, 1964 and 1964 and belong to the commune. They can now be seen at the museum in Narbonne where they are kept.

Sources: Archives municipales de la commune de Roquefort des Corbières: Comptes rendus des délibérations du Conseil municipal
Ministère de la culture:


The Capitelles (or the huts)

The hut (capitelle) is rarely a permanent dwelling; rather it is a dry-stone shelter for temporary use for storing tools, materials or people.

Built on often inhospitable terrain at the time of major ground-clearing works, people used as building material whatever was thrown up by deep-ploughing and stone-removal. Very often this was limestone, but also, depending on local geology, schist, sandstone, granite or even basalt.

The stones extracted and picked up to render the place suitable for agriculture (vines, olive trees) or stock-rearing were piled up at the sides of the fields in mounds sometimes still visible today; in Occitan they are called clapas. Some stones would be selected and put to one side with a view to their being used to build enclosure-walls, terraces or shelters.

Not all the stones selected for the construction of huts were left in their original state: they could be rough-hewn for functional or aesthetic reasons, but this was not real bricklaying of dressed stones.

On a floor-plan which might be more or less laid out as an outline for the building, the walls are built up using stones without mortar; then a vault or rounded roof is put up to cover the whole thing.

These capitelles (huts) date roughly from the 17th to the beginning of the 20th century. They are the work of peasants, wine-growers, farmers, charcoal-makers, indeed simple workmen struggling to become owners of a few acres of poor land which is difficult to clear. Some of these men became well-known and sought-after specialists, builders in dry-stone, and were able to use their know-how as a second source of income.

This “poor man’s architecture”, the work of unqualified builders is not improvised or slapdash architecture. It is proof of a very precise technical skill.

Nowadays in France, as in other European countries, there is an increasingly strong will to conserve, restore and, in a word, safeguard this fragile heritage.

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The Chalet

 The chalet was built by the Alexandre family during the 19th century. In the absence of any archival sources, oral accounts lead us to believe that it was formerly a holiday spot where, in summer, the landowners and their children could take advantage of the shade of the pine trees and the presence of water thanks to a dam. In fact a whole system of ditches allowed rainwater to be collected into a pond.

This chalet is now the property of the commune.

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The Lime Kiln

 The lime kilns were built during the 19th century and used to heat limestone and to convert it into lime. This process is called “calcination”. The kilns had to be carefully situated as close as possible to quarries and to the wood needed to the burning.

The kiln had to be filled with the precisely measured amounts of materials and the lime burners had to maintain a watch over the kiln for three or four days.

Lime must have been known from the earliest times and the Romans used it in building mortar. In fact, they took lime and mixed it with various ingredients to create an early version of cement.

For hundreds of years until today, lime has been used in many applications. In agriculture, slaked lime is used by farmers to neutralise acid soils.

With the charcoal, lime was the only industry in the village and gave jobs to many people who had to mine the limestone, transport it into carts and monitor the burning.

Théodore Marty said there were 28 lime kilns in the commune.


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Brief History of Wine-making in Roquefort des Corbières


 The beginnings

 The monoculture of vines is only a fairly recent development in the history of our commune. This “sea of vines which floods the plains”, as LeRoy Ladurie described it and which makes up our familiar landscape, is barely 150 years old.

The three windmills standing guard on the Pla de Roque attest to this: they were used to grind the cereals grown in the area.

 In 1583, out of 210 hectares under cultivation only ten hectares were planted with vines. The peasant’s main concern was to grow his “daily bread”. The fear of food shortages always haunted the Roquefort population.

 The organisation of land-use in each commune was unchanging: saltus(grassy areas for grazing sheep) and silva (wooded areas owned by the nobles) were out of bounds to agriculture; the ager (arable area) was devoted to cereal crops. Vines were only allowed to be grown on the hillsides and in the poorest soil.

 In 1665 the area under cultivation in the commune was 370 hectares, of which only 17 were vines. There were 41 heads of household and 32 houses in 1583, which had risen to 48 houses in 1665. The increase in population clearly accounts for the extra ground-clearing and the marked increase in area under cultivation.

 In 1759 out of 386 hectares under cultivation there were 37 hectares of vines or 10% of the total area according to the survey of that year. The majority of the vines belonged to small and medium landowners. For example, Jean Castan was the fifth biggest landowner in the village with 15.70 hectares of which less than ¾ of a hectare was planted with vines.

 However, the establishment of the port at Sète (1666) and the opening of the Canal du Midi (1681) spurred the first expansion of the Languedoc vineyards, as they allowed wine to be exported. But, because the fear of a grain shortage was still very much the rule, the planting of new vines was forbidden in 1731. In addition the cost of transport was very high.

 The Revolution saw the repeal of the 1731 ban and even authorised the sharing of assets belonging to the commune, but also resulted in an interruption to maritime trade.

 The big landowners were still not interested in vines as wheat was more profitable than wine. The grape harvests were not plentiful and the yields were poor, only 10-15 hectolitres per hectare. The custom was to pick the grapes early, so the wines were low in alcohol and did not keep well.

 The small landowners tried to make the most of a few poor acres of land which they worked with a pick. They didn’t have the necessary equipment nor even a mule, so wine-growing remained a small-scale working class activity. It was carried out on tiny parcels of land of a few square metres where the vine-stocks were not planted in straight lines and the gaps were filled by layering.


 The golden age

 At the end of the First Empire, only Bitterois and to a lesser extent Minervois and Lézignanais had a real expansion of vineyards, but in the first quarter of the 19th century wine-making in the whole département became established.

 The peasants ceased a system of poly-culture to develop a system of specialised agriculture with a view to commercial activity. The extraordinary expansion of vineyards is explained by the increase in the French population and thus increased wine consumption, but particularly by the construction of the railway network.

The completion of the Paris-Languedoc lines in 1856, the opening of Narbonne station in 1857 and of the station at Port la Nouvelle in 1858 opened up new markets. The railway made it possible to transport wine over long distances at low prices. Developments in the wine-making process thanks to Pasteur’s discoveries allowed wine to keep better and travel without turning sour.

 However, this period saw the first crisis when oïdium (a mould) ravaged the vineyards from 1852 to 1857; production fell by two-thirds, although this decrease in harvests was offset by a rise in prices. There was an absolute frenzy of new planting!

 In 1878 vineyards accounted for 90% of the area under cultivation in the Narbonne local government area. Growers were also using new tools, such as secateurs for pruning and the plough instead of the bigos and the rabassière. Work in the vineyards demanded a substantial workforce: pruning, applying fertiliser & other treatments and picking the grapes are labour-intensive operations which require each vine stock to be dealt with one by one. The village experienced a great boom in population. From 304 inhabitants in 1807, we reached 1240 in 1890!

 And yet, the Audois vineyards had a fundamental weakness: aimed at a large-scale consumers’ market, at reasonable prices, but subject to market forces over which they had no control.

 Phylloxera did not spare wine-making in the Aude, but it did offer some respite from the scourge. This little aphid, which almost wiped out all French vineyards, appeared for the first time in 1863. Although slow at first, its progress accelerated: Vaucluse in 1868, Gard in 1869, Montpellier in 1869, Biterrois in 1877 and Aude (at Ouveillan) in 1879. However, it did not reach Roquefort until 1885.

 The region’s vineyards in fact enjoyed a period of prosperity from 1878 to 1885, with a marked increase in prices due to the disappearance of most French competitors and good harvests locally. Wine-growers who benefited from a decade’s respite compared to their neighbours in Gard and Hérault were able to re-establish their vineyards very quickly because, by the time it struck, they knew how to cure the disease. A botanist, Jules Planchon, and a lawyer/winemaker, Jean-François Bazille, had discovered that the grafting of a French plant onto an American stock enabled the vine to resist the phylloxera.



The age of crises

 Thus it was a completely renovated wine-growing which emerged from the phylloxera crisis, but very soon growers would realise that everything had changed!

 The new vines were less robust than the old ones and required a lot more work: double-digging, grafting, more ploughing and, what was more, the American plants were very prone to mildew.

 In addition, during the phylloxera crisis with French production having fallen, the country had imported wines from Spain and Italy. The French government had promoted the creation of vineyards in Algeria. From 1903 Algerian wines arrived in ever-increasing quantities, and these wines were very cheap and strong in alcohol. Dealers began to blend them with wine from Languedoc. The shortage of wine during the crisis even prompted the government to authorise the making of artificial wines and the addition of sugar to the grape harvest. Finally, a succession of record harvests (1899, 1900, 1901, 1904) highlighted the problems of the fall in sales and the collapse in market price (from 20 francs per hectolitre in1899 to 5 francs in 1901).

 In 1904 agricultural workers in Roquefort went on strike to protest against their low wages. On Thursday 4 February at one o’clock in the afternoon, a bugle rang out in the streets of the village and 80 agricultural workers answered the call. On the evening of Sunday 7th 200 people gathered at the Café Barthe. They were protesting because their daily wage had been cut by half and the number of days’ work in the year had been considerably reduced.

On 13th February at Narbonne, an agreement was signed between the strikers and the bosses. It concerned in particular the length of the working day, the daily rate of pay and the daily rate for women. On 15th February the workers returned to work.

 The spectacular crash in market price from 1900 to 1907 provoked an unprecedented crisis: it was really a case of human misery at the beginning of the 20th century, and it was in Aude that the great crisis of 1907 erupted!

 Every Sunday larger and larger crowds gathered to hear Marcelin Albert. This charismatic orator had co-founded the Comité de défense viticole and become revered as the leader of the Revolt of the wine-makers. 5000 in Coursan on 14th April, 12000 in Capestang on the 21st, 20000 in Lézignan on the 28th and 85000 in Narbonne on the 5th May: working-class momentum set the country ablaze! 150000 people turned out in Béziers on 12th May, 170000 in Perpignan on the 19th, 200000 in Carcassonne on the 26th, 250000 in Nîmes on 2nd June and over 600000 in Montpellier on the 9th.

 On the 19th June some of the Comité members and the Mayor of Narbonne were arrested. The local government office was attacked by the crowd; there was one death and tens of people injured. On the 20th June the army fired on the crowd of demonstrators, killing five and injuring another ten. The town was occupied by 10000 soldiers.

 1907 symbolises the whole history of wine-making in Aude. The myth of 1907 was invoked at every crisis, and there were, alas, many crises. These demonstrations often ended in confrontations which could be bloody, as in 1976.


The age of co-operation

 In the end this great popular movement led to only two concrete results: the Law of 29th June which imposed a surtax on sugar used in wine-making and the creation of the General Confederation of Wine-growers.

 Confronted by the big landowners and dealers, the small and medium producers launched a co-operative movement. The need to form a group was imposed by developments in wine-making which required substantial investment and necessitated stockpiling in order to regularise sales.

 The first co-operative cave in Aude was set up in 1909 at Lézignan; five more were created before the war; in 1920 the caves at Leucate and Roquefort were set up.

 Founded on 16th December 1920, the co-operative cave “La Vigneronne”, next door to the Café du Marché, numbered 45 members. On 25th June 1966 La Vigneronne merged with its younger sister the cave of Saint-Martin. The latter was built in 1949 on land granted by Joseph Castan and Louis Marty. Its original storage capacity was 10000 hectolitres, later increased to 38000 hectolitres. Its president from its creation until 1976 was Auguste Castan, followed by Antoine Copovi and then Jean-Marie Sanchis.

 In 1981 the harvest at Roquefort produced 32000 hectolitres; in 2009 it was only 16000 hectolitres. The caves at Leucate and Roquefort decided to merge, building their future around a new wine storehouse with a capacity of 100000 hectolitres.