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’.
Every year we run some long weekends of wine and food tasting tours in the Languedoc and last weekend we ran one called ‘The Gourmet Corbières Tour’. Eight people booked their places so the tour was full and I arranged for them to stay at a super B&B ran by a wonderful cook called Elisabeth in the village of Lagrasse. They arrived on Thursday night, all Brits and only 4 of them already knew each other but the group gelled beautifully and I think they will remain great friends.
The tour began on Friday and was run by Carlos, one of the newest members to the Vin en Vacances team and a great asset. His talented language skills, his knowledge of the region, wines and history plus his ability to create a great rapport with everyone made the day a superb success. The group visited 2 fabulous vineyards in the Boutenac area of the Corbières and were welcomed in to the garden of a private house, owned by friends of Vin en Vacances, for a delicious lunch.
You haven’t tasted real tomatoes until you taste those ripened by the Mediterranean sun. It’s the same story with all the fruit and vegetables here in Languedoc-Roussillon, they have a taste you won’t find in those greenhouse ripened cousins which actually bear very little taste resemblance to those bursting with sunshine flavour.
Mediterranean food is loved the world over and often written about but I have not come across any Languedoc specific articles so I was delighted when I found Caroline Conran’s book Sud de France, the food & cooking of Languedoc (available to buy from our website). It is filled with fabulous recipes using the delicious produce of the region. I have used it many times and everything has turned out superbly well and tasted delicious. Chapter 8 is dedicated to vegetables, pulses and wild foods and this perfectly reflects the culture here, for foraging is something the Languedoc folk love to do. In this chapter is a recipe for La Truffade which is a rustic cheese and potato cake. No truffles are contained in this dish, it gets its name from the old Occitan word for potatoes, truffas. But truffles are very much part of the cuisine of the region and we celebrate them during the season of January and February with several festivals.
Before I worked with wine I had wanted to be that person who discovered a wonderful wine, who met a great wine maker and who went off the beaten track to discover these things. But when you only have a week or less in a wine region it is very likely that you just don’t have enough time to seek these things out.
My team and I have spent years discovering the best wineries to visit, interesting wines, fabulous journeys and great restaurants to make Vin en Vacances the most successful wine tourism business in Languedoc-Roussillon. One of the great things about touring with a wine guide is their insider knowledge, the deep understanding of the local region and of course they do all the driving for you! Arranging a wine tour is now easier than ever before and just about every wine region has a wine tour guide these days but how do you know you’re getting a good one? TripAdvisor is a good guide, we are delighted when people take the trouble to write a review and pass on their experience to others.
I first came across the label ‘Tinkerbelle’ when visiting a winery in Provence last summer. It’s a term that’s occasionally being used in France for female winemakers. To begin with I was not sure it was complimentary but in fact I’ve discovered that it is intended to be. Tinkerbelles are sprinkling their fairy dust around the vineyards and wineries all over Languedoc and producing some top class wines in what used to be a very male dominated profession.
I work with a lot of female winemakers and although none of them would like to be known by this appellation alone. They are proud to be winemakers and proud to be women. Take Nicole Bojanowski of Clos du Gravillas who has been producing top class wines for over 14 years from magical terroir. This ‘Tink’ is no common fairy, she works with great thoughtfulness and care producing wines with style and charm. Bridgette Chevalier of Domaine de Cébène in the Faugères appellation is living up to the Tinkerbell name by producing mystical wines that I am sure will become legendary and Katie Jones of Domaine Jones who has been making wine for a few years now has also received great acclaim. However hers’ is no fairy tale, she has had to battle against people in her community who are afraid of the change she and her like are bringing to wine making.