I went camping at the Vinolodge set up in Virgile Joly’s vineyard. Always accused of Blair Witch Style, hand-held camerawork, I was really looking forward to using the camp atmosphere to do a Blair Witch parody. . . But it was actually pretty hard to pretend to be scared or uncomfortable in any way. The tents are simply outfitted, but the gorgeous open space and chic furnishing make it feel pretty posh. And reliance on renewable energy doesn’t prevent the tents from feeling blinged out from time to time with the LED mood lighting and fully-stocked wine bar.
So, enjoy my Blair Witch moment. Even if its pretty chimeric. It was just too hard to feel scared or uncomfortable in such a nice tent.
While the tents are really well integrated into the surrounding vines and local wildlife, you really have all the amenities of traditional eco-tourism projects. I was pretty impressed with how much space we have especially. This tent is bigger than a lot of hotel rooms in France. And it has its own porch, foyer, bathroom, etc. almost entirely powered by the solar cells and windmill outside the tent.
To take the two photos below, I just had to turn around. I hope that conveys how closely juxtaposed luxury and nature are in these tents. You really just have a nice hotel room in the middle of a bunch of trees and vines and shrub and pheasants and everything else the Terrasses du Larzac has to offer.
Why this project is important
I’ve talked a bit about how comfortable it is. What a nice vacation it would make… but with all that advertising fluff aside, I’m most impressed by the long term implications of the vinolodge project. The potential applications for winemakers and nature-lovers in general are pretty astounding, largely due to the ZERO impact promise of the lodge.
Beyond being one more way to go glamping (glam camping), the Vinolodge offers an innovative way to drop a tent into the middle of any natural environment without impacting the place permanently. Even dirty hippies in sleeping bags have SOME impact on nature. Experienced campers will know that this is referred to as “low-impact” camping. But low impact is not as cool as NO impact. How can a big tent structure have a smaller impact than a hippie in a sleeping bag? I feel like I’m going to have to explain this … and there’s just no avoiding the one big example. Oh boy. I guess it was only a matter of time before I start talking about poop on my vineyard’s blog.
A camper creates waste. And even the old “dig a hole and bury your business” solution has an impact. It’s low impact, and you can wipe with leaves and a variety of other gross stuff to lower your impact more, but you’re still leaving a lasting mark on the environs. But the vinolodge tent has its own waste processing and storage. Whenever they want, they can decide to break down the tents and within a couple days the whole camp has disappeared leaving NO permanent mark on the environment. Not even poop buried everywhere around the tent.
This means that the tents allow for campers to go where even hardcore low-impact types weren’t allowed before. Like my vineyard. Or a well-protected national park. Or remote locations after natural disasters. The vinolodge (frequently referred to as a geolodge) quickly inspires a lot of important big picture ideas. It goes far beyond the long list of novelty eco tourism that ranges from cramped tree houses to glorified camping car parking lots.
What does it mean specifically for vineyards and the Languedoc?
I think that it offers an unprecedented access to the terroir that we like to brag about so often. A wine drinker who stays in one of the vinolodge tents becomes familiar with the local flaura and fauna in a way that is simply extraordinary. You can hear things at night, you can smell things in the morning, that you just don’t get access to unless you live on a vineyard. Heck, a lot of winemakers would benefit from staying in their own vines once or twice as many of us live quite a ways away from our vineyards.
Imagine having 10-12 of these lodges set up throughout the Languedoc Roussillon. A person could choose to stay at a series of vineyards and really discover the nuances between the microclimates, soil topography, what goes bump in the night, etc. I think that people who really are keen on learning the difference between one terroir and another will appreciate this first-hand access and experience. And I wouldn’t really be comfortable taking regular campers in year round… but the vinolodge makes it feasible and even attractive.
In a few days, I’ll be headed to Saint Saturnin to sleep amidst the vines. I’ll admit I’ve done this a couple times at my place in a sleeping bag. It’s more fun to talk about it than to actually do it. Because the ground is tough and stony. And the nights at O’Vineyards get very chilly (which allow us that freshness which differentiates us from so much of the south of France). But I’m looking forward to this upcoming trip, because I’ll be vine camping in luxury.
Vinolodge set up a bunch of tents in Virgile Joly’s organic vineyard. The tents are self contained with fully functioning bathrooms, water, and I think some amount of electricity. I mean, you can’t necessarily run a microwave or whatever. But you can plug in your phone, laptop, lamps, etc.
Now this is a sneak peak, so I’ll be pretty limited in what I’m allowed to show you. A lot of the design of these tents is apparently highly protected and patented information. And the project won’t launch officially until May 2011. But I hope to film an episode in the tents and give you a glimpse at the inside and outside so you can judge for yourself how well Vinolodge delivers on their promise of eco-friendly, luxury tourism.
At the Salon d’Aniane, I spoke to Virgile and got a sneak peak at the sneak peak. ;D He said that it was really cool to sleep in one of the tents. You’re very comfortable. As comfortable as your own bed. And then you wake up in the vines. But really IN THE VINES. A comfortable, luxurious alternative to my rocky sleeping bag experiences in the past.
Once the project is up and running, there’s also supposed to be tents devoted to a low energy restaurant, a reception area, a wine tasting tent, etc.
I’m not going to lie. I think my hopes are TOO high. The lodges look really chic and they promise a whole lot of amenities like air conditioning, and a fully stocked wine bar. It seems like it would be impossible to do that and lighting and plumbing and everything else in the press release, and still be energy efficient, self contained units. Like maybe I’m going to get there and find out I have to pedal a bicycle to flush the toilet or something. ;D
We shall see soon enough!
How to find us
Domaine O’Vineyards is just a few kilometres north of Carcassonne. GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910
Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou until the D118 (the last straight road) and the Dyneff gas station on the roundabout.
Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which goes up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire.
At the last juction, bear left at the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.