It was, it must be said, the perfect evening. Languedoc wine tasting with dark chocolate, a delicious regionally inspired dinner and then sleeping it all off in a 13th century chateau. Such is life these days in the Languedoc-Rousillon, a region reinventing itself from mediocre table wine producer into highly respected vintner of outstanding quality while at the same time embracing the tourism industry with arms open wide.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that France’s Languedoc region could achieve this, after all, it’s one of the country’s oldest wine growing areas, with a terroir quite unlike anywhere else in France. The soil is simply so varied within short distances; hillsides of gravel and limestone, scrubland of aromatic bushes and herbs, a Mediterranean climate and the Rhone river on the doorstep, all contributing to an endless combination of healthy grape varieties. Entrepreneurial wine producers, recognising these unique qualities, have flocked here to establish ambitious new vineyards with exciting and forward thinking techniques to produce some truly outstanding wines.
And the good news for tourism is many of them have realised the potential of providing quality hospitality too. Why put on wine tasting for a couple of hours and watch your guests drive away, when you can offer them perhaps lunch or dinner or a night or two in a beautiful chateau with glorious views to wake up to, not to mention the chance to sell a few more bottles!
I thought it was well worth exploring Languedoc to sniff out some of these nouveau wineries and put the theory to the test.
Tucked away in a valley in the heart of a Corbieres forest I found this stunning 13th century chateau surrounded by nearly 100 acres of vineyards. Chateau Haut-Gleon is owned by a co-operative of 1,200 vine growers and managed superbly by Karine Meyer. Within the chateau itself are 3 guestrooms, each entirely different to the other, but all easily comparable to luxury hotel standards, and two more luxury cottages close by in the chateau grounds.
Spectacular gardens overlooking the aptly named Paradise Valley surround the house, the scent of rosemary and thyme heavy in the air and, hidden behind an ancient wooden door, an impressive outdoor swimming pool and patio for those long summer evenings. All good so far.
The majestic chateau rooms are obviously first choice, particularly when you learn about the colourful history of this beautiful property, but Karine’s attention to detail has meant all of the accommodations are top-notch. You take breakfast in the chateau dining room, a buffet with locally made bread, honey and jams and spend the day exploring the countryside; plenty of hiking and biking trails, or just wander around the 600 acres of the estate and smell the vines as they say.
Talking of which, there is plenty of opportunities to sample the wines from Chateau Haut-Gleon, something I took to with alarming ease, the reds in particular. There is something a little special I feel, in drinking wine in the very place it’s been created, and Chateau Haut-Gleon is small enough to really get that local producer feel.
There are a number of excellent restaurants in the area, but Karine can, with prior notice, provide a home-cooked dinner and of course some wine pairing and tasting classes including the aforementioned chocolate!
Rooms at Chateau Haut-Gleon are from €90 including breakfast. Wines are €9 -€15.
On an entirely different level completely, Chateau L’Hospitalet is one of 8 estates owned by French international rugby legend and wine god Gerard Bertrand. This one is a bit special in that it rests within La Clape Massif, a spectacular elevated coastal limestone range overlooking the Mediterranean amongst miles of pine forest. Just a few minutes from the town of Narbonne in one direction and a wide deserted beach in the other, you still feel you are in splendid isolation; just you, the vines and Gerard’s impressive winery operation. This feels at first, like a giant winemaking operation, which it is, with estates all over the region, but Bertrand literally grew up in the vineyards of Languedoc and although his supply is plentiful and suits all pockets, his passion for supporting and partnering with local growers and co-operatives still burns avidly. So, big perhaps, but equally supportive of the local communities.
I enjoyed some wine tasting from Irish born Chef of the wine cellar Feargal Nolan, a man you would think more expert in the liquid black stuff, but he most definitely knew his wines for sure.
There’s a 38 room 3-star hotel on the estate and a gourmet restaurant too, so not too shabby a place to rest up for a day or two with the beach so close. An interesting footnote to Chateau L’Hospitalet is for the last 10 years at the end of July, it’s held a 4-day summer jazz festival hosting many well known international artists like Kool and the Gang, Earth Wind and Fire, Billy Paul and Boy George.
Rooms from €110 including breakfast
Wines from €8