Friday, 25 June 2010

En vacances 4 - visits to Domaine de Cébene, J M Alquier, and the wonderful Languedoc scenery

All of a sudden, we've reached the last full day of our holiday. I am always sad to leave such a wonderful place, but a little bit of me always misses home. But this time - perhaps for the first time ever - I can see very few virtues in our impending return home! Obviously, we are looking forward to seeing Alex and Daniel again (though Dan is flying off to Corfu for 2 weeks on Monday morning) but I think TLD and I would have been glad to spend at least a few more days (or even weeks) in this beautiful place. Still, all good things must come to an end and I am consoling myself with the fact that the weather in the UK sounds as if it is almost as good as here. Somehow, though, a 3 bedroomed semi-detached house on a busy main road in urban Nottinghamshire seems a poor substitute for a beautiful house with a swimming pool in rural Languedoc. And I have to go to work on Monday. :-((

Never mind - onwards and upwards, as they say, and I also have a business to run, which I can't really do from here. And there's also a great summer of sport to look forward to, with the Open Golf Championship, the World Cup and, of course, Le Tour.

All in all, we have spent a bit of a lazy few days here in our hideaway in Laurens. Sunday and Monday, we pretty much stayed at the gite, lazing by the pool and cycling around the deserted backroads of the Faugeres countryside in the evenings, when the air was a little cooler. Tuesday was busier, as Jonathan Hesford came over to visit us. We drove to the nearby village of Caussiniojouls to meet up with Brigitte Chevalier of Domaine de Cébène and Guy Vanlancker of Domaine La Combe Blanche. Brigitte took us to see one of her vineyards, situated on an elevated and terraced mound no more than a couple of kilometres outside the village. This south-facing side of the vineyard is planted with Mourvèdre, whilst the north-facing side is planted with Syrah, the idea being that the later ripening Mourvèdre gets more of the sun, whilst the less demanding Syrah benefits from the slightly longer growing season of the north-facing situation. It is all relative, though, on a hill which sees a great deal of sun on all sides - especially on the day we visited! For a more detailed low-down on these wonderfully situated vineyards, and about Brigitte herself, see Tom Fiorina's excellent article on his blog, The Vine Route. Meanwhile, here are some photos.........

With Jonathan Hesford, Guy Vanlancker and Brigitte Chevalier - an awful lot of winemaking talent!

If you didn't know what schist "soil" was, then here it is -
- this metamorphic shale-based rock strata is a feature of the Faugeres terroir

Brigitte Chevalier's terraced vineyard, seen from the north

After looking at the vines, we repaired to Brigitte's cave, where we tasted the soon to be bottled 2009 Faugères cuvées of Les Bancels and Felgaria and also the 2009 Ex Arena, a Grenache/Mourvèdre blend from vines grown further south in the Languedoc, closer to the sea. All were really lovely, and worthy successors to their 2008 counterparts. Rather annoyingly, I seem to have misplaced my notes on these wines, for the time being. If/when they turn up, I'll publish them in due course. I hope the bottle of La Combe Blanche Pinot Noir that Guy kindly gave me also turns up somewhere, too!

After a lengthy tasting session, which also included some of Brigitte's other wines (made in collaboration with growers in Faugères, Minervois and Corbières) and the latest vintages from Domaine La Combe Blanche, we dined at a new restaurant in nearby Bédarieux. A three-course menu of salmon paté and salad, huge mussels stuffed with sausage meat accompanied by rice and a lovely curried sauce, and a simply wonderful chocolate cake and ice cream proved and interesting (and totally delicious) accompaniment to a load of red wines!

After we bade farewell to Brigitte and Guy, Jon, TLD and I made a quick visit to taste the wines of Jean Michel Alquier in the town of Faugères. A white Vin de Pays made from Roussanne and Grenache Blanc was delicious, as of course were his better-known red Faugères cuvées. I didn't make any notes, but I did buy a bottle of the white and a bottle of his young-vine red. I'll post notes when I eventually broach them.

Jonathan Hesford talks shop with Jean Michel Alquier

Wednesday was another lazy day by the pool, whilst on Thursday we drove south to spend a few hours on our favourite beach at Marseillan. When we returned in the evening, we put the bikes in the back of the car and drove 25 kilometres or so north-west to Mons. After almost 20 years of coming to Languedoc, I had never seen the Gorges de l'Heric, which carve their way for a good few kilometres through the Monts de l'Espinouse, a range of mountains in the Parc Régional de Haut Languedoc with jagged peaks reaching to around 1,200 metres (almost 4,000 feet) above sea level.

A view from the road, near the bottom of the Gorges de l'Heric

A small road, which is closed to public cars, runs up through the gorge, climbing at a fair old gradient for most of the way. The scenery is spectacular yet tranquil, especially in the hour or two before sunset, when most of the daytime tourists have gone.

Looking a bit knackered after climbing a few kilometres of the Gorges de l'Heric

Although the steep ride proved a little too much for TLD to handle, she did get part of the way up, before stopping for a rest. I went on a kilometre or two further, which probably took me a good few hundred metres up, as the road continued to climb at a very steep gradient - at a guess, I'd say it is somewhere around 11 or 12%. I was quite pleased with myself for having got as far as I did before turning around and going back down. There are steep drops down to the river at every turn, so the descent was quite scary, and my hands were certainly tired from all the braking, by the time I got back to where TLD was waiting. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it immensely and fully intend to return next year and tackle the whole ascent - unfortunately, on this occasion, it was starting to get a bit too dark, so it wasn't possible. If you are ever staying in the region, I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Gorges de l'Heric - whether it is on foot, or by bike, your senses will be truly heightened by this beautiful place.

As we set off back to Laurens, we were rewarded with the most spectacular sunset over the mountains - various shades of orange, pink, red and blue which were too difficult for a poor phographer like me to capture.

The Monts d'Espinouse, silhouetted against a stunning Languedoc sunset -
- believe me, it looked ten times as good to the naked eye

It was a fitting way to end what has been one of the most relaxing holidays we have had in years - and certainly one of the most memorable. We are sad to be leaving, but we will of course return.


AlanM said...

Oh Leon you lucky man.
Faugères, Marseillan, sunshine and lovely food. Pretty much perfect.
Five more weeks and I'll be there myself.
Should I go to Alquier instead of Ollier-Taillefer? I must go to visit Brigitte for sure. Thanks you've whetted my appetite perfectly.

Jon Hesford said...

God! I need a haircut and some more exercise!

Leon Stolarski said...


You're the lucky one! I'm back now, and you still have your holiday to look forward to! In my opinion, Ollier-Taillefer is good but not spectactular stuff, athough to be fair, I haven't drank their wines for several years. They are usually available in French supermarkets - or at least they used to be. Alquier is traditionally (and deservedly) considered one of the best growers in Faugeres.

Let me know if you need contact details for Brigitte.


Indeed you do. Then again, so do I. ;-))