Tag Archives: Languedoc

Grand Cru Drive Thru: South West France – Fronton

Guest Wines Tour de France

The next leg of our road trip saw us leaving the medieval town of Avignon to head South West to Toulouse for our next overnight stop. This journey took us from the Southern Rhône, passing by the city of Nîmes, towards the sprawling vineyards of the Languedoc surrounding Montpellier and Beziers.

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As this was to be pretty much a car bound day of rather epic driving, we decided to take a detour to the coast for the chance to dip our toes in the Mediterranean sea. We ended up in the buzzing town of Sète, France’s largest Mediterranean fishing port, where we had a bite to eat alongside the Canal du Midi, watching the boats floating past.

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Although we were only here a short time, we got the feeling this might be a bit of a hidden gem on the Mediterranean coastline and we weren’t to be disappointed as we drove towards Agde along the spit of land that separates the lagoon from the Gulf of Lion, where carefully planted grasses line the sides of the road, hiding the miles of white sandy beach just from view. Ruth couldn’t resist a paddle but it was a tad fresher than she expected although very refreshing in the heat of the day. It was a peaceful moment in our long journey today, sitting on the beach, watching people relax and swim in the shimmering clear blue sea.

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Sadly, we couldn’t stay any longer as we needed to press on to Narbonne, passing through the Corbières appellation to then reach the historical city of Carcassonne. We had intended to have a brief stopover in Corbières as we thoroughly enjoy the wines from this region, always proving great value for money, however, we found ourselves ‘imprisoned’ on the péage (motorway with tolls if you’re not familiar with this), unable to exit, and forced to continue on. A future visit will most certainly see us spending more time to visit these great cities and wine regions.

Our destination of the day was to be Fronton, just North of Toulouse, where we had an appointment for a wine tasting with Jean Luc Ribes at Domaine le Roc. We pulled into the driveway of this more traditional looking winery, that had the feel of a farm about it, where geese and chickens were sauntering around. It was charming to find sculptures and pieces of art hidden amongst the garden’s greenery and the painted concrete tanks in the winery were a cheery sight. This artistic eccentricity is also encapsulated on the label of ‘La Folle Noire d’Ambat’, which is made from 100% Negrette and seems fitting for this particular variety.

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Everyone, including Jean Luc, was busy cleaning out tanks and moving equipment ready for harvest but Jean Luc kindly took some time out to go through his wines with us. Also, Pierre, who has worked at the farm for over 20 years, welcomed us with his unique sense of humour and amazingly Dick van Dyke-esque English accent that brought a red wine stained grin to our faces!

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Le Roc’s rosé and red wines are predominantly made from the Négrette grape, complimented by Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, and the white is a blend of Semillon, Chardonnay, Muscadelle and Viognier, what an interesting wine indeed, falling outside the local Appellation gives more freedom for such blending! These wines taste fabulous and are great value for money, at under 10 euros, considering the farm uses sustainable farming methods and organic practices, for example in winter sheep help to manage the foliage around the vines rather than herbicides being sprayed.

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It’s a true family business, run by brother’s Jean Luc and Frederic, whose wife Cathy took care of payment for our wines, and it was a real pleasure to visit.

Leaving Le Roc and Fronton, the rain caught up with us again and it was time to head back to Toulouse to find our accommodation for the night. Unfortunately, the ring road around the city took us on a magical mystery tour, with signs that seemed to be more cryptic than informative always leading us away from our destination rather than to it. Luckily, after much muttering and swearing and several unaccounted for trips on the (now dreaded) péage, we made it to our Appart’city, a compact but welcome apartment that gave us the opportunity to cook the first hot meal of our journey so far. However, we soon realised why it was such a bargain as it was in direct line of the airport runway, tempting Kel to consider taking up plane spotting! Nevertheless, after a few glasses of La Folle Noire d’Ambat and a hot pasta meal, we contentedly settled in  for the night.

 

Tanks for the Memory

Days 3 and 4 in Roussillon

My next job was to start sweeping the tops of the concrete tanks and top floor of the winery ready for washing down. Wow, Cinderella eat your heart out! Broom in hand, surrounded by clouds of dust I brushed and brushed and brushed, until the place looked clean.

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We just about had time to get changed ready for a trip to Perpignan and a wine merchants called ‘Les Caves Maillol‘, where Guillaume, the shop’s owner, and his wife were hosting an ‘English wine tasting with Jonathon’. A good number of people turned up early and enjoyed the tastings and nibbles. I’m sure once the word spreads this will grow.

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Back at the house, two mystery wines were brought out for tasting. It turned out they were both Malbec, one from the Languedoc, which I honestly would not have guessed, the other from the South West, a Cahors, which I almost got. Blind tasting really isn’t easy but it was very interesting.

I have been waking up with the village bells at 6am each morning and the chickens across the road are usually in full clucking action then. Saturday was the first morning I woke up to grey skies and the forecast for thunder storms was spot on, it started raining at lunch time and just got heavier and heavier.

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The grapes need rain at this point just before harvest, even though it makes them swell it won’t dilute them too much as they will revert to what they were before. It’s the skins that need the water, as they are dehydrated and may not ripen fully if they lack fluid. At the moment they aren’t quite ripe, which is partly why the harvest is late, the hot topic of discussion in the wine community at the moment is that it’s been a strange harvest so far.

Today the tank cleaning needed to be finished, which meant actually climbing down inside each one – there were four to do. With the ladders lowered in and safety light tied on Georgia was first to disappear into the hole. It felt a bit like an Indiana Jones adventure finding some long lost cave and lowering yourself down into the unknown. I was a bit apprehensive but thankfully okay once in the tank and not claustrophobic, phew.

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We cleaned two tanks each, which involved brushing the dry tank to get rid of all the bits, then rinsing it down with water. A cleaning solution was then pumped through the system.

It took the day to get the 4 tanks done and there was more still to do but we were due to head to Le Cave Byrrh in Thuir for Les Vignerons Des Aspres wine fair. So after a quick shower and change, off we went.

Keep following the series, read more here about the wine fair at Les Caves Byrrh and much more.