Quarry Project in Villemoustaussou

This is an official map of the Carcassone Region

Villemoustaussou included:

The purple colored area designated the Carcassonne Metropolitan area, including Villemoustaussou which is desserved by the Carcassonne public transportation.

O’Vineyards is located in Villemoustaussou, at just 10 minutes from the Carcassone airport, Carcassonne train station and the Carcassonne Medieval Castle.

Carcassonne Metropolitan area

cartulaire et archives de l'ancien dicese de carcassonne by m mahul

on loan from J. Heritier

The land and vines that we refer to as O’Vineyards have been around for a very long time and they’ve had many names and many farmers. I’m always picking up little bits about the vineyard’s history, and a friend just loaned a book to me that might help shed some light on the vineyard’s origins.

Cartulaire et Archives de l’Ancien Diocese de Carcassonne par M. Mahul.

Editeur: Philippe Schrauben
Mémoire de la Société des Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude

One passage on Villemoustaussou’s agricultural history notes that in 1777:

“Lorsque Monsieur, comte de Provence, qui depuis a régné si glorieusement sous le nom de Louis XVIII, passa à Carcassonne, on servit à ce Prince des vins de Limoux et de Villemoustaussou; il eût la bonté d’en faire l’éloge à M. de Bezons. Le vin de Villemoustaussou provenait d’une vigne qui appartenait depuis longtemps à la famille Don” (Journal de la Société d’Agriculture de Carcassonne vol IV p. 137)

Basically Villemoustaussou’s wines were served to somebody pretty important and they impressed him. What’s particularly interesting is that the vines were owned by a M. Don, and we bought our vineyard from a M. Dons. That’s likely a coincidence as locals have told me there were several owners between 1777 and Dons. But still a fun discovery! Wouldn’t that be interesting to find that Dons’ family owned the property long before him and made remarkable wines back in the 18th century!?

Learning more about the vineyard is a complicated process because we’re located on the edge of three different villages. Each of the villages may have records of the property and all under different names. And each of those names can change and evolve over time. Often, the area we call O’Vineyards is locally referred to as “Le Thou” or “Lieu dit Le Thou”. I see some records of places called Le Grand Tou (could easily be Le Thou since the H is silent) as well as Dittou (could easily be a name derived from lieu DIT THOU) but I’ll need to do some more reading to see if these are different areas.  I can probably also mention that Thou is a common word in old english texts so that makes searching a bit complicated too.  While searching for the uniquely named Villemoustaussou is a bit easier, it should be noted that there are lots of alternate spellings and older names (latin texts refer to it as Villamostansio, Villamonstantion, and Villamonstantione).

Some of the local vines still carry their older names, notably Barrau, Brau, Rivalz and La Mijeane. Unfortunately, I don’t see much about a winemaking estate named Thou or Tou. One passage describes a property called TISSOT that is on the high ground separating Villegailhenc from Villemoustaussou (this is a very accurate description of our vineyard, especially the Syrah parcel), and there is a Chemin Tissot near the vineyard.  But I can’t be sure without further research on the name TISSOT to see if it is not referencing some other vineyard.  A preliminary search shows we might be very very close to a property called “les hauts de TISSOT”  and we can imagine that the Thou might have been part of a larger TISSOT estate.  More to come.

Also, by extraordinary coincidence, there is an area in Villegailhenc that was called Podium like one of our wines. Podium Giberti, its full name in 1380, is now called Pechibert.

France’s high speed train, the TGV, will one day carry passengers between Toulouse and Narbonne.  The line will also have a Carcassonne stop.  I’m following developments in the planning of this future train line pretty closely.  I’ve uploaded the slideshow presented to the public recently concerning potential installation sites for the new tracks around Carcassonne and the new train station as well.  Download the TGV project slideshow 21 10 2011 complete with confounding maps and bullet points. :D

Changes required by a TGV line

Interestingly, as I’m writing this, TGV trains already pass through Carcassonne quite often.  But since the tracks aren’t set up for Grande Vitesse traffic, the trains have to run at normal speeds until they reach Montpellier.  I don’t know much about the technology here, but I’ll just say it has to do with magnets and move on. :D

Anyway, the engineers have to lay new track suitable to the TGVs and this means they’ll have to run the new track north of Carcassonne or south of Carcassonne (going straight through the city makes no sense).  This is when winemakers start to get worried because there are lots of vines north and south of Carcassonne and we don’t want a bunch of train tracks to replace the vines we love so dearly.

From a business standpoint though, it’s pretty interesting since there are plans to build a new station.  If the TGV connects Carcassonne to the grid, it can bring a lot of tourists and business to the area.  After all the work from Bordeaux to Toulouse is done and this project connects Toulouse to Narbonne, the Carcassonne-Narbonne axis will be much closer to Aquitaine.  And I’ll have to do some math, but I think it might bring us closer to Paris too (the current fastest path to Paris is a slow train from Carcassonne to Montpellier and then TGV up to Paris)

Enough babbling!

There’s a lot of information here as the slideshow also presents all the projects from Toulouse to Narbonne.

Since my vineyard is very close to Carcassonne, slides 16-21 are of most interest to me personally.

The slide that made me panic a little

plan for tgv to run through carcassonne

one of the potential sites is close to O'Vineyards

The first reason to panic is just because it looks like somebody’s planning a war strategy.  Or like a geometry textbook just threw up on a map of Carcassonne.  But we’ll try to make sense of this map.

I’ve added a little o’TGV so you can see where O’Vineyards is located.  As you can see, we’re actually inside one of those circular bubbles meant to represent places where it might make sense to put in the new train station.  And that big golden arrow running straight through us is supposed to represent the possibility of a track running to the north of Carcassonne (but not its actual placement).  The bright red arrows cutting through Villemoustaussou represent tracks that tie the new train station to the small, older train station in the center of Carcassonne (but not their actual placement).

It is important to stress a few things:

  1. this is still hypothetical planning,
  2. many of the arrows are symbolic representations rather than showing physical placement,
  3. those enormous circles are very generously sized.

Let’s break this map down in a less panicked way.  The track has to go either north of Carcassonne or south of it.  The big green bands show the zone that is most suitable for a track.  Rather than look at the large golden arrow representing the northern line, realize that the northern line is actually a very thin track that would go anywhere within that massive green band.

There will also be a new gare.  The big green circles are supposed to represent potential sites where it might make sense to build that gare.  The actual station will be a small dot compared to the circles used to represent their potential placement sites on the map.

Also, knowledge of the terrain where my vineyard is located allows me to say that the tracks could not pass through O’Vineyards.  One one side, we’re too hilly.  On the other side, we’re very close to a village.  If the tracks run north of Carcassonne, it’s much more likely that they’ll pick one of the flatter, lower zones like the one running through Conques sur Orbiel.  With a good set of binoculars, we’d probably be able to glimpse the train behind some hills/trees as it passes in the distance.

I also think they’ll favorize one of the construction sites that is already near rails connecting to the old gare in Carcassonne.  Nobody likes to build in the jurisdiction of Batiments de France and the old gare is right next to the Canal du Midi.  The more they can use existing track, the better.  So those dastardly red arrows seem unlikely.  My money is on one of the oblong ovals that already skirts existing track.

Although, that said, I wouldn’t necessarily mind the station being built in that circle really close to O’Vineyards.  If it’s at the far end of the circle, we could get all the benefit of a nearby train station without any of the noise or visual pollution.   It’s too early in the development of this project to know how harmful/beneficial the placement will be. I’ll just have to watch carefully. In February, they’re supposed to make a decision about whether the line goes north of Carcassonne or south.  And at that time, they’ll provide more details about where exactly the tracks would go.

Hopefully, this won’t mar the local landscapes or prevent winemakers from doing what we do best. And as a secondary wishful thinking kind of hope, maybe this will increase land value for a few of the locals.  And make it easier for me to get to Paris one day.  ;D

 

At O’Vineyards, we try very hard to get people buzzing about the Languedoc, Aude, Carcassonne, and even my tiny village of Villemoustaussou. And we are pretty good at making people talk. Somewhere along the line, I started assuming I was Villemoustaussou’s leading voice online…. But I was wrong.

Villemoustaussou’s most viral video

Patrick Sébastien’s music video for “Ah… Si tu pouvais fermer ta gueule…” was filmed in Villemoustaussou in the Boulevard Cafe! And with over 1.2 million views on YouTube, it is moderately more successful than everything I’ve done combined!

So, cancel my coronation. This is a great reminder that I’m just one fish in the Languedoc pond. And it takes a lot of massive effort from many many people to get some attention for this region.

I took some exterior photos of O’Vineyards Bed & Breakfast now that it’s nearing completion.  Things are looking good!

bed and breakfast in the vines

You can really see how close the rooms are to the vines.  How clear the sky is.  This is life on a vineyard after all!

the cabardes room window and merlot vines

This is the window of the Cabardes room.  You can look out over the Merlot vines from here.  Sit watching the high road of Villemoustaussou with Carcassonne off to the south.  Soak in the sunny south of France in the privacy of our vines.

cabernet and montagne noire seen from the Cabernet Room

What a view!!  That’s Cabernet Sauvignon stretching off toward the valley in Villegailhenc and La Montagne Noire beyond that.  This photos taken from inside the room so it’s actually the view.  Hard to believe, right?

This is probably the last update about the Quarry Project in Villemoustaussou (at least for now).

Even though I panicked last week when I received the email notification of the proposed quarry installation, this week has been full of research and helpful advice from friends.

Here’s the long summary of the quarry project.  I still haven’t read the whole technical report, but all in good time.

So here’s all the good news:

  1. The short notice (I received an email Friday night asking for a response by Monday) was for a consultation on the quarry’s effects on viticulture.  There is over one month to study the project and talk about it during an “enquete publique” that will start next week.
  2. This should be an installation of the least invasive type of quarry.  They can dig the big hole and draw stone, but that’s pretty much it.  There is no permission to dewater or treat the concrete on site.  My two greatest fears.
  3. The project has shrunk from its original size to avoid digging near the most important part of the Fresquel river’s flood zone.
  4. The increased road traffic through Villemoustaussou shouldn’t be too noticable since the current quarry’s traffic also drives through Villemoustaussou.  I didn’t even know this so, if it’s true, it means the road traffic is pretty negligible.
  5. The dust clouds should be extremely limited to the area directly around the quarry, and they are watering the roads so even that shouldn’t be significant.
  6. Noise pollution is neglible as I am more than a few kilometers uphill from the project.
  7. At the end of the quarry’s 12 year run, they will apparently turn it into a nice lake which should increase local property value and means more development/funding for Villemoustaussou
  8. The company will conduct a new field study to inventory and catalogue all plant and animal species in the 28 hectares affected to ensure that no protected animals or plants will be displaced or harmed by the project.

I still need to attend the local meetings and read the full file.  But it would seem that everything is actually okay and we can turn off the alarm bells for now.

The vineyard is safe. :)

This is another quick update on the quarry project in Villemoustaussou.

I’m trying to find the study about the project.  The DREAL office that conducted the preliminary studies is out of the office this week so I can’t get in touch with them until after the deadline for reading it.  There is a physical copy of the 300 page dossier in a box in the Chambre of Agriculture. which I can view up until tomorrow.  But I haven’t had a chance yet.

The Chamber of Agriculture assured me that if this were a risky operation, the DREAL would have said so.  So they insist that there are no worries.  We’re also in a preliminary consultation phase.  The actual enquete publique for the quarry project is from June 7 to July 7.  Currently, the ODG Cabardes is being sent this information just so we can give a viticultural assessment of the project.  So it’s actually a courtesy call and I do have a lot more time than I originally thought.  We only have a few days to contribute information about how the project may affect the Cabardes appellation, but we’ll have lots of time to talk about the project in June when everybody has a chance to learn about it.

The project is located much closer to Rivals, another Cabardes producer.  I haven’t gotten in touch with Rivals yet but other Cabardes producers alluded to the fact that they might actually be happy about the quarry.  Typically, after 12 years the quarry will be filled with water and turned into a pretty lake that can increase property value and also serve as a water reserve to irrigate nearby crops.  I don’t have any details about how the quarry will be used after the 12 years, but we’ll probably see more information soon.  The other producers concerned are the new owners of Domaine La Mijeanne.  The truck route looks like it goes right by them.  But I don’t know how much that affects the viticulture.  It’s more of a general environmental issue, and that’s not what we’re being consulted about.  A neighbor of mine notes that La Mijeanne, under its previous ownership, successfully fought the installation of a different type of project near their domaine on the grounds that there were environmental issues.  But that was a much more harmful project where materials were treated on site.

I’ve talked to a couple people familiar with quarry projects and they seem to think this current Villemoustaussou quarry project is a very safe installation.  It’s basically a gigantic hole where they’ll get sand and gravel.  The materials will be processed elsewhere (in Valmy) and those installations can have a much more significant impact on the environs.  The Villemoustaussou installation will not be like this. Apparently, there will be no dewatering or any kind of pumps.  All this to be confirmed, but sounds like good news so far.

Last Friday evening, I received an alarming email about the installation of a quarry several kilometers away from O’Vineyards.  The email said I had until Monday to respond.

Given the lack of detail and the strange time of delivery of the email, I panicked and posted on the blog.  Some of you have graciously offered help with researching this installation.
Iris from Domaine Lisson discovered an avis from the regional prefecture on the Direction Regionale de l’Environnement, de l’Amenagement et du Logement website.

The avis addresses environmental concerns for the surrounding area of Villemoustaussou and concludes that everything seems to be taken into account.  With a few further precautions, they say the project should be allowed to continue.

Environmental risks outlined in avis

The biggest issues are the usual impacts of quarries (?!), noise pollution for the direct neighborhood, traffic from the trucks and impact of that traffic on the countryside, to which we can add (due to the location of the project),

  • the risk of erosion due to the drainage of heavy rain waters or from the upper water table, because the project is located in the alluvial plain of the Fresquel, in a floodzone
  • the potential impact on biodiversity since the project is located in a classified environmental area

Excuse the poorly translated legalese.  This is the best I can do.

Mitigating Factors

The avis goes on to explain that most of this has been taken into account.

  • Taking into account the extreme proximity of the nearest households (40 meters from the project) and the proximity of the Agglomeration de Carcassonne (400 meters) the project will use merlons (pretty stone/dirt walls) to reduce the impact on neighbors, special trucking routes to reduce danger, and watered roads to avoid dust clouds.
  • A study of the mobility of the Fresquel river has moved us to reduce the size of the quarry installation; the current project does not infringe on the area that the Fresquel might move to.  Furthermore, the site will not need a water waste plan because the materials will not be processed on site but will instead be trucked to an already permitted site to be processed.
  • Despite the fact that all alluvial quarries in alluvial water tables have an impact on the draw and quality of the aquifer, this impact will be limited by the weak hydraulic gradient that exists and the absence of dewatering pumps
  • If the 2008 study of the local flora didn’t take into account the protected nature of the zone, the flora inventory executed between 2008 and 2010 is based on field inventories executed during favorable periods like Spring and Summer, which allows us to conclude that the study is globally adapted to the purpose of evaluating the project’s impact on biodiversity.  None the less, certain doubts persist after reading the dossier concerning the risk of destroying protected species that require an adaptation of the project to prevent impacting them.

The full French text, as above, is available on the official government site.

Other online friends have assured me that a project several kilometers away will be pretty much invisible from O’Vineyards.  They say similar projects in the environs of vineyards cause no noise pollution or dust clouds.

Should I be worried?

Having read the report, I see that there are houses less than 50 meters away from the site.  I imagine that the dust and noise aren’t a big deal or they would be clamoring.  However now that I’m researching concrete production and quarries, I’m getting worried about the water table!

The good news is that this is not a concrete processing plant or manufacture or whatever you call it.  They take the stone and materials here and drive them to Valmy where they are already allowed to process the stuff.  The bad news is that it can still cause fluctuations in the flow of the alluvial aquifer.

This whole project is a few kilometers downhill from me.  Does a change in the aquifer draw down there mean that the water table higher up will drain faster or slower?  Or will I be unaffected?

I don’t know enough about geology and rainfall to know how that affects the vineyard.  I’ll continue looking into it.  I guess I have like one day left to research.

 

I got an alarming email about a quarry project in the town where I make my wine.  It’s very short notice!  I have to respond by Monday and I don’t know anything about this project.

I got this email from the person at the Chamber of Agriculture who has been acting as a general manager for the Appellation Cabardes for the past couple of years.  Basically, it would seem that somebody is asking to create a quarry in the south of Villemoustaussou, the town where I make my wine.  It’s specifically a “carrieres de tout venant alluvionnaire” but I have no idea what that means.  A quarry where anybody can come and pick up alluvial deposits?  The details of the quarry project are 300 pages long and aren’t included in the email. Instead, there is a short summary of this proposed project and a map of its location attached to the email.

The project is on the opposite side of Villemoustaussou from my vineyard.  But I’m still concerned.  What does it mean for my vineyard?  What can I do?  Why do I only have three days to respond to this email?!  Why did they wait til Friday afternoon (after my lawyer clocks out for the weekend)?

quarry project in villemoustaussou languedoc

Here’s the email I received at 6:52 PM:

Bonsoir ,

L’INAO nous a transmis dans le courant de la semaine un dossier de projet de carrière(cf principales caractéristiques en pj)sur la commune de Villemoustaussou. Comme d’habitude il y urgence car il faut rendre une réponse écrite avant le lundi 6 juin donc pratiquement avant le vendredi 3 juin( L’ODG est organisme consultatif.)

Avec Robert Gianesini nous pensions organiser dans l’urgence une réunion lundi soir mais faute de salles disponibles, cela ne sera pas possible.

Je vous propose donc de prendre connaissance des 2 documents qui sont un résumé très condensé du projet qui comporte 5 rapports soit 300 pages et de transmettre à Robert et à moi-même votre avis par mail avant lundi 30/05 14H afin de rédiger un courrier officiel de l’ODG.

I’m so confused.  How will this affect the environment around my vineyard?  Will we all be consumed in a cloud of dust for twelve years?  Or will this have virtually no effect on my vines?  How will it affect Brau and Donjon who grow their grapes slightly closer to the affected area?

These are the two documents attached to the email:

What on earth am I supposed to do?  I don’t have the 300 page document from the INAO detailing the project.  I don’t know any of the consequences of this type of project.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.  I only hope that the winemakers more closely affected by this project will see this email before Monday and know better how to respond.

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.