The usual post-Easter visit this year was to the Languedoc region. We assembled at our base hotel-Le Pavillon at Villeneuve lès-Béziers, a comfortable modern Logis in more commercial part of town. Good April weather meant that the welcome drinks reception as in the courtyard. The chef had prepared menus with the main course to match local wines, and he started well for a very good first meal.
Day two began with more fine weather for the coach journey to the Domaine de Nizas in the Hameau de Sallèles, a winery owned by a Franco-American who also has property in Australia and the Napa valley. We were welcomed in a courtyard laid out with snacks by Nathalie Arnaud-Bernard, the winemaker, who gave an excellent introduction to Languedoc wines. There were a number to taste, the star of which was a superb Pézenas, the upcoming wine of the region
After a stop in the beautiful town of Pézenas for lunch the next stop was at Marseillan, a town on the edge of the lagoon of Thau. The Caves-de-Richemer is an enormous co-operative making a large number of wines on an industrial scale including some from the local grapes Marseilan and Terret. People were intrigued to see that the bottling was done using a mobile bottling line – but the 90% of its production(which runs into seven figures of litres) leaves the winery in tanks.
Next to the village of Pinet – home of Picpoul (often called the Muscadet of the South) and the domaine Gaujal, family firm since the 18th century M. Gaujal presented his wines with justifiable pride, but some members were disturbed by the murals in the tasting room. M. Gaujal was keen to show off his vineyard. Alas, this meant the coach had to manoeuver through narrow tracks, culminating in getting stuck and causing some damage to the bus! The driver was not amused – but was appeased back at the hotel.
Thursday dawned fair. An interesting drive through hilly country and vineyards to the village of St.Saturnin and the domaine of Virgile Joly, the central figure in Patrick Moon’s book “virgile’s Vineyard”. Virgile met the bus outside the church and guided us to his winery on a hill above the village. Egg-shaped tanks were a novel feature. Looking out over a magnificent panorama Virgile explained the area, its wines and his philosophy of wine growing and making.
Back to the village and a comprehensive tasting of his excellent wines on the terrace of ‘Le Pressoir’ -the village restaurant. The ladies of the group were charmed by M.Joly – while accusing the men of paying overmuch attention to his assistant Camille. A fine lunch followed.
After lunch we drove through some spectacular countryside to Pic St.Loup and the village of Boisset, the home of Guillaume Viau and his ‘Bergerie du Capucin’ He is passionate about th wines of Pic St.Loup (one of the new “crus” of Languedoc.) His own wines were extremely good-particularly the Pic St Loup Limanella. There was heavy traffic on the roads back to the hotel but there was ample time for a pre-prandial when we arrived.
Friday was the day for culture. The morning was spent at the beautiful Abbaye de Fontfroide, a 12th century Cistercian Abbey, now in private ownership but with some state help for conservation. One approaches though its immaculate vineyards. The visit begin with an informative guided tour of the remarkable buildings and garden. A tasting of the abbey’s wines was held in the ancient refectory. Lunch, featuring a delicious local cassoulet left everyone dozily content for the drive through more stunning scenery to St.Chinian.
At Domaine Bagatelle the owner, Christine Deleuze who runs the estate with her brother, conducted an informative tour and then presented her range of white and red St.Chinian with pride and humour – the visit could easily have lasted another hour but dinner called.
Saturday brought rain for a visit to Mas de Daumas Gassac, one of the Languedoc’s leading domaines, the self-styled ‘Grand Cru of the languedoc’. Owned by the Guibert family for forty years it is in a wild and green valley with its own micro-climate. There are more than 40 varieties planted and the wines are not subject to any appellation rules – the result, emphasised at the tasting, is wines of exceptional character and quality. The visit was informative and entertaining and the wines found almost universal favour.
It is traditional for these trips to end with a special last night meal. This year the Michelin starred “Octopus” in Béziers was the venue. The organisers had over-estimated the time it was going to get there so we arrive about thirty minutes early. It was to wet to explore on foot so the driver gave us a guided tour of the town. The meal was well worth waiting for-chef Fabien Laurent did us proud.