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Wine Trails of the Languedoc

by Hilarie LarsonMay 19, 2015
Travel
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Wine Trails of the Languedoc
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The Languedoc is a region begging to be explored and what better way to experience everything it has to offer than by creating a route filled with amazing, diverse scenery, enticing culture and history plus incredible food and wine.

Let’s take a look at the three main cities of the Languedoc. Any, or all, would be perfect starting points for visiting the diverse wineries of the Languedoc Outsiders.

Carcassonne vineyards, France

Carcassonne vineyards, France

Montpellier

This vibrant, modern city is the capital of the Languedoc. Located west of the Rhone River and close to the Mediterranean, Montpellier was not founded by the Greeks or Romans but arose in the 12th century as a thriving, merchant town where its local mix of Christians, Jews, Muslims and Cathars traded goods throughout the Mediterranean.

Montpellier has been a ‘College town’ since 1130 and was home to one of the first Universities in 1289.  Today, the University of Montpellier draws students from all over the world, resulting in a sophisticated, forward moving atmosphere filled with music, nightlife, art and great food.

Must See in Montpellier

Stroll the Rue de la Loge, a pedestrian only street lined with shops and restaurants. Follow it to the l’Ecusson or Old Town. Here you’ll find a myriad of winding narrow streets and a host of cafes calling for you to relax and soak in the atmosphere.

Cathedrale de Sainte Piere – built in 1364, this landmark is a great example of Southern French Gothic architecture and is recognizable by its two circular turrets.

The Jardin de Plantes is a soothing oasis on a busy day and one of Europe’s oldest Botanical Gardens

The Place de la Comedie is an oval shaped plaza and home to the Opera House and more of those ever-present sidewalk cafes.

Indulge your artistic side with a visit to the Musèe Fabre and wonder at the collection of Old Master paintings.

Restaurants in Montpellier run the gamut from local seafood (great with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet) to classic Bistro fare all the way to Haute Cuisine.

Montpellier Wine Trails

Domaine de Saumarez

The nearby village of Murviel-les-Montpellier, is home to Domaine de Saumarez. In 2003, Liz and Robin (an Anglo/New Zealand duo) left their secure jobs in London, to make wine in the Languedoc. They are thrilled to welcome you in their new Tasting Room, where you can sip on samples of their refreshing white blend, lush reds and rosé while enjoying a view of the Mediterranean Sea.

Domaine le Clos du Serres

Travel further north, and you’ll reach the newest AOC in the Languedoc, Terrases du Larzac and Domaine le Clos du Serres. Back in 2006, Sébastien Fillon and his wife Béatrice found the perfect parcel of land for their new winemaking venture. The soils are varied or, as Sebastien says ‘a geological jigsaw’, including gravel and schist. They set about building a home and a winery from the ground up and have never looked back. When you meet them, their quiet excitement and passion for their new home is evident, just as it is in their wines.   ‘Humeur Vagabond’ is old vine Carignan, and ‘Les Maros’, a blend of Cinsault, Carignan and an almost extinct variety Oeillade.

Domaine de Cébène

Brigitte hails from Bordeaux where she left her wine career behind to explore the Languedoc and now multi tasks as negotiant, wine merchant and winemaker for her own little piece of heaven, Domaine de Cébène. Here she crafts Vin du Nord (wine of the North) with red varieties from the region of while her ‘ex-Arena’ label expresses the character of Vin due Sud (wine of the South), where the sandy soils close to the sea yields spicy Grenache.

Domaine Turner Pageot

West of Montpellier you’ll find Domaine Turner Pageot. This small winery is the result of decades of winemaking experience from around the world. Karen and Emmanual produce ‘gastronomic’ wines that are truly at their best on the table with a wonderful meal.

Domaine Sainte Rose

Not far away, UK born Charles left his career with a British pharmaceutical firm and with his Scottish wife, Ruth, an International relations expert, found their dream vineyard in the Languedoc – Domaine Sainte Rose. Their IGP Cotes de Thongue and Pays d’Oc wines are fresh and accessible.

 

Narbonne

If you had been an exemplary member of the Roman legions, you might have been rewarded with a vineyard near modern day Narbonne!

Located on the ancient ‘Via Domita’ that ran from Spain to Italy, this busy port city is filled with history, gastronomy and wine!

Must See in Narbonne

The Natural Regional Park – Take a break and soak in the fresh air and bird songs as you walk the trails through the lagoons between the mainland and sea.

Get lost in the meandering alleys of The Old City of Narbonne, or stop for an ‘Apero’ at a local café after visiting the Abbaye de Fontroide, one of the country’s most gorgeous Cistercian abbeys.

Explore the traditional skills of sourcing Mediterranean sea salt, when you visit The Salt Eco-Museum in Gruissan. The gourmet salt makes a terrific souvenir.

If you love food, you’ll love the large, open air markets held every Thursday and Sunday in the city center and Les Halles, with its 70 gourmet vendors.

Speaking of food, you’ll find no shortage of restaurants in Narbonne. Here, they are big on local, seasonal produce, plus fresh seafood and shellfish. Try Bourride – a delicious local fish stew, Leucate oysters – great paired with a white from La Clape – – or the region’s Picoline olives.

Narbonne Wine Trails

In the nearby La Clape region, you’ll encounter the Gallic charms of the Fabre family.

Château d’Anglès

Father Eric was the technical director for Chateau Lafitte Rothschild in Bordeaux, but he was happy to shake convention and start again in the Languedoc at Château d’Anglès. The estate itself has been around for centuries, but soon after purchasing it in 2002, Eric realized the quality of the local grape, Bourboulenc and set out to make the best incarnation of the variety. Sons Vianney (who was the export Director of Bollinger Champagne) and Arnaud round out this band of ‘Outsiders’ all eager to show what La Clape has to offer.

La Madura

He was born in the Languedoc but went off to seek his fortune in Bordeaux and Dijon. She saw the world working for Air France. Cyril and Nadia Bourgne returned to their roots in 1999 when they settled in the area of Saint-Chinian. At La Madura, they craft small lot, pesticide free wine with a truly hand-on approach.

Le Clos de Gravillas

It’s a long way from Kentucky, but after travelling the world, John Bojanowski met a Spanish girl, Nicole Fernandez and fell in love with both her and her dream to make quality red wine in the Languedoc. They started small in 1999 and are now living that dream, producing bold Carignan – the classic red of the Languedoc – at Le Clos de Gravillas.

Saint-Jacques-d’Albas

The beautiful region of Minervois is home to Chateau Saint-Jacques-d’Albas and owner, winemaker and vineyard manager, Graham Nutter. Since arriving in 2001, Graham has reinvigorated the vineyard, built a new winery, restored the rest of the property and opened a tasting room. His wines have been busy too, winning awards and recognition from all over Europe.

Carcassonne

Like something out of a fairytale, this historic, walled city rises above the Aude River as it has done for centuries. Beginning as a Roman fortress, this UNESCO Heritage site was restored in the 19th century and now attracts up to 3 million visitors a year.

Yes, there are definitely some touristy elements at play, like plastic suits of armor and the ‘Torture Museum”, but don’t let that deter you.

Must Sees in Carcassonne

Have a drink in the baronial Hotel du Cite. Walt Disney stayed here and it apparently influenced his design of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland! The views across the valley are stunning.

 

Visit the Château and catch the film presentation on the history of Carcassonne. The astounding architecture will transport you to the 12th century.

If you can, stay in one of the hotels located inside the city walls. There’s nothing like walking through Carcassonne early in the morning, when its just you and history.

Cruise along the Canal du Midi. Built in 1681, this extraordinary engineering feat , enabled goods to travel from the Mediterranean to the seaport of Bordeaux.

Of course, there’s a wide array of restaurants both in the walled city and the ‘new’ part of Carcassonne. Make sure you try Cassoulet, the fabulous regional stew of pork, duck and lingot beans-fantastic with a local Syrah – and don’t forget the Foie Gras.

Wine Trails Carcassonne

Domaine Sainte Croix

The nearby wine region of Corbieres is named after the jagged limestone hills that dominate the landscape. It’s home to British ex-pats Jon and Liz Bowen who brought their wine expertise to Domaine Sainte Croix in 2004. They are true believers in allowing the ‘terroir’ to express itself through the wines.

Domaine des Enfants

This Outsider is technically in the Roussillon region, which borders the Languedoc to the south, but this was the place to realize a dream for Swiss ex-banker Marcel Bühler and his American partner Carrie Sumner.   The wild, rugged terrain is a perfect match for their wines. Visit them at Domaine des Enfants.

One hundred and Fifty years before Dom Perignon ‘saw stars’, the monks of St. Hilaire were making the original bubbly, Blanquette de Limoux.

Château Rives-Blanques

Today, at Château Rives-Blanque, the tradition of crafting still and sparkling wines from Chenin Blanc and Mauzac continues under the watchful eyes of Jan and Carol Panman. Their wines have attracted rave reviews from the likes of Jancis Robinson, but they haven’t let the acclaim go to their heads. This British/Danish duo work in the vineyard, the cellar, and the tasting room and are passing the legacy down to their children. Every Tuesday, they offer a Tour, Talk and Tutored Tasting, just be sure to call first. You’ll be glad you did!

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Louise Hurren: Shaping the Languedoc
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Louise Hurren is the mastermind behind the Languedoc Outsiders.

Hers is just one of the compelling and wonderful stories that exemplify this “Outsider’ spirit.

Louise Hurren - Languedoc Outsiders Founder

Louise Hurren – Languedoc Outsiders Founder

Louise, you were born and bred in England and had a very successful, professional career in London. What brought about your move to France and what made you choose the Languedoc?

Moving to France was a life-stage thing born out of a desire for new challenges, a change of scene, a different job, a more satisfying lifestyle. My degree in French and three years previously spent working in Paris meant I wasn’t daunted by the idea of being based in France; Montpellier (Languedoc’s capital city) was a natural choice because of its (comparatively) young, international and dynamic profile.

You moved to the Languedoc in 2002. Do you still feel like an Outsider?

I feel more like a shapeshifter, to be honest. I like to think I can blend in quite successfully in many environments and countries. Being able to speak French fluently has been an enormous advantage for me, but the fact that I’m a native English speaker with a non-French background is what’s attractive to my winegrower clients.

Have you always been a wine lover? What made you decide to propel yourself into the WSET program and take your passion for wines to the next level?

I worked in advertising, PR and marketing communications for a long time, promoting brands, products and services, but none of them were directly related to wine. Moving to Languedoc opened my eyes to the wine sector and prompted me to take WSET and Sud de France training courses so I could work within this field. It’s been fulfilling, both professionally and personally.

What do you feel distinguishes the wines of the Languedoc from other regions? How do you think the wines and the region have evolved in the last ten years?

Languedoc has the advantage of not being hide-bound by tradition: compared to better-known French wine regions, it’s seen as the underdog and thus an ideal place for those who want to do their own thing, vinously-speaking, which is what brings the more adventurous wine growers here.

There’s a diversity of soil, climate, geology, geography and grape varieties in Languedoc that encourages creativity, too. The last decade has seen the region forge ahead: in marketing terms, there has been a huge push to raise awareness and visibility, and many of the wine making newcomers who started in the early 2000s have now established themselves firmly on the map: the Outsiders group brings together quite a few of these.

The Outsiders have taken their ‘show on the road’ in recent years. How have those tastings gone and the wines received?

I created the group in summer 2010 in order to create tastings for the wine trade and media, with a view to driving sales and promotion for the group’s members. We’ve presented wines in Montpellier, Paris, London, Warsaw and most recently, Edinburgh, and so far, all our events have been well-attended: individual members of the group have made new sales contacts and the group has got some good media coverage, which is really encouraging. I think what helps is that the group is hand-picked: membership is by invitation only, which means I can put together a portfolio of wines that are genuinely attractive and complementary, created by individuals who have real merit and a like-minded attitude. Our next stop will be in London (May 11, 2015) at the Maison de la Région Languedoc-Roussillon

Languedoc Outsiders logo

Languedoc Outsiders logo

 

Do you see the ‘Outsiders’ group growing in number?

We’ve always had a dozen members, which is handy as I like to the think of the Outsiders as the Languedoc apostles. Twelve is just about the right size to keep things focused and manageable, so no, I don’t plan to grow the numbers, although sometimes if a tasting venue is large enough, we invite selected guest-growers to join us, so we can enhance our wine offering for a specific event.

You also have another page on Facebook ‘Languedoc e. Greeters’ which always has wonderful tips for visitors to the area. How did that come about?

The Languedoc e-greeters page is an initiative created by the Hérault tourist board (Hérault is one of the five departments that make up the Languedoc-Roussillon region). They contacted me and asked me to be their community manager, which is great fun as I’m a bit of a “maven” type who likes discovering new things and sharing the info, and encouraging others to do likewise.

What is the most wonderful thing about living in the Languedoc?

The freedom to organize my life more or less how I like: I’m a freelancer and that’s very empowering. I have the liberty to work in a sector I love, with wines and producers I personally appreciate. That’s a pretty good base to start from…