Our organic and biodynamic wine tour to the Languedoc started straight from Toulouse airport as we headed to a Caviste (wine shop) situated right in the centre of the pretty town of Castelnaudary and right on the bank of the Canal du Midi. Owner of the shop Alain, accompanied by Alison Judge and Jean-Luc Patard, took us on a voyage of discovery with 15 wines and a delicious buffet lunch. The Languedoc is a vast viticultural region that accounted for 10% of the world’s wine output back in the 1980’s so there is a huge diversity of grape variety and style.
This was a great start to the tour and gave us a first insight into the journey to come.
Our first full day took us to the Cabardès region – about 30 minutes north of Carcassonne to the organic estate of Domaine de Brau in Villemoustaussou. Wenny and Gabriel Tari have run this estate since 1982 and in 1989 converted to organic production. When I first started selling wines in 1990, Domaine de Brau were one of the first wines I dealt with so it was an exciting moment to visit for the first time. Wenny took us on a quick tour around the vineyards, gave us a masterclass in pruning techniques and then we all sat down in her lounge to taste through part of their range. Wenny was a hugely entertaining host and brought to life the struggles of being a relatively early pioneer of certified organic wines.
From Domaine de Brau we had a fabulous lunch at a restaurant called Ambrosia. Exquisite presentation, delicious pumpkin soup and grilled hake, a number of amuse-bouche and a stunning chocolate dessert. All washed down with some local organic wine.
Just enough time for a power nap before arriving at Chateau Maris in the Minervois. Their hemp winery is the first unique aspect of this estate and their sales manager Hannah gave us a deep insight into their whole approach. Chateau Maris is fully biodynamic and we strolled around the vineyards learning about the various biological preparations that are used to maximise the health of the soil. We then moved into the winery to taste their superb wines culminating in the most amazing Grenche Gris that was oozing depth and minerality.
Our journey on Friday took us to an area between Beziers and Montpellier – very close to Picpoul. Our first stop was at Domaine Paul Mas. This estate has become hugely successful and many people will be familiar with the Arrogant Frog range of wines. Part of their 650 acre estate is organic and they are looking to be 100% organic in their own vineyards by 2021. European Sales Manager Avi gave us a superb insight into the history of the estate, took us through the winery and then hosted a wonderful tasting lunch which was the perfect way to enjoy the wines.
From Paul Mas it was a half drive to Domaine Ricardelle-Lautrec who are based in the Corbières region. This is a family owned estate with a long history and, as the name implies, a Toulouse Lautec connection. This was an amazing visit as the owners took us through the story of the land and the estate.
We then tasted tank wines from the 2017 harvest – literally having finished their fermentation in the last couple of weeks. From there we embarked on a marathon tasting of nine wines that pretty much covered their range.
Our final full day took us south to Limoux and the wonderful winery of Mayrac-Couiza. A quick stop in the vineyards allowed us to see the most sensational views and get a brilliant insight into the level of detail the estate goes into viticulturally. We then had the opportunity to taste an five different vintages of the Millesime Domaine de Mayrac ranging from 2009 back to 2005. This was a fabulous opportunity to see the evolution and understand the impact of age and vintage. A delicious home cooked lunch was then served with more of their wines including a Roussanne blend and some excellent Cremant.
From Mayrac we took a drive into the middle of nowhere to visit Domaine Thuronis. This is natural wine making taken to an extreme. No sulphites at all, made in an old farm that is part of an association that contibuys up properties and then creates longterm tenant contracts to ensure that the land continues to be worked and looked after. The wines were definitely “out there” in style and we learnt about the unique difficulties of making wines without sulphur and the inherent risks attached.
Our last night dinner was a delicious experience in the acclaimed Robert Rodriguez restaurant in Carcassonne. Wonderful Coquille St Jacques, a ballotin of chicken, goats cheese and a trio of desserts, all washed down with an eclectic range of organic wines.
A great end to our hugely diverse and fascinating organic tour.