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Wine trips into the Languedoc

The Languedoc region just to the south of us has a huge variety of wines and during recent years it has focused on innovation and quality rather than quantity. The appellations for the regions and sub-regions set the rules that winemakers must abide by if they want to have the AOC (now AOP) rubber stamp on the bottle, such as how many bunches of grapes per vine, the percentage of a particular grape variety in the actual wine and also the percentage planted in the vineyard, and more... Appellation control can be counterproductive to innovation but fortunately there are a lot of very good winemakers out there who experiment and break the rules because they know what they’re doing and where they’re going. We’ve included a few of them here, they don’t get the AOC rubber stamp but produce amazing Vin de Pays or IGP; unfortunately for you, the price is still an AOC price.

We buy our red wine to store in a cool cave for 3 to 10 years depending on the wine, so we drink it slightly aged and definitely only in bottles. We don’t buy bag in the box (or cubi) wine; not because it’s not any good, but because we like variety, and it’s too easy to just pour another glass, which is fine when you’re on holiday but not when you live here. To give you an idea of the wine we drink and what we are suggesting to you, our average price for reds is just over 8€ (£6.50) a bottle and 5€ for white wine, with most of it in the 4€-12€ range and a few bottles at 15€, 22€ and 25€. We have included no tasting notes such as hints of vanilla with a long nose of a Roman because we don’t approach wine in that way, we know when we like a wine and it might cost anywhere from 4€ to 25€.

We have decided to split our visits into two trips that take in a little more than just wine tasting and buying (by January we hope to have added a third trip that takes in La Clape - the region between Béziers and Narbonne). They are long days, so start early, don’t drink too much and have a nice day out...

~~~    Trip 1 - Grès de Montpellier, Domain de la Garance & Fontes Cooperative    ~~~

Trip 1 is to visit our favourite small independent wine maker, 2 larger good wine makers, a wine cooperative, an Abbey and if they are still open when you get there, the gardens and buildings of an old sheet making factory!

The trip (see it on Google Maps) is an hour’s drive down the A75 to Clermont-l’Hérault (junction 57), falling off the southern edge of the Massif Central (the world does continue) followed by a circular trip of about 90 minutes (driving time) with Clermont-l’Hérault at the top of the circle and Pézenas at the bottom and then a 1 hour drive back up the A75 to Cantobre.
At junction 57 follow the D2 to Canet and towards Villeveyrac, and then turn off onto the D5 following the signposts to Abbaye de Valmagne. This is your first stop, to visit the 13th century Abbey, taste their wines and maybe have lunch, the restaurant is very good (best to make a reservation and for October to mid-June, it’s only open on Sundays). Continue another 3 kilometres on the D5 and you arrive at Mas du Novi with its new tasting area and shop. The domaine used to be part of the Abbaye de Valmagne, ask if you can see their winery and you’ll get to see the old chapel too. Back on the D5 and continue to Montagnac, join the D613 and head towards Pézenas and cross under the A75. On the other side follow the D913 to Pézenas (Nord). After about 500 metres turn right to cross the railway line on to Chemin de Castres, stay on this road for just over a kilometre then turn right onto the D30E5 when you get to the pepinières. When you see the Prieuré de Saint Jean de Bébian turn left and follow the signs to La Garance (latitude 43.49864, longitude 3.3961) - you’ve arrived! La Garance is probably my favourite winemaker, using horses to plough with and concrete vats to make wine in. All their wines are delicious and are well worth a visit, but ring up beforehand to make sure that they will be in. Continue on the road towards Nizas (D30) and then on to Fontès via the D124, your destination is the Cave Coopérative La Fontesole that sells well priced, very drinkable wines of all colours. If you stay in one of our gîtes, you’ll find a bottle of their rosé in the fridge when you arrive. That’s the end of the wine trip, but on the way back to Clermont-l’Hérault, take the D124 and the D15 through Cabrières to join the D908 near Villeneuvette. If you have the time (about 2 hours), we can recommend a stroll around the grounds of the old sheet making factory at Villeneuvette, given royal approval by Louis XIV. To finish the trip, join the D908 again and pass through Clermont-l’Hérault following signs to the A75, north to Le Caylar, La Couvertoirade, Nant and home.

This trip is 3.5 hours of driving through vineyard countryside and I’ve allocated 3.5 hours to wine tasting so you’re up to a 7-hour day. Lunch at the restaurant would have to be another 1.5 hours (take your time), throw in the Abbey and the nearby chapel and it’s a 10-hour day. So leave at 9:30am, lunch at midday to be back by 7:30pm, add the old sheet factory at Villneuvette (if it’s still open) and home at 9:30pm - Zebedee said time for bed. If you are not staying with us (why not?) and are staying somewhere on the circuit, you can knock 2 hours off the driving time.

~~~    Trip 2 - Northern Languedoc - Montpeyroux & Mas de Daumas Gassac    ~~~

Trip 2 is ultimately to visit the Montpeyroux Coopérative Artisanale wine cooperative and Mas de Daumas Gassac, a Grand Cru wine-maker who started in 1970 (read the history) from nothing except an abandoned farm with the perfect soil to make Bordeaux style Languedoc Grand Cru wine. Fortunately for us Daumas Gassac makes a range of very affordable wines so we usually buy 3 or 4 different wines from them every year, after the free guided tour and wine tasting.

The trip (see it on Google Maps) has a driving time of 4 hours as it takes a scenic route and goes via Trèves, Saint-Jean-du-Bruel, Sauclières and then via the Vis valley from Alzon to see the Cirque de Navacelles (if you want to avoid the Vis valley that might be a bit slow in the high season, turn off the D999 about 2km after Alzon and take the more direct route). After the Cirque de Navacelles, the trip continues down to Montpeyroux visiting the wine cooperative to taste some of the most northern wines (mostly red) in Languedoc; pull in left, just after you see Les Coteaux de Montpeyroux on the side of a wall (you can’t miss it). Continue on the D141 to Le Pont Du Diable (The Devil’s Bridge) where you can turn left and make a short detour to visit one of La Grotte de Clamouse (a cavern with stalagmites and stalactites) and Saint-Guilhem-Le-Désert, one of the prettiest villages of France (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France). If you made the detour, turn back towards the bridge. Then follow the signs to Aniane and then towards Gignac, turning off to Mas de Daumas Gassac before Gignac. After the visit, head towards Gignac and the A750 towards Clermont-Ferrand and then take the A75 north to Le Caylar, La Couvertoirade, Nant and home.

This trip is 4 hours of driving through magnificent countryside, I’ve allocated 2 hours to wine tasting and the tour of Daumas Gassac, and however long you want to spend visiting the 3 other points of interest. Just doing the wine visits will be a 6-hour day, the Cirque de Navacelles you can see as you drive by, maybe add another hour for photo opportunities, another hour for a picnic or quick restaurant lunch and you are already up to 8 hours. Visit La Grotte de Clamouse or Saint-Guilhem-Le-Désert too and you will need add another 2 hours, so leave at 9am to be back by 7pm.