Riberach & Co
In the tiny village of Belesta, just a stone’s throw from the Spanish border, I found something quite extraordinary. A mightily ambitious project from Karin Puhringer & Luc Richard, a German architect couple who put their passion for winemaking and hospitality to the ultimate test. The village owed its very existence in the 1920’s to a wine co-operative that built a huge facility in the shadow of the village’s medieval castle, to process local grape production. Fast forward a few decades and the factory lay abandoned for many years until the Karin and Luc saw the potential of converting half of it into a contemporary luxury hotel and the other half to recommencing wine production cue Riberach & Co. The hotel design ingeniously incorporates much of the original factory structure with the metal gangways and staircases and converting the wine vats into luxury bedrooms. Out the back, a magnificent decking bar and patio with glorious views of the rugged countryside and the ingenious outdoor pond/pool area down below.
Wine production is still a work in progress, very labour intensive for the small team although there are some impressive examples on sale already, the old winery showing there is plenty of life left in the old girl yet.
A crowning achievement for the couple is a Michelin star award in 2014 for their restaurant, La Cooperative, itself crafted out of the centre of this cathedral size building where the old presses used to be, the cart tracks still evident as you walk between the tables. Talented head chef Laurent Lemal has conjured up a clever balance of locally sourced traditionally seasonal ingredients and culinary magic to deliver some imaginative dishes which in my opinion thoroughly deserve a Michelin star. Who would have thought the Catalan pork with coconut and wood hedgehog (not a real one I might add) with simmered white sausage could be so delicious.
Double rooms from €130 plus breakfast. La Cooperative Restaurant set menus from €54 – €84 plus a la carte dishes from €24. Riberach wines from €6.
Estate Maison de Cazes
Walking among the vines rows with 4th generation Emmanuel Caze just before harvest, he reminded me he grandfather Aime began growing vines here in 1890. Back then of course, it was simply a case of picking some grapes pressing some wine and selling the bottles to grateful villagers. Times have changed and although the family no longer control the company,
Emmanuel is still very much involved with production and development focussing on more organic and biodynamic agriculture. Here in Rivesaltes, the Estate Maison de Cazes winery is still very much a part of the town’s heartbeat, even more so with the opening of an organic restaurant La Table d’Aime named after his grandfather. With a 3 course menu for €25 including Caze wines on tap this is extraordinary value in anyone’s book. The restaurant has breathed new life into the business and offers patrons the opportunity to taste the wines in a sociable environment. The food was excellent, as were the wines and looking around there was just the odd empty table.
Gourmet Escapade: Cellar visit, wine tasting, lunch at La Table d’Aime €25 weekdays €31 weekends.
Chateau Mourges Du Gres
Not far from Nimes in Beaucaire, Anne and Francois Collard have a stunning 160 acres of vineyards and orchards overlooking the Rhone valley. It was a sunny day, so I took the opportunity to try out their self guided interpretive trail around the orchards, pines and vines of the estate discovering signs at strategic points along the route pointing out historical, flora and geology factoids. Naturally, the tour ended with a wine tasting high up on a hillside overlooking the estate with The Rhone in the distance; a more than suitable spot to experience a few samples of Chateau Mourges Du Gres hospitality. Surrounded by the very terroir of the vine, and the smells of wild thyme and rosemary, it was hard not to feel intoxicated by the moment.
Anne also offers by prearrangement, a picnic back at the wonderful old chateau, some fresh regional offerings washed down with some more samples from the cellar, and after, a workshop on recognising different types of fragrances you’ll encounter in wine.
My last stop was a new vineyard, formerly just a sea of sunflower meadows, in the village of Brugairolles not far from Carcassone, now a stunning estate and restaurant complex run by two English gentlemen, Tim Ford and Anthony Record together with winemaker Vincent Chansault and chef Pascal Ledroit. Whilst the vines are 100% organic and kept quite beautifully, the winery is nothing but state of the art in every sense.
There is some serious investment here, a cutting edge plant embracing 21st century winemaking techniques with open arms. “The vines next door are a perfect example” Tim explained taking us to his fence and pointing across to his neighbour’s vines “That guy is old school Languedoc with poor vine control and reflects just why this region used to produce such average quality. We’ve changed thinking around here and slowly, the locals are finally realising we know what we’re talking about.”
Who was I to argue, with another Brit colleague Mathew Stubbs having joined the team to teach professional wine qualifications in their Vinecole academy.
The proof of the pudding at Domaine Gayda was sampling some truly delicious wines over in the restaurant, a place of equally magnificent food creation; a Sunday evening 4-course menu with unlimited wines and coffee for just €29 really is great value.
I thoroughly enjoyed my journey discovering Languedoc wine tasting with Languedoc-Roussillon’s entrepreneurial wine producers. They have reignited the region’s best-kept secret and opened doors to new tourism opportunities. But for me, those bars of dark chocolate and wines at Chateau Haut-Gleon will live long in the memory.
All images (c) Andy Mossack
I want to visit the Languedoc-Rousillon wine estates. How do I get there?
http://uk.rendezvousenfrance.com Club Oenotourisme (Wine Tourism): http://en.destinationsuddefrance.com/Languedoc-Roussillon-the-land-of-wine-tourism
Languedoc Wine Tours
From Gatwick – easyJet flies to Montpelier up to four times a week, with prices starting from £33.99 per person (one-way, including taxes and based on two people on the same booking)
From Luton (available from 16 May 2015) – easyJet will fly to Montpelier up to twice a week with prices starting from £35.99 per person (one-way, including taxes and based on two people on the same booking).
Gatwick Express, the non-stop rail-air service between Victoria station and Gatwick Airport, departs every 15 minutes with a journey time of 30 minutes. Gatwick Express is the fastest and best way to travel between central London and Gatwick Airport with return tickets starting from £27.40. With an ongoing 10% discount, it is always cheaper to buy your ticket online at www.gatwickexpress.com