What’s in a name? I run a few long weekend wine tours in Languedoc each year and a few years ago I was searching for a title for one of them. The tour in question is a 4 night, 3 day tour that explores 3 different parts of the region taking people to taste the wines and foods of the region. It also explores some of the historical events such as the Cathar Crusade and we visit some beautiful villages, markets and some historical buildings, lunching each day on local cuisine. It has taken me many years to seek out all these gems and it’s been a journey of a lifetime helped by some of the friendliest people I have ever come across. The pace of life is slow and people have the time to stand and chat or watch the world go by. One wine maker I visit always greets me with ‘welcome to paradise’ and I nearly called the tour that but I chose instead ‘The Spirit of Languedoc’.
I have run this tour twice this year so far and will do again in July and on all 3 occasions I have lodged my guests in an excellent B&B in the little Minervois town of Olonzac. Sainte-Hélène chambres d’hôtes is run by 2 lovely people, husband and wife Kay and Mark. Mark hails from the UK but met his Kiwi wife in Australia and they are 2 of the nicest people you will meet. Nothing is too much trouble, they want their guests to truly love their stay in their beautiful house which they have lovingly renovated, decorated and furnished in a beautiful French style.
In May we welcomed 7 guests on this tour, 6 from the USA and 1 from the UK. Only 4 of them knew each other but it only took an evening for them all to become firm friends. One of the clients is an old friend of Vin en Vacances as she has toured with me quite a few times but this was the first time I had met her charming husband. He is not an avid wine taster, in fact he preferred a cold beer however as he told me ‘I love my wife and my wife loves wine, so here we are!’
My clients spent the first day of this 3 day tour with team member Marcel and they toured the wild and rugged region of the Corbières. First they headed to Château Ollieux-Romanis which is one of the best family owned producers based in the Boutenac part of the district which is proud to currently be the only cru in that area. We love showing people around the old winery with the renovated concrete tanks and the huge barrel room filled with Burgundy barrels that owner Pierre insists are perfect to mature his wine. Lunch was a very special affair as it took place in the home of a dear friend who is also one of the best cooks in the region. Just for Vin en Vacances she opens the doors to her charming home and we eat her delicious food around her ancient kitchen table.
After lunch we join team member Carlos who guided our clients around the beautiful village of Lagrasse explaining
the history and entertaining us with little anecdotes. Then re-joined by Marcel the clients headed off to our second winery visit to ‘The Greek God’. This is a little office joke in fact for we visit a winery owned by a young man with a Greek Gods name who is divinely handsome just as you would imagine a Greek God to look. And the wine is heavenly too!
Marcel was the guide again on the Saturday and filled the day with plenty of fun including visiting an olive oil mill, a wine tasting cruise along the Canal di Midi followed by lunch at our favourite oyster bar where our clients tucked into a delicious seafood and fresh fish lunch whilst gazing out over the salt pans, the water pink due to the crystallising of the salt. The afternoon visit was to Château Capitoul, a superb winery on the infamously named La Clape. The impressive chateau is perched on a hill with views across the Étang de Bages-Sigean and over to the Pyrenees as far as Catalonia. Once an Island, La Clape probably gets its name from the Occitan word ‘clapas’ meaning pile of stones and indeed the vines are grown on some of the stoniest land in Languedoc. They also take quite a battering from the wind that blows almost constantly plus the heat from over 2500 sunshine hours each year making this quite a hostile terroir, never the less these are some of the finest wines produced in Languedoc.
I joined the clients on Sunday and this time we headed into the Saint-Chinian appellation to taste some of my
favourite wines which I think have found their way into the hearts of my customers too. We started with a delicious tasting of organically produced Château de Combebelle perhaps one of the prettiest wineries we visit due to the incredible view. We took a look at the healthy Syrah vines growing on the clay-limestone soils and marvelled at the wild flowers growing amongst them, this is truly an organic winery.
After strolling round the Sunday market in the town of Saint-Chinian we were getting hungry so headed to the hills and back into the Minervois for lunch at a country Auberge in the village of Saint-Jean du-Minervois, one of our favourite haunts for the delicious local dish of Cassoulet. I have tried many versions but this is my favourite. Faithfully following her Grandmothers recipe Brigitte of Auberge d’Ecole produces something so delicious words cannot describe. Even people who don’t normally like cassoulet are wooed into submission by this duck confit, white bean and mouth-watering sauce made from herbs, garlic and a touch of tomato. Yes it’s full bodied and you might be tempted to reach for a full bodied wine to go with it but our choice is always the 100% Carignan wine by Clos de Gravillas and made just across the road. Its intense blackberry and black cherry fruit, the spice and ripe tannins plus the refreshing acidity are the perfect match. It aids digestion and will ensure you eat several helpings of Brigitte’s cassoulet.
After lunch we took a stroll through the limestone strewn vineyards surrounding the tiny village (49 inhabitants..!) before paying John and Nicole a visit at Clos du Gravillas to congratulate them on their wonderful Carignan wine and taste its stable mates.
We crossed the ‘Petit Cause’ on our journey home and saw at close quarters the limestone soils that are covered in
‘garrigue’ and with the windows open we enjoyed the intoxicating scents of lavender, sage, rosemary and wild thyme. This area is home to the beautiful village of Minerve built on a limestone rock that is almost an island carved out of the landscape by the rivers Brian and Cesses. We stopped for a while and visited the historical and quite mystical village where I’m sure I can sense the spirits of the 80 Cathars who lost their lives in 1210 at the hands of Simon du Montfort.
And so the tour was over and the next day our clients headed home or onward to enjoy more holiday adventures taking with them a little of the Spirit of Languedoc.
If you would like to join a Spirit of Languedoc tour we still have 4 places available on July 16th to 19th this year and we will be running this tour again next year so please email firstname.lastname@example.org to show your interest in 2016 dates.