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Wine, Vineyards and
Wine Châteaux
Enjoy the wonderful wines of southern France

The vineyards of Languedoc were planted by the Romans, back when this area was the ex-soldier's colony of Narbo Martius. An ambitious Proconsul named Domitius developed the area for trade by building a highway from the Pyrénées frontier to Arles; the Via Domitia is now the A9 motorway to Barcelona. Another road was driven inland, past a hilltop fortress called Carcaso to the agricultural center of Tolosa, and on to the Atlantic trading colony of Aquitania. Wealthy colonists built villas and shipped boatloads of wine-filled amphora back to Rome. Sixty years later another ambitious Proconsul arrived to govern the wealthy but turbulent colony. Within a few years he had conquered all of Gaul. His name was Julius Caesar.

Languedoc winegrowing survived the rampages of the Middle Ages and the phyloxera epidemic of the 19th century to become the region's economic powerhouse. In 1907 the inevitable happened: wine was overproduced throughout the Mediterranean region and the market collapsed. The smaller vignerons of Languedoc were ruined, and quickly attached the blame to profiteers producing cheap wine from imported grapes. Demonstrations erupted throughout the area. Demonstrating citizens were shot by hastely dispatched troops in Narbonne, after which the local 17th Infantry Regiment, sent to Béziers to keep order, mutinied and joined the citizens instead. Negotiations led to new regulations on winegrowing and production. Streets and squares throughout Languedoc are now named for Marcellin Albert, leader of the vignerons during the crisis and contributor to its resolution.

The Minervois was recognized as an Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in 1985. Minervois wines are grown between Minerve and Villalier Minervois, from the Montagne Noir to the river Aude. South of the Aude are the lands of AOC Corbières; on the slopes of the Montagne Noir is AOC Cabardès. The wines of each terroir share preferred grape varieties, traditional blending ratios, and the distinct flavors imported by their soils, rainfall and aspect. There are hundreds of different caves producing their distinctive wines, including caves cooperatives in nearly all villages.

A relative handful of the larger and older caves occupy châteaux, "castles" built by the local nobility with residence rather than defence as their main design objective. Most wine caves look, from the outside, more like barns, large farmhouses, or even village storefronts. No winetasting tour should miss the local châteaux, but don't neglect the smaller producteurs with their less-impressive buildings but often excellent wines.

Be prepared to spend some time at any winemaker's - you will typically be offered a selection of both whites and reds to sample, with a rosé or two in the middle and a sweet dessert wine at the end. Many caves bottle varietals such as chardonnay, viognier or merlot, as well as various non-AOC blends. All will be presented, ordered by strength and subtlety of flavors, along with as much family and local history, characteristics of the terroir, winemaking technique and other lore as you care to absorb. If you're lucky, you may wind up on an impromptu tour, or with an invitation to return for some special event.

Wine is so much a part of the culture of Languedoc that no village market or fête is without at least a table or two offering the efforts of local producteurs. A simple morning sortie for the day's vegetables can turn into a winetasting adventure, often with opportunities to sample small labels that you've never heard of, and won't even find in village shops. We have encountered some delightful wines at village markets. They often accompany market produce, cheeses and a fresh baguette to a local park bench or river bank for a post-marketing picnic. Passers-by, on seeing us, inevitably offer a cheerful bon appitit!

Some of our favorite local Châteaux ...
Château Villerambert Julien is a hometown favorite, founded on the site of an ancient Roman wine villa. We like their dry Minervois white, the earthy Opera Minervois Red, and the strong, complex Château Villerambert Julien Minervois Red.

Domaine des Homs, just outside Rieux Minervois, produces our favorite Viognier varietal, as well as a very tasty Red Minervois.

Château de Chanoines in nearby Villeneuve Minervois produces an award-winning late-harvest sweet dessert wine, as well as a great Red Minervois.

Château de Gourgazaud, on the D115 just outside La Livinière, produces our favorite varietal Chardonnay as well as fine Viognier, Minervois and AOC Minervois La Livinière Reds.

Domaine Malys-Anne, right here in Caunes, makes Symphonie, a rich Minervois Red that they recommend keeping a few years before opening.

For special celebrations, nothing beats Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling white wine developed in Limoux, about 45 minutes from Caunes, well before the development of sparking wines in Champagne. Our favorite Blanquette brut is from Château Rives-Blanques just north of Limoux. They also make an excellent AOC Limoux white from the Mauzac grapes that give Blanquette its distinctive flavor.

How about a wine tour ...

Vin en Vacances is the vineyard tour company of Wendy Gedney, an English woman with a passion for this wonderful area and its wines. Wendy is a wine teacher and during the tours not only will you have a thoroughly enjoyable day, you will also learn a great deal about wine and tasting. Her aim is to provide you with an experience that you can\92t easily create for yourself and during the day you will explore the regions, meet some of the most interesting vignerons, taste their wines and enjoy a superb lunch.

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