Grand Crus du Languedoc

Alexa, Thank you for your TripAdvisor review!

“Lynsey’s Hen Do” by Alexa_waugh
5 of 5 stars. Reviewed May 21, 2014 NEW
I booked this wine tour for my sister’s Hen Party and I cannot recommend it enough. We arrived to a beautiful welcome, followed by a brilliant tour of the vine yard and the winery. It was very informative and Joe was excellent with the group of women asking lots of questions… and drinking quicker than he could fill the glasses! After sitting outside with a glass of wine, we went in for lunch and the food was incredible. the wine was free flowing and the dining experience was relaxed. Joe and Liz joined us for drinks and we couldn’t have had a better time. the only disappointment was having to leave the few bottles of wine we purchased because we couldn’t carry them in hand luggage. I cannot express how highly i recommend the tour. If you are looking for info on wine, to drink lots of wine, to see the workings of a small business, taste amazing food and drink more wine… then i throughly recommend you book this tour. Plus you can stay there too so no excuse for having to drive!

The interviewer becomes the interviewee.  How the tables have turned!  Nina Izzo from Lost in Wine dropped by O’Vineyards and we sat in an enormous wine fermentation tank to talk about my appellation, the Cabardes.  This is part of a new series she’s doing called My Wine Rocks in L-R.

Here’s the video:


You can find either of us floating around ViniSud if you’re in Montpellier this week.  Although if you’re looking for Nina (let’s face it: nobody is looking for me) then keep in mind she’s no longer blonde.

On the off chance that you do look for me instead, I’ll be glad to share more information about Carcassonne, the Cabardes or the O’Connells.

November 10th, 2011 is Languedoc Day.  Show that you’re participating with a free registration on the LanguedocDay event page.

What is Languedoc Day?

Languedoc Day is an opportunity for lots of people to discover or learn about one of the largest winemaking regions on the planet.  This beautiful stretch of land on the Mediterranean coast of the south of France produces more wine than the entire United States.  We produce more wine than all of Australia too!  Just in this one region!

While a lot of that wine has historically been bottled in bulk under vin de pays names that aren’t always recognizable (big brands like Fat Bastard, Red Bicyclette, and Arrogant Frog all come from here), more and more of our wines are being bottled under the controlled standards of the French Appellation system.  And LanguedocDay is an opportunity for consumers to familiarize themselves with these Languedoc appellations.

What do you do on Languedoc Day?

Think Languedoc. Talk Languedoc. Drink Languedoc.  And not necessarily in that order.

If you drink some Languedoc wine, you’re already doing your part!

Then think about telling your friends.  Invite some people over to share the wine with.  Or throw a picture of the bottle on facebook, twitter, youtube, or whatever websites you like.  Let people know that you’re drinking Languedoc.  And if you add “#languedocday” without the quotes, it will be easy for us to see your participation!

Which brings us to the last way to participate: reading about who else is enjoying Languedoc Day. Follow the conversation on Twitter to see who else is talking up my favorite wine region. Just follow this link:  #LanguedocDay

Personally, I’ll be attending the Université du Vin in Corbieres, a beautiful mountainous region in the Languedoc.  A lot of French winos will be meeting up to talk about different contemporary wine topics around the subject of notoriety.  I think Languedoc Day is a perfect example of how we can try to build notoriety for the region!

Can I drink O’Vineyards on Languedoc Day?

You can drink O’Vineyards any day that ends in Y. :)

Unfortunately, my wines aren’t present in the US for the 2011 Languedoc Day celebration.  But there are lots of delicious Languedoc wines you can get your hands on instead so cheer up and bottoms up!

Languedoc Day appellations

Here are some wine appellations from the Languedoc that you might be able to find at a wine shop or Whole Foods near you.

  • Faugeres
  • Saint Chinian
  • Fitou
  • Corbieres
  • Minervois
  • La Clape
  • Limoux
  • Malepere
  • Cabardes
  • Coteaux du Languedoc

Who decides it’s Languedoc Day?

The CIVL (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc) is a interprofessional group that represents the AOC/AOPs of the Languedoc.  That means that everybody who produces appellation wines pays some dues to the CIVL, and the CIVL then uses that money to promote the entire region’s appellations.

In an attempt to increase the renown of our appellations in the US, the CIVL hire an American marketing group called the Benson Marketing Group to represent our products.  This group has teamed up with Rick Bakas, who successfully nurtured Cabernet Day, to create a Languedoc Day.  In short, this is a unilateral marketing effort.  A lot of people gripe about this saying you can’t just decide it’s Languedoc Day without some consensus.  My view is that you absolutely can.  If you have energy and resources to spend on promoting the Languedoc, then promote the Languedoc already!  No need to sit around making sure the date is okay with everybody.  Just steam forward!  Full speed ahead!

This post is meant to dispel a rumor that is circulating about the CIVL’s three tier hierarchy.  The rumor is that they have abandoned the hierarchy entirely.  I was shocked to read this so I sent emails to their press agency and the folks at the CIVL that I usually deal with.

The short version is: The CIVL is still pursuing its three tiered hierarchy.  A press agent has spoken with Jerome Villaret, director of the CIVL, and the project is still underway.  They are currently waiting on all the AOCs to decide what family they want to commit to.

I’m at the London Wine Fair right now so I will try to make time to communicate with Monsieur Villaret and let you know how that goes.

Here’s the email I received denying the rumor:

Ryan,
Après discussion avec Jerome Villaret, je te confirme que la segmentation est bien en route pour les AOC du languedoc avec les trois étages. Le travail est maintenant dans le camp des appellations qui doivent se déterminer et s’engager dans une famille. Jerome t appelle demain pour te donner des précisions sur ce sujet.
A ta disposition

Marie Gaudel – Clair de Lune

Here’s how the rumor started as far as I can tell:

a post on Jancis Robinson’s forum:

Well, Jancis, by the time your fingers had stopped tapping this article out, the CIVL project appears to be dead. There has been so much reaction to this senseless, dirigiste and political proposal, that the email fibre optic cables down here have been smoking. The proposal has been both rejected by local Syndicats, by growers and in fact was probably illegal anyway, as it’s only the INAO who can propose Grand Cru/Premier Cru status. Talk about proposing out of turn! Nul points!

Re reading this post, I see that the poster (Graham Nutter) probably meant the project was getting a lot of flak.  I don’t think he meant that the CIVL had abandoned the project.  But it was interpreted and retweeted and facebook status messages were updated and what have you.  And things spun out of control.

I think a lot of people want to see this project go away, but I assure you that very good sources say it troops onward.  There will be grands crus and grands vins du Languedoc sooner or later and the CIVL will be doing it their way.

 

L’Independant carried an article last Friday (March 11th 2011) about La Confédération paysanne de l’Aude and their refusal to pay any more money to the CIVL (interprofessional group for winemakers in the Languedoc).  I don’t know much of the legal framework, so don’t take any of this as canon.  And feel free to correct me.

screenshot of independent news websiteLa Conf’s complaint

Basically, La Conf is unhappy with the way the CIVL spends its money.  They characterize the expenditures as opaque, wasteful and overly representative of large-scale wine producers.  They refuse to pay any more and demand that past dues be reimbursed.

The immediate question is why they don’t just abandon the CIVL.  But it’s not that simple.  While they can opt out of the the CIVL cotisations by making table wine or vin de pays (or even IGP wine I think), AOCs are a different story.  For example, as a producer of AOC Cabardes, I have to pay a few Euro per hectoliter to the Cabardes ODG (the office that runs our AOC).

And the Cabardes pays over 1 Euro per hectoliter of that to the CIVL who represents the interests of all the appellations (more on this below).  In other words, if an individual in the Cabardes region wants to make AOC wine, that individual will be contributing money to the CIVL.

It’s true that I could just stop calling my wine AOC if I vehemently disagreed with the CIVL.  But I am sensitive to the fact that some winemakers have older properties and have been producing an appellation wine for generations.  It’s almost their cultural right to keep making the same wine under the same name.  Whereas organizational bodies like the CIVL are relatively young (the CIVL was created by a regional decree in 1994; other bodies like Sud de France Export are even younger).

La Conf is angry because they feel that they cannot make Appellation wine without paying the CIVL  and that this money is used to promote high-volume wineries more often than it uses the money to promote small, indie winemakers.  And they can’t stop funding this group without taking Cabardes off their label or drastically rewriting their AOC charters and having them re-approved by the INAO.

My thoughts on La Conf’s objections

For the sake of my readers, I’ve summarized my views in a list.  For those without the time or English skills:

  • It’s not a HUGE deal.
  • The CIVL does a pretty good job representing small producers
  • This issue should be debated in-house at the AOC, not publicly with the CIVL

You can read the details below.

Is this a big deal? Not really.

The first thing I should point out is that this seems like an issue being blown out of proportion.  La Confédération paysanne de l’Aude or La Conf is a group of small scale producers who feel ignored.  By definition, this is a small scale problem.  I get pretty plaintive sometimes too and I rattle on about how I’m a due-paying member.  But the dues are paid per hectoliter.  So a small producer like me is paying something in the order of 80 Euros to the CIVL each year.  Not a huge deal.  Unless you’re a larger scale producer.  But then… you wouldn’t feel unrepresented.

Does the CIVL ignore low-volume wineries?  Not really.

This is a legitimate question, but I’m actually going to side with the CIVL.  While it’s true that a lot of their promotional efforts have a more visible direct impact on large-volume wineries, it’s not the CIVL’s modus operandi.  They’re not Captain Planet villains intentionally trying to steal money from small winemakers.

Sometimes, it definitely feels like they care more about the big boys, but that makes sense.  The CIVL isn’t allowed to play favorites.  They’re supposed to promote the entire region at once.  Or an entire appellation at once.  If you come up with a great idea for just your vineyard, they’re not supposed to help you with that (that’s my understanding).  But they can do an event that promotes a whole region like putting Languedoc wine billboards in the Paris subway (totally made up example).

The most visible projects are often the ones that target the general public (like my subway billboard example).  Creating regional awareness with the general public increases shelf value at supermarkets.  But that billboard probably won’t inspire as many devoted wine lovers to buy a 20+ Euro bottle of wine from the region.  So, to this extent, some of the CIVL’s most visible efforts help big boys more than small wineries.

But other times, I feel that the CIVL is trying to showcase the fact that our AOCs have small elite producers.  It’s just hard for them to do that because they’re not allowed to play favorites.

I do feel them actively trying to find better ways to spend their money.  For example, this year, they’ve changed the way they alot money to appellations.  In the past, the amount of subsidies and help you could get from the CIVL was proportional to how much AOC wine you produced (and thus proportional to how much you paid them).  Now, they’ve removed this restriction and simply award subsidies and loans to the best projects presented to them.  This is hugely beneficial to small appellations like the Cabardes and it’s actually a major set back for larger appellations like the Corbieres.  Now, money goes to the most deserving project instead of falling to the biggest wine producing area.

And we have been successfully working with the CIVL to fund just such a project.  I don’t want to divulge too many details until it’s all official, but it should be really fun.  We presented a solid, uncanny idea to promote a small AOC and they were all about it.

And even though I named the Corbieres above as an example of a big appellation, you shouldn’t worry about them.  Because they presented a creative project too.  The Corbieres is pushing for an extensive web presence, with a facebook page, twitter account, and all that jazz.  They crowd sourced a new logo for the Corbieres and all kinds of cool stuff and the CIVL is helping to fund that initiative.

And full disclosure, the CIVL is sponsoring VinoCamp this weekend under the title “Les AOCs du Languedoc” and “Corbieres” in particular.  This is a drop in the bucket (a few hundred euros) but it shows that they’re open to spending money on reaching specialized small audiences of wine lovers.  This sort of event will not increase supermarket value for the big producers.  This is the sort of sponsorship that will help inspire the purchase of premium bottles from small producers because it’s a small targeted audience.

Should we blame the CIVL? Not really.

Even if you disagree with the CIVL’s spending policies, should you really be blaming them publicly?  Who forces us to pay part of our AOC money to the CIVL?  Technically the winemakers of each appellation force themselves.  We get to make our own charters and enforce our own rules.  Each AOC gets to self-regulate to a great extent.  The INAO is a national body that approves and oversees the enforcement of those rules, but the laws themselves are generated by the winemakers who are also the subject of those laws.  So if we (the members of Cabardes ODG) really wanted to, we could agree to stop paying the CIVL.   There would probably be a big backlash from the CIVL, other appellations, regional government and even the INAO.  But I’m pretty sure it’s feasible.  I think Fitou did this? Feel free to correct me if you know better!

While I understand La Conf’s complaints and I get similarly whiney about some CIVL initiatives (see Grands Crus du Languedoc), I think the proper channel for that debate is within the ODG.  If an AOC-producing winemaker really feels that their AOC’s money should not be shared with the CIVL, they should take that up with the AOC (where they are a voting member) and not the CIVL which really can’t be expected to give back the money they have already spent.

I’ve got an analogy.  As always, my analogies are overstretched and potentially offensive to everybody involved.  So here it goes!  Imagine you live in a democratic country and pay taxes there.  And you realize one day that your country spends lots of money on healthcare.  You’re a scientologist or something so you hate some of the medical practices that the government is paying for with your money.  The way I understand it, you should go to the government and demand change.  What you should not do is go to the hospitals and start yelling at the nurses and demanding lots of money from them.

If you’re concerned about changing things, you go to your self-regulating ODG and fight for change.

By fighting this battle with the CIVL instead of within the ODG, you drag everybody’s name through the mud.  The winemakers look petty. The organization looks corrupt. The region looks doomed.  I feel like this isn’t the best way to handle grievances with the way promotional money gets spent in the region. And Lord knows I have grievances.

This is a slightly ironic view to hold… since I’m blabbing about it on the Internet instead of in a private email to Robert Curbières and his colleagues.  But this is just a blog and La Conf seems to be intent on taking the CIVL to court.  Also, I try to acknowledge that both  parties are putting forth some effort.  Their intentions are good in both cases.  And both efforts are fundamentally flawed in some ways.  But at least there’s effort.

A month ago, Robert Parket sent an email out to his subscribers letting us know about some significant changes in who tastes the wine for several regions.  I’d like to share my thoughts and an email from David Schildknecht to help people understand more about this change (and how it might affect my region).

The change that has caught the most press is that Parker is giving up California which he used to taste personally.  California wines will now be tasted by Antonio Galloni.  This gets a lot of attention because Parker’s tastes have really shaped the direction of California wines and Galloni does not have identical tastes.  In the range of 90-100, personal tastes can play a large role in the difference between a 99 and a 100 or a 93 and a 95.

But being a Languedoc-centric wine lover, I’m interested in another aspect of Robert Parker’s email.   “Two new areas of responsibility for Antonio will include the red and white Burgundies of the Côte d’Or”  Aha!  Cote d’Or and Chablis, which used to be reviewed by David Schildknecht, will now be tasted by Galloni.  This is interesting to Languedoc-Roussillon wine producers since Schildknecht is the man responsible for Languedoc and Roussillon wines.  Schildknecht is super busy as he also tastes Germany, Austria, New York, Beaujolais, Loire, and the rest of Eastern Europe.

With the vast weight of Chablis and Cote d’Or shifting toward Galloni, Parker suggests that “sectors that merit dramatically more attention but have not had sufficient coverage, including Beaujolais and the Mâconnais (now economically as important as the Cote d’Or and Chablis) will be put under a microscope by David Schildknecht.”  Intriguing.

So I asked David if he thinks that the Languedoc will benefit get increased attention from this shift.  The short answer is “eh…”   Actually David says, “In short, collectively there is a lot to be done. And this will involve writing about emerging regions including many that render some of the world’s greatest wines and or best vinous values yet get little journalistic attention.”

I’ve included David’s email below so you can see the full eloquent response.  But in short, the Languedoc already receives a full bulletin every two years and an under $20 article every other year while some regions remain drastically undercovered or virtually ignored.  While one article per year for the world’s largest wine producing region seems like too little for a Languedoc fanatic like me, I have to admit that the situation is even worse for other regions.

Regions Schildknecht will try to cover more

David mentions several regions where he plans on expanding his coverage including, “the Mâcon, the Southwest [of France], Corsica, Jura, and Savoie. And indeed, the Costières de Nîmes and Provence are also deserving of focused attention that they have not received in the context of my reports on the Languedoc or Bob’s on the Rhône, although that future focus might come from Bob or might come from me – this remains to be seen.”

David also mentions German regions outside of the Riesling Belt like “the Ahr and Baden as well as Württemberg and Franken”… lots of regions he wants to give more time to.  Places that deserve the attention too.   And he talks a bit about the Americas.  “And then there are my many deserving countrymen and Canadian neighbors in the eastern three-quarters of North America, who with the exception of those in New York State have gone unmentioned in The Wine Advocate.”  I suppose there are a lot of winemakers that fit into this.  Virginia pops into mind.  Lots of producers.  Not as much as the L-R, but a lot.

Also, David reminds me that the deadline for the next Languedoc article is fast approaching.  While I can hope that he will have slightly more time for us in the future, it’s unrealistic to think that the change can affect the upcoming article.

David Schildknecht’s email

Besides my continued inability to adequately (including in a timely manner) cover the wines of so many regions of the world, there were other valid internal reasons for the change in Burgundy coverage, which should free me to do a better job in covering the rest of the wine world that is my remaining “beat.” Yes, this will mean more time can be devoted to certain regions that I am already covering. But before either of us jumps to conclusions about how this will effect coverage of the Languedoc or Roussillon, please bear in mind the following factors:

1) My first priority is to be able to publish reports more rapidly. And it will take most of 2011 to get caught up to where I need to for my readers’ sake be in regard to those regions about which I have been publishing ongoing reports.

2) Since time has already been alloted for visiting in and tasting wines of the Languedoc & Roussillon, I’ll be publishing in the June issue the report on these regions essentially as I already planned. I cannot do more tasting or travel for this report than was already planned because of other commitments I have for later in the year. (I’ll start planning the precise days for my trip at the end of this month. Sooner is impractical as too much can change for the growers to ask them two months or more in advance on which days they will not be available to receive me.)

3) Relative to the vastness of the region (one it’s really a stretch to refer to it as “a region”), the Loire has come up even shorter in my coverage than has the Languedoc or Roussillon, and I have only tasted – as I wrote to you before – a minority of the wines in situ but have relied on samples for a higher percentage of my tasting than is the case in my coverage of most other regions. So I shall be looking to do a significantly broader as well as deeper report on the Loire during 2012 than I would otherwise have been able.

4) There are a great many worthy regions about which I have been completely unable to write in recent years and shall now get to.

These include, in France, the Mâcon, the Southwest, Corsica, Jura, and Savoie. And indeed, the Costières de Nîmes and Provence are also deserving of focused attention that they have not received in the context of my reports on the Languedoc or Bob’s on the Rhône, although that future focus might come from Bob or might come from me – this remains to be seen.

I have not had chance to write about any wines of Germany outside of the Riesling belt; and even though these are wines with relatively little international availability thus far, there is a lot of recent excitement in places like the Ahr and Baden (especially with Pinot) as well as Württemberg and Franken.

And speaking of great wines but wines with sadly little international distribution, consider Switzerland! I have been wanting to return to Hungary and Slovenia for some years now, and to writing about their wines. And then there are my many deserving countrymen and Canadian neighbors in the eastern three-quarters of North America, who with the exception of those in New York State have gone unmentioned in The Wine Advocate.

In short, collectively there is a lot to be done. And this will involve writing about emerging regions including many that render some of the world’s greatest wines and or best vinous values yet get little journalistic attention.

The Languedoc Outsiders, a valiant team of men and women from all walks of life who have taken up the mantle of winemaking, work together to defend common values like truth, justice and the American way delicious wine, good company, and the French way!

outsiders invitation chez boris in montpellier

This issue promises to reveal the secret origins of Ryan.Com, the geeky kid turned winemaking prodigy.  As well as his parents Joe Builder and the Liztener, a couple of dedicated builders who were hit with a super dose of the radioactive element Wine-onium.

And many many more!

Seriously though

ryan o'connell at languedoc outsiders' london tastingYou should really come and taste the wines of the Languedoc Outsiders.  I think it’s a great group with a very different range of wines.  This is not the kind of group tasting where everybody has the same attitude or rhetoric.  I vehemently disagree with lots of the group members about lots of different issues of import.  And that’s what makes it amazing.  We’re all clearly passionate about winemaking or we wouldn’t have abandoned our old lives.  But our passion has taken on eleven totally different forms and given way to dozens of really special wines.

Come decide for yourself.  January 24th from 18h00 to 21h00 @ Chez Boris which is in the pedestrian centreville of Montpellier.

RSVP on Facebook and join the Outsiders bandwagon.

PS – writing in the comic book tone really makes me want to work on my comic book about the winemaker who can smell the future.  THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME IN THE DAY.

NO VISIT TO THE SOUTH OF FRANCE would be complete without a trip to the Languedoc-Roussillon region, where you’ll find a combination of hilltop vineyards, Mediterranean beaches, and a panoply of France’s most beautiful medieval villages.

–Ryan O’Connell, Tampa Bay Magazine NOV/DEC 2010 p. 141

Add one more thing to the list of jobs winemakers do when they’re not making wine.  I’m now a published travel writer too!

Tampa Bay Magazine has posted a couple of stories about the Languedoc-Roussillon region and one of them was written by me.  Although they did edit a bit, insisting on some flattering photo captions and more info about O’Vineyards (and employing an alternate spelling of cassoulet).  But the point is that it’s awesome for the region to get its name out there in a positive light, and I can’t wait to write more articles like this.  I hope lots of people come across it while planning their next trip.

view of carcassonne from O'Vineyards

Read the full articles in PDF format:                                                                                                           (warning: big files!)

If there are particular magazines that you think I should submit to, please let me know!  They can be lifestyle, airline, travel, food, or whatever!  The Languedoc Roussillon is so vast, there’s almost always an excuse to write about it.

Here’s the full text of my wine article if you’re having trouble downloading/opening the PDFs.

WINES OF THE LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON REGION
The Gateway to the Mediterranean
By Ryan O’Connell
Photography by Noraa

NO VISIT TO THE SOUTH OF FRANCE
would be complete without a trip to the
Languedoc-Roussillon region, where you’ll find
a combination of hilltop vineyards, Mediterranean
beaches, and a panoply of France’s most beautiful
medieval villages. The region derives its richness
directly from this great geographical, cultural and
historic diversity. At first glance, this great expanse
of land (over 10,500 square miles) may seem a little
disconnected, as it incorporates the Catalan villages
of the Pyrenees Orientales, the medieval castles of
the Pays Cathare, the rocky foothills of the Massif
Central, and the Roman amphitheaters to the west
of the Rhone River. However, it is this immense
diversity which nurtured the creativity and bravery
of troubadours, monks and knights from once
upon a time in the same way that it fosters daring
winemakers, chefs and travelers today. While Paris
might be the most notable part of France, this softspoken
region to the south has quietly provided
some of France’s richest cultural heritage for over
a millennia.

It is difficult to pick a city that best represents
this area. But if you need a landmark that typifies
the region’s colorful, storied past, as well as its great
present developments, I would choose the medieval
walled city of Carcassonne. This remarkably preserved
castle town exemplifies the Languedoc’s respect for
its past and cultural heritage. Nearly four million
people a year explore the meandering cobbled
roads, within its epic stone walls, that span nearly
two miles.

[photo caption]
Liz, Ryan and Joe O’Connell are at
home at their O’Vineyards Winery in
the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France.

It’s no wonder that every child in France
learns about these ramparts in grade
school, as each and every stone is filled
with character. In the summertime, in a
unique tribute to the past, musicians from
every continent and genre play to a small
audience in the amphitheater behind the
cathedral. This year, Bob Dylan, Charlotte
Gainsbourg, Motorhead, a full rendition
of Carmen and other musical legends
performed there. And, although each of
these musicians is quite different, they all
agreed to return to this place where the
troubadour singers once ruled and their
songs of courtly love were born.
The modern musicians are all seduced
by the stage in Carcassonne, due in part
to the massive preservation efforts that
date back to the 1860s to make the castle
and its surroundings one of the world’s
best-preserved examples of medieval
architecture and defenses. As you look
through the narrow slits of its zig-zagging
ramparts and gaze out across the terra
cotta rooftops of the homes that surround
the castle, the immense weight of history
is palpable to all.

However, the castle is not just a reminder
of the past. It is also a place filled with
countless quiet moments, where you
can enjoy the present, as cool winds flow
through charming patios and gardens.

The Hotel de la Cité, a five star hotel in the
heart of the castle, was a former abbey and
is managed with a charm and eccentricity
appropriate to the site. You can savor lunch
or dinner at one of its restaurants, Chez
Saskia, a narrow brasserie that protrudes
into an intersection of cobbled streets. The
building feels as if it had grown there
as an offshoot of the abbey, when the
castle population expanded in the early
part of the last millennium. The meals
there showcase the huge variety of fresh
ingredients available in the region. On the
patio behind the hotel, you can enjoy
Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling wine
from the region that historians believe
to be older than the more well-known
champagne. This gives the region a claim
to the invention of sparkling white wines,
preceding Dom Perignon, the monk who
made a splash in the Champagne region
with his eponymous fizz. It is probably
no coincidence that Dom Perignon was
stationed in a cloister in the Languedoc
before he moved to the monastery in the
Champagne region of France. Records
show that a few bottles of white wine in the
cellar had a surprising amount of bubbles
in them in 1531, when this discovery led the
monks of Limoux to perfect the process
of making their centuries-old sparkling
wine.

While certain microclimates like Limoux
are perfect for growing the white grapes
that go into Blanquette de Limoux, the
Languedoc-Roussillon region is best known
for its rich red wines, such as the ones
produced at O’Vineyards, an estate near
Carcassonne in the foothills of la Montagne
Noire, which my parents, Liz and Joe, own
and operate with me. Due to the vineyard’s
unique position in the region’s Atlantic
Corridor, we have been able to create bold,
fresh wines with varietals like Merlot
and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are
traditionally found in wine regions with
cooler climates, such as Bordeaux.

[photo caption]
The vineyards in the Languedoc-
Roussillon region enjoy winds from the
Mediterranean to the east and cool
breezes from the Atlantic to the west.

[photo caption]
The tasting room at O’Vineyards
has a relaxed, hospitable feeling
that allows guests to linger and
savor the winery’s offerings.

From the tasting room at O’Vineyards,
you will want to travel west along the
Canal du Midi, a 17th Century canal, that
allowed French boats to travel from the
Atlantic to the Mediterranean without
the dangerous month-long voyage on
the pirate-infested waters of the Iberian
Peninsula. The 150-mile-long canal is filled
with small vacation boats that peacefully
float along its length and through its
locks.

Other outstanding wines in the region
are made from varietals more typical to the
Mediterranean, such as a Grenache Gris
from l’Oustal Blanc and Grenache Noir
from Château le Bouïs in the Corbieres. In
the beautiful village of Gruissan, that sits
on the Mediterranean shore, you can
enjoy tasting Château le Bouïs’ Romeo
and Juliet wines, that are alike in dignity
and showcase the well-paired elegance
and fruit of Languedoc wines. It’s easy to
taste the Mediterranean sunshine in
these rich and delicate wines.

The great beauty of this region is also
derived from its impressive diversity.
You can ski in the morning and go to the
beach in the afternoon. The Languedoc-
Roussillon has long been a meeting point
between the cultures of the ancient
Occitan and Catalan worlds that merge
on the borders of France and Spain,
giving the region its wonderful reputation
for wine and cuisine. The Languedoc-
Roussillon region, which once served as a
gateway for Crusaders, is today home to
some of the finest wines in the world.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ryan O’Connell grew up
in Tampa and moved to France with his parents
after his graduation from college to create
their O’Vineyards Winery. Since then, he has
become an ambassador for the Languedoc-
Roussillon region and has created a video blog,
www.lovethatlanguedoc.com, and a Twitter
site, “languedocjetaim.”He is a noted speaker
on both the wines of France and the affect of
the internet on wineries, with particular
emphasis on the Mobile Web. If you are in the
South of France, he would love to give you a
personal tour of his family’s winery, while his
mom Liz whips up a few of her spectacular
specialties in the kitchen for you to enjoy in
their tasting room. Ryan can be contacted at
www.ovineyards.com.

I’m a member of a group of winemakers known as The Outsiders, our forces marshaled by Louise Hurren.  And in anticipation for our London tasting on November 10th, this article is an exploration of what being an outsider even means.

What the heck is an outsider?

There are people in this world who just always end up in weird situations.  Outsiders will regularly surprise you.  Not with contrived novelty.  Not by jumping from behind a corner and shouting “Boo!”  But by being genuinely and irrepressibly strange.

Am I an outsider?

Being a winemaker at a highly technical web conference gave me several glimpses of that priceless moment of surprise.  Somebody says, “I’m a front end UX designer.” Somebody else says, “I’m a coder working on the W3C”.  I say, “I’m a winemaker.” [small double take]  In that moment, the true definition of outsider emerges.  Somebody who is so unusual in the milieu, that they can contribute real insight.  It might not always be great insight, but it’ll be original.

But if being a winemaker makes me an outsider to the tech world, doesn’t that mean I’m an insider in the wine world.  Well, honestly, if you know anything about me, you know that’s not true.  I’m a first generation winemaker with no training, certifications, or degrees.  I was born and raised in a part of the US where award winning wine production is dominated by fermented fruit concentrate with flavors added (no joke, definitely a link worth clicking).  I just love wine and I’m pretty good at making it.

People ask why

People also ask how.  But all these questions are very hard to answer.  I don’t have a rule book or manifesto that guides my decision making.  I guess that’s also part of being a natural-born outsider.  Who knows why we do the crazy things we do?  But when you look at our amazing lives, our beautiful countrysides, our delicious wines, et cetera.  .  .  don’t your questions fade away?

Sharing the Outsider Experience

I hope the Outsiders Tasting in London this November 10th will give a lot of people a glimpse of true weirdness.  Not that the wines will be over the top, heavy-handed efforts to surprise you.  They’ll just be effortlessly surprising.  Because we’re all genuinely strange people.  And we can’t help but make interesting wines.

Who exactly are the Outsiders?

At the London tasting, we will be many. In no particular order:

OUTSIDERS TASTING – Documentation for the wines and bios for the winemakers attending the Outsiders Tasting.  The bios in this pack explains the outside angle for each of the winemakers.

The winemakers of the Cabardes all got together recently for a dinner in the events room at Chateau Pennautier, often billed as the Versailles of the Languedoc.  It wasn’t the Hall of Mirrors, but it was very cozy and the food was delicious.  Naturally, we all brought wine along, so we drank well too.

One of the most interesting parts of the dinner for you all was probably the short discussion we had right before breaking bread.  Instead of saying grace, we talked shop regarding the new CIVL initiative to divide the plethora of Languedoc AOPs into Grands Crus, Grands Vins, and the rest.

The discussion was Cabardes-centric.  Since we were provisionally placed in the Grands Vins category, we are trying to find a way to get bumped up to Grands Crus.  The video shows Nicolas de Lorgeril (owner of Pennautier) and Olivier Ferraud (Chamber of Agriculture technician and a sort of manager for the Cabardes).  De Lorgeril talks about how we might be able to shift the entire AOP into the standards that the CIVL has set forth for Grands Crus.  Then Olivier talks about how we might also point out that those standards are flawed, favoring appearances over actual quality.

After this little speech we all start eating and I asked a few more questions, but it would have been weird/rude/difficult to film.  The subtext of the video presentation is that the new CIVL hierarchy is still malleable.  This may come as a surprise to all the people who read about it in the trade lately. But the truth is, it’s not yet a law. It’s more a marketing maneouver.  Olivier actually said it was marketing and corrected himself by saying “Communications”.  From his tone, it seemed like he was borrowing that term from the CIVL itself.

This supports my theory that the CIVL owns some kind of trademark on “grands vins du Languedoc” and “grands crus du Languedoc” and they get to decide who puts it on the bottles.  While I believe any AOC wines were allowed to carry the phrase “grand vin du Languedoc” on their labels in previous years, the new hierarchy means the CIVL will now try to prevent certain winemakers from using the phrase unless they meet those requirements.

That explains why the Cabardes ODG (among others, probably) is trying to lobby to get moved up a little.  It seems reasonable to ask for a small amount of time to adapt to the standards the CIVL put forward.  Mostly, that means selling your wine a little less cheap to raise average price. And lowering yield.  Unless we can convince them that they should take foliage into account (a ratio of yield over surface area of leaves).

Anyway, interesting discussion, right?

Another point that came up was that while it’s not a law yet, we all assume the CIVL will seek INAO approval or some sort of legislative reinforcement for this marketing/communications strategy so that it can be comparable to the Classification of 1855 or the Grands Crus in Bourgogne.  Just looking for a little legitimacy.

There’s probably a whole other post to be written on the intriguing switch from legislation to marketing.  While INAO classification used to be the end-all for wine prestige, modern efforts start at the trademark office.  And doesn’t that make sense?  Few people can make any sense of the intricate European wine laws that have built up over the centuries.  In a market dominated by brand-building, maybe the interprofessions are correct to move away from politics and toward marketing spheres.  Grands Crus du Languedoc, Sud de France, etc.

How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards is just a few kilometres north of Carcassonne. GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Domaine O’Vineyards
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou until the D118 (the last straight road) and the Dyneff gas station on the roundabout.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which goes up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire.
  4. At the last juction, bear left at the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.