A week has passed in the South of France and our first group has joined us and fallen into step with the rhythms of this land. It truly is the Belle Vie here. Each day I rise early in the morning with the sun and enjoy a coffee on my terrace, soaking up the warmth of the sun when it is out, which makes the crazy winds much more pleasant. After the coffee, sun and wind have enlivened me I head over to the Boulangerie to get our treats fro breakfast; pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins and croissants au beurre are always fresh and mouth-watering, as are the dozens of kinds of freshly baked bread. It is a carbohydrate junkies dream and as all the breads are properly ferments they are easy digested, yay! Though I wouldn’t eat too much, if you can resist. After all who doesn’t love butter, salt and sugar! We do attempt to create some balance with a good dose of coffee or tea, fresh fruit (cherries, strawberries and apricots are in season, yum!!) and some yogurt which also really tastes like dessert.
After I clean up from breakfast we head off on an adventure to a market, town, restaurant or winery. The winemakers we have met so far have been inspiring, knowledgeable, passionate people farming anywhere from 20-94 acres with a variety of regional and non-regional grapes. They are all dedicated to making organic, biodynamic wines of the utmost quality, allowing the grapes and mother nature to dictate the flavours and character of the wine. They are there as the grand facilitators, mixing and blending to enhance what the grapes of the season have to offer. Isobel and Mathieu from Mas Champart in Saint Chinian utilizes all three terroirs of the Languedoc and vines that are over 100 years old to create their magnificient whites, reds and roses. John and Nicole from Clos du Gravillas located in St Jean de Minervois, a region famous for it’s Muscat, are using some of Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic techniques, such as the 501 solution, where manure is buried in a horn from equinox to equinox and the resulting solution rich in horn silica is sprayed on the vines. They also use a “voodoo vat” as John likes to call it which creates a vortex in water creating hexagonal energetically living water to spray on the crops. John was a wealth of information and I could have easily stayed there for weeks learning from him and drinking his fabulous whites, reds and muscat. The carnignan was my personal favourite, a very old vine from the region. Finally, yesterday we went to visit Laurence and Christophe from Chateau de Montpezat, where Christophe’s family has lived and made wine since 1914 and before that 4 other families over roughly 500 years, including a relative of one of France’s kings. The Chateau they call home has an amazing history and is equally fascinating to look at with some pieces dating to the 16th century, the main part of the chateau was built in 1884 and is still very grand, filled with treasures and family heirlooms, some in good shape and others in crumbling just as parts of the building are, as they attempt to keep up with maintenance of this huge building. The stories, ghosts and history of this place are palatable and are imbued in the wines that they produce all by themselves. Just the two of them care for, harvest, ferment, blend and bottle the 150000 bottles they produce a year! It is such a blessing to have been able to witness a piece of this passion and the lives of these extraordinary people.
After all that eating and drinking, we return to the grande maison “Eloi Merle” which was originally owned by one of the big wine merchants in town and we have a cooking class, making traditional French food with all local ingredients; Tarte Bretonne a l’oignon, tapenade de poivrons, croutons au foie gras, salade de confit de canard, potato gratin, leg of lamb, tarte tatin, profiteroles,…….. and of course lots of local wine.
Finally, at the end of the night once I’ve done all the dishes I stagger home to my grande maison a few blocks away full with wine, food, culture, sun and wind and I sleep like the dead till the next morning.