Monthly Archives: January 2014

Learning about the Wines of Languedoc Roussillon

The lovely Wendy Gedney is publishing her first book, ‘The Wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon’, on February 18th. Beautifully illustrated by local artist Jenny Baker, it is a history of the region’s wines, with details of the 49 appellations and the IGPs, their terroir, the local landscape and of course the cuisine.

Image 1

Wendy is the perfect person to fill you in on this fascinating region. She divides her time between being a wine educator with The Wine Wise Company, based in Warwickshire in the UK, and guiding wine enthusiasts around the Languedoc-Roussillon, her second home since 2000, with Vin en Vacances. I toured Languedoc-Rousillion with Wendy a few years ago and, since we were particularly interested in the Cathar heritage of the region, it was her passion and knowledge of the region’s history as well as the wines that impressed.  This, with her sense of humour and knowledge of the best places to dine, made for a great trip. Apart from the name, Wendy and I have a few things in common that you may have picked up on, we are both from the Midlands, both wine educators and both spend part of our lives amongst the vines in France and, unsurprisingly, following our trip have now become firm friends!

Wendy is launching her book at Underwood’s Wine Warehouse in Warwick, England, February 18th starting at 6pm. Call in for a glass of Languedoc wine whilst picking up your signed copy. Signed copies will also be available in London at the Maison de Languedoc in Cavendish Square, London. On the 20th February she will be teaming up with Château Les Carasses who offer luxury accommodation in the heart of the Languedoc and on the 21st with Grape Escapes wine tour company with whom she works. Both events start at 5pm and are a great way to learn about wine tourism available in the region. Contact Wendy Gedney for more info.

After all this, the book will be available on Amazon, but for your signed copy delivered to your door (£20 plus p&p) please just drop her an email. wendy@vinenvacances.com

This is the ideal book for anyone who has an interest in learning more about this intriguing region and its wines, some of which represent really good value for money – she’ll tell you which ones!

Women in Wine Tourism.

As owner of the high-end Wine Tour Company Decanter Tours, one of the few full service wine tour operators with extensive experience working in the wine industry, Mary Dardenne couldn’t help noticing that most of the key players in this dynamic and growing sector, whether in accommodation, transportation, restaurants or wineries were women.

Following a wine fuelled lunch in Bordeaux between 8 girl friends, all, like Mary, key players in the industry; she created The Women in Wine Tourism association in 2009.  There were formal trade organisations in existence such as the Great Wine Capitals, Destination Vignobles and Vignobles et Chais en Bordelais but the objective was to create an informal and complementary association that covered all aspects of wine tourism.

Where it all began

Where it all began

This group is now, 4 years later, a dynamic networking association for the wine tourism industry including Chateaux, interprofessionnal organisations, hotels and restaurants from Bordeaux to Cognac and Burgundy.  Mary’s unique access to contacts in the industry across France has grown the association to 120 members with over 250 likes on the Facebook page and an active following on Twitter.

The monthly meetings, usually over lunch and a glass or two of wine, bring together between 30 and 50 members giving them an opportunity to talk about their various initiatives, discuss their challenges and successes and share ideas on how to continue growing in this relatively new sector. Informal, fun and supportive, the group has encouraged members to work together promoting their activities and creating joint projects.

Ready for lunch at Chateau Troplong Mondot.

Ready for lunch at Chateau Troplong Mondot.

These lunches are not only a forum for sharing and networking but also an opportunity to try new restaurants and discover new initiatives in chateaux as diverse as a restaurant and accommodation at Les Belles Perdrix at Chateau Troplong Mondot, conference and reception facilities at Chateau Marquis de Terme and a village centre boutique at Château Lestrille, to name a few. The group also participates in industry events such as Bordeaux Fête le Vin (26-29th June this year) and test-drives new initiatives such as the Bordeaux Wine Trip app.

Bordeaux Fête le Vin

Bordeaux Fête le Vin

It also provides a forum for new comers to the industry to meet market leaders in an informal, supportive and fun environment and learn from the experts in this growing field. If you want to know more contact Mary marydardenne@decantertours.com

 

Inspiration for your 2014 visit to Bordeaux.

 If you are planning a visit to Bordeaux this year, here are a few ideas I’ll be suggesting to visitors.  

Stay somewhere (very) different. I’m constantly suggesting lovely places to stay in and around Bordeaux on this blog but this year why not stay somewhere (very) different? I previously have posted about staying in tree houses and vats but if that is not cutting edge enough for you, try staying at Chateau La Romaningue in a bubble or even in a gypsy caravan.

Learn to cuisine like a chateau chef. More and more Chateaux are happy to open not just their cellar doors but also their kitchens where you can learn the secrets of Bordelais cuisine and food and wine matches at the source.  Chateau Phelan Segur in Saint Estèphe, Chateau Gruaud Larose in Saint Julien  and Chateau La Pointe in Pomerol all offer cooking classes and workshops followed by lunch to sample your success with a glass or two of the chateau wine. Lunch or dinner at Chateau La Lagune in their sumptuous kitchen is an opportunity to see Chef Catherine Negre at work. Check out some of the recipes here to whet your appetite or start practicing at home.

A table in the kitchens of Chateau La Lagune.

A table in the kitchens of Chateau La Lagune.

Shop ‘til you drop. More and more Chateaux have great shops, selling  not just wine and vinous paraphernalia but other cool gifts. In the Entre deux Mers, call in at Chateau Lestrille in Saint Germain du Puch to see owner Estelle Roumage’s eclectic selection of gifts and French specialities.

Shop at Chateau Lestrille

Shop at Chateau Lestrille

Just down the road in Grezillac at Chateau Ferret Lambert, Valerie Lambert has created a wonderful space showing various collectables and renovated French country furniture and bric à brac.

Look for treasures at Chateau Feret Lambert

Look for treasures at Chateau Feret Lambert

You if like you can even stay for lunch, dinner or even overnight in one of her guest rooms. Chateau Biac is opening its new tasting room this year on a unique oriental theme as befits the Lebanese owner Youmna Asseily.

Get off the beaten track. Have you noticed that a lot of the above recommendations are in the Entre deux Mers? That leads me to my next suggestion. Yes the classified growths of the Medoc, Saint Emilion and Graves will always be on visitors wish lists but try and find the time to visit the lesser known appellations of Bordeaux: the Saint Emilion Satellites, the Côtes and the Entre deux Mers. Here you will find the smaller family owned properties where the owners and wine makers will be on hand, often with bed and breakfast and table d’hôtes to add to the welcome.

A cellar lunch at Domaine de Claouset in the Entre deux Mers

A cellar lunch at Domaine de Claouset in the Entre deux Mers

Be a culture vulture. Bordeaux has some great museums and art galleries. If contemporary art is your thing, do not to miss the amazing Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez  created by the Chateau owner in the centre of Bordeaux. Many chateaux use the summer months to not just show their wines to visitors but also to show-case up and coming artists. Chateau Kirwan, Chateau Palmer, Chateau d’Arsac, Chateau Paloumey, La Tour Bessan and Lynch Bages are some of the properties that welcome artists to their cellars each year.

An art installation in the cellars of Chateau Kirwan

An art installation in the cellars of Chateau Kirwan

Learn how Bordeaux works. There’s more to Bordeaux than just the Chateaux,. To understand how the wine gets to Market, visit a negociant. Cordier, and Millesima both offer great visits to discover how the ‘Place de Bordeaux’ works and on the banks of the Dordogne, a visit to Le Chai au Quai can show you a hands on wine making experience.

Le Chai au Quai on the banks of the Dordogne

Le Chai au Quai on the banks of the Dordogne

See you there soon.

 

An old Salt

The hot Mauritian sunshine may ripen the sugar cane but it also helps produce another local product: salt. The Salines de Yemen salt-pans of Mauritius are at Tamarin on the west coast, one of the hottest parts of the island. Surprisingly enough, I found salt making shares a few techniques with wine making.

When the weather stays dry and with a light breeze, (it’s always hot) it takes 5 days for the sea water pumped from the Indian Ocean to run through the 1600 basins covering 20ha before the salt crystallises through evaporation and can be harvested.

The majority of these basins are filled with clay acting as a filter for the water as it runs from pan to pan via gravity (does this ring any bells with betonite filtration for white wine?). This clay has to be changed at least twice a year, more frequently if it rains as when the concentration of salt is diluted algae can form. A low rain fall, up to 5cm turns the salt brown, which can then be used for animal feed, more rain than that and they have a start again.

A clay lined basin

A clay lined basin

Being a tropical island it does rain, so the production period is concentrated in the drier months from September to December.

Salt water trickles down from one basin to another.

Salt water trickles down from one basin to another.

After filtration through the clay, the concentrated salt water trickles into the lower levels where the final 185 basins are constructed out of the island’s volcanic basalt rock. Heating quickly in the sun, this dark black stone perfectly optimises evaporation. The slower the evaporation, the whiter and purer the salt will be. The salt concentration is measured in ‘degrees Baumé’ with a mustimetre, the same tool used in wine making for measuring the evolutions of sugar concentration during alcoholic fermentation. Salt concentration starts off at about 30g per litre and reaches about 300g per litre in the final basins.

Measuring the salt concentration

Measuring the salt concentration

In the afternoon they harvest the fragile ‘Fleur de sel’, very fine crystals that are skimmed off the top of the water with a wooden skimmer. This is the most expensive and least ‘salty’ salt, often combined with herbs, spices and even local vanilla to make speciality condiments.  The next morning the ‘Gros Sel’ will be ready for harvesting.

Skimmer

At the end of the process there will be 6-7 cm of salt that has to be broken up, shovelled into pyramids and collected in 20 kg baskets. Each of the final basins will produce about 25 of these baskets, which are carried on the heads of the women to the 9 salt stores.

 

A salt store waiting for the harvest.

A salt store waiting for the harvest.

The saltpans employ 20 people and they produce about 2 000 tonnes of salt a year. The salt is destined for food seasoning industrial and domestic as well as the chlorination process of swimming pools.

‘Les Salines de Yemen’ ‘date back to the 18th century when the island was under French rule and salt was a valuable commodity especially important for conserving food on the long journey by ship between Asia and Europe. Mauritius was a vital stop off point on these trade routes.

The current pans were built by Rene Maingard in 1940’s and are still owned by the family today.

The dark basalt stone used in the basins is omnipresent on the island. It’s used in the construction of most of the historical buildings including the 90 remaining sugar mill chimneys scattered across the island, waterfront fortifications and official buildings, some dating back to the 18th century.

A final basalt basin

A final basalt basin

The islanders say they ‘grow’ these stones. Every 7 years the sugar canes fields have to be cleared of rocks when the cane replanted. The rocks are said to rise to the surface thanks to the active magma way below the surface. Local photographer Jano Couacaud has created a beautiful book of the influence of these rocks on the Island including pictures of these historic but still functioning saltpans.