Our 6 months’ hard work paid off as our Southern Rhône Tour was an unqualified success.
A wine club from the UK, who have already toured with us, asked us to put together a tour in Southern Rhône, so we got to work making numerous visits, checking out suitable hotels for a group of 23 persons, looking up old contacts in the region and making new ones. The week long tour was as usual varied, interesting and highly original. We visited at least 2 wine estates each day – mostly organic and independant but also larger co-operatives and had an afternoon at the Université du Vin ( a first for the group – they were very well behaved!) We took in the world famous wine areas of Châteauneuf du Pape, Valrèas, Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Baume de Venise and also the less known but equally interesting areas of Tavel, Lirac, Massif d’Uchaux, and Cairanne. While were based in the bustling market town of Nyons – famous for its black olives and olive oil – it didn’t stop us from visiting Avignon, Suze de La Rousse for the Université du Vin, L’Isle sur Sourge – the Venice of Provence, Les Dentelles de Montmirail and lots of other beautiful small provencal villages.
Of course food and music also featured in our programme and I know the group will never forget the local speciality of ‘caillette’ – a paté made with spinach which we ate in numerous places, the groaning tables of homemade dishes at the Val du Rois and the Clos du Caveau and the wonderful restaurants in Avignon, Baume de Venise and Suze La Rousse. Another highlight was the evening visit to Catrine LeGoeuil – welcomed by a manouche jazz quartet in the vinyards and savouring the flavours and warm hospitality of this tiny wine domaine. Of course the wine was the star of the week – we tasted sublime reds – exceptional rosés and whites and surprising vin doux naturel from the only IGP in the Southern Rhône allowed to do this.
Jean-Luc and I want to thank all our collaborators who made this week such a success – their passion, know how, hospitality and generosity really impressed the group and they returned to Manchester full of wonderful memories and motivated to learn even more about the wondeful world of wine.
Here’s what they said about it……….
“We had our AGM and regular meeting this evening. Everybody who went has been enthusing about everything you did and the wonderful time they had in your company. Bruno was very impressed and has been bragging (his words) to his friends about the quality of the wine and food and the wonderful hospitality we received. He is right, we did receive great hospitality, and we appreciate it.
Stories were told of your off road abilities with a coach, Alison. All were impressed with your musical talent, Jean-Luc, as well as your great knowledge of the vineyards and most importantly the people who run them.
I would like to say a personal thank you to both of you for your great support in our venture. I look forward to planning the next one with you.” (Garstang Wine Circle, UK)
When we visit the Minervois, we love to meet the real characters and the passionate people behind the scenes. Today was no exception as we started our visit to Domaine Pierre Fil, three generations of wine makers and Pierre (father) regaled us with his stories from the vineyards and we met his son who explained some of the modern techniques they have adopted too.
We love the ‘old school’ approach and think thay have got the balance just right. Their rosés were an immediate hit as were the amazingly priced reds. Purchases safely stowed in the bus, we headed off to the hilltop village of Minerve, situated in a limestone gorge, with a gory cathar history but luckily some great restaurants!
Excellent lunch on the terrace followed, no doubt, by a siesta in the bus while we meandered through the high Minervois hills, with views towards the Pyrenees. Here we met Irène Prioton, on a dusty track (my bus can get almost anywhere!), where she showed us her small parcels of vines dotted around the hills. Back to her tiny cellar, where the word ‘artisinal’ , so often overused these days, really applies. In a barn attached to a village house, she produces some really unusal wines – whites and reds, with wonderful depth and tonality. Some of her wines sell in michelin * restaurants – so we are not the only ones who think her wines are great.
We left late afternoon and reflected on the hard work that Irène does to bring her wines to the table and the passion and dedication many winemakers have for their profession – these small winemakers certainly don’t do it for the ‘riches’ but to protect and carry on a tradition which is anchored into the fabric of French culture.
Bernard from Domaine du Fourn
A relaxing morning and lunch in Limoux – friday is market day so lots to excite the senses. We head off after lunch to St Polycarpe – less than 10km from Limoux. The impressive Domaine Baron’Arques, owned by the Rothchild family, certainly shows it’s pedigree. It’s own weather station, beautifully tended vineyards, well equipped tasting rooms all back up the Rothchild image. Of course the wines are wonderful (with prices to reflect all the investment!) A short drive through rolling vineyards towards St Hilaire for a guided visit of this 15century Abbey and obligatory visitto the cellars where sparkling wine was first discovered in 1531. Next stop is completley different – one of our favourites. Domaine de Fourn, with its cobwebbed covered hand dug cellars – and one of our exclusive tastings. Over 10 vintage blanquettes and cremants are to be opened and discovered – going back to the 1970’s -all accompanied by homemade patés and other delicious nibbles. Our host Bernard – ex-rugby playing blanquette producer from 3 generations – is as always gracious and patient with his visitors and is amazed by the interest, knowledge and above all stamina of the group! We roll out of there quite lateand luckily it’s only a short drive home!
Jennifer chanelling her inner Roman woman!
We called this day Roman as we visited an important site – the Museum of Amphoralis near Narbonne, where one of the largest industrial production of amphorae, roof tiles and household earthenware, was situated. During out guided tour, we were greeted by Helène Serrano – a specialist in roman wine and her neice who actually makes wines to the traditional Roman recipes – vin antique as it is called. We tasted this wine in different areas of the museum, while learning all about the fascinating methods of production and why this site was so successful and important (natural resources of wood and clay, vineyards, naviagable waterways). Lunch was in the reconstructed workers house and of course we had a Roman lunch based of real roman recipes of the day. Romans used to eat alot of sweet and sour together and the main course of a game stew was flavoured with dried fish sauce, aniseed and other delicious flavours.
We returned to Limoux relataively early as dinner was at a local wine merchants, where we were entertained by friends of Jean-Luc – on accordion and guitar – with contributions from Jean-Luc on vocals and of course Richard who was itching to join in – he has wonderful tenor and singing in French poses no problems for him!. Dancing and singing all round, of course accompained by local wines and tasty canapés – another memorable day over.
Happy people with Laurent Vives at Domaine Mayrac
Mayrac and Malpère
A later start to the day and some off-roading in the bus! Taking a track up behind Couiza, we meet Laurent Vivès from Domaine Mayrac. Here we admire the view of the Pyrenees in the distance and his vinyards down in the valley. Laurent explains with passion his love of terroir and how he defines each parcel of vines to make a different wine. A professional setting for the wine tasting means that the wine circle is at ease and ready to spend over an hour sampling his range of wines – which they find every bit as interesting as Laurent! He and his team from the cellars have also prepared a wonderfum 3 course lunch – presented and served with style – olny the best for this group and we had to literally drag them away! Wine purchases safely stored in the bus, we headed over to the Malpèrewine region – Chateau Belvèzes where the glamorous Isabelle Malafosse showed us aroud her Domaine with its impressive trees – some over 400 years old. A surprise tasting matching edible flowers and wine was certainly a real eye-opening and a tastebud tickler! Isabelle’s husband, Guillaume, who loves abit of mischief invited people into the vats – quite afew obliged and found the experience quite fun! (see photos)