Patron Saint of Wine

Saint Vincent Celebration in Carcassonne

“We do good with very good,” was the motto of Prosper Montagne, master French chef and culinary writer, recognized as one of the most celebrated talents of French cuisine.

Club Prosper Montagne is unique. It brings together all areas of Food and Drink: butchers, bakers, chefs, chocolatiers,  farmers, restaurateurs, caterers, winemakers,… all are committed to develop quality products.

The club radiates throughout France with presidents by region . Its scope of action never stops expanding. Internationally, delegations are also present in Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Japan, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

Alphonse Caravaca, President of Prosper Montagné Carcassonne put together a great event, celebrating the Patron Saint of Grape growers & Winemakers with a delicious private 350 sold out Lunch.

On Saturday January 19th, festivities will start at 11:00 with Deputy Mayor of Carcassonne leading the parade. Participants will be guided through the streets of the Bastide St Louis to the Church of St. Vincent where will be held the blessing of the wine!
Truffles supplied by Philippe Barriere will be the hi-light of the Celebration. Lunch will be served by a young and talented caterer.

The five winemakers representing the Region are:
Joe O’Connell, O’Vineyards,
Raymond Julien, Chateau Mirausse,
Jean Louis Poudou,  Domaine de La Tour Boisée,
Domaine de l’Horte,
Antech Limoux.

Alphonse called a meeting to verify the final preparation…we drank and ate as much as we talked!

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.

I just saw off the last of my Cabernet Day friends.  It’s been a real blast.

Seeing Local Winemakers

2010 was a really heartwarming Cabernet Day because it was one of the first events I organized to really get a great deal of support from local grape growers and winemakers.  I was worried about 2011 because the slightly early harvest means a lot of winemakers are too busy to celebrate with us.

Some winemakers managed to send samples to be tasted in their absence.  Notably, Gerard Bertrand sent a few bottles of his Cabernet Franc from Cigalus.  That’s a big name in the region and I’m so excited that he decided to participate.  And everybody enjoyed tasting the wine while watching high def video footage of the Corbieres vineyard from a helicopter!  Bling bling.  We’ve come a long way from  #Cabernetday’s humble beginnings. ;D

I was also really pleased to see some winemakers tore themselves away from harvest to come in person.  And they brought wines!  Which is also very exciting because a lot of the growers around here are very shy and don’t like promoting their own wine. I’m very proud of them for coming out and braving a mostly anglophone audience to help share some of the Cabernet love.

Sharing with Anglophones

And it should be noted that this year was VERY English-speaking.  Many English families retire to this region around Carcassonne, and I feel like they make up a really strong community that will enjoy a lot of local wines.  Probably 90% of the attendees were speaking in English.

And I’ll add that almost everybody tonight was a wine novice, which is great.  I was happy to have a very professional/wine trade crowd in 2010.  But I’m even happier to share the joys of Cabernet with an amateur/novice crowd.  People who just love life in the south of France and want to drink some good local wine.

We got to spend a lot of time sharing simple winemaker pleasures like “how to taste grapes for ripeness“.  We all went out to the rows of Cabernet Sauvignon and tasted how the fruit was coming along.  Chewed the skins and seeds separately.  Talked about the importance of sugar and phenolics.

It was a lot of fun because we had a huge deal of neighborhood support.  I’m getting too mushy, but it felt wonderful to have such a big block party here at O’Vineyards all around some Cabernet.

Lots of good friends!

2011″s Cab Day turned out very different from 2010 here in the Languedoc, so I’m anxious to hear everybody’s reports.  I hope everybody has a piece of the magic we had here in the Languedoc Roussillon!  Thanks again to Rick Bakas for organizing a wonderful Cab Day.

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 a list of Cabardes vineyards that provide bed & breakfast services or other lodging options north of Carcassonne.

Of course, if you want to stay at a vineyard, I strongly recommend staying at O’Vineyards Bed & Breakfast.

But this post includes all the options for staying with winemakers in the Cabardes.

Why stay in Cabardes?

The Cabardes is a gorgeous region of France that is very close to the historic medieval castle of Carcassonne.  Proximity to the Cité makes the Cabardes a perfect vacation area because it means you can visit the Cité de Carcassonne, the Canal du Midi, and benefit from all the amenities of Carcassonne.  There’s a train station and an International airport (almost exclusively RyanAir flights though).  You’re less than hour’s drive from the Mediterranean coast, about an hour from Toulouse, about an hour and a half from Montpellier, and a couple of hours from the Pyrenees.

I should also mention you’ll be surrounded by delicious wine!!  🙂

The Cabardes AOC is small, dominated by independent wine producers, and features a unique blend of Mediterranean and Atlantic grape varietals.

Vineyard B&B, gites, and other lodging

O’Vineyards Bed & Breakfast – VillemoustaussouB&B and Syrah at O'Vineyards seen from plateau de la bade

4 elegantly furnished B&B rooms with direct view on the vines.  You’ll be sharing the building with us, a Franco-American family with a small vineyard and winery just north of Carcassonne.  We’re very happy to host, and we have a full range of high end red wines.

Ventaillole, Ventenac Cabardes

B&B on an organic vineyard in Ventenac Cabardes.

domaine des homs giteDomaine des Homs

Technically, this is in the Minervois but I thought I’d mention it since the winemakers also produce some Cabardes and these two appellations are close neighbors that share the south-facing slope of the Montagne Noire.  This is a gorgeous house in the center of their Minervois property and the adjacent photo shows how the vines creep across the front of the property.

Auzias – Pennautier

A gite with view on the winery. Red, white and rose wines.

Cazaban Gites – Conques sur Orbiel / Villegailhenc

4 gites located on a small organic vineyard.  Red and rose wines.


Rayssac used to have gites, but I don’t know if the new owner maintains them anymore.  The website has changed significantly recently so watch this space.

Chateau Pennautier properties – Pennautier

The de Lorgerils have a lot of different properties and gite offers.

Another chapter unfolds in the Grands Crus du Languedoc story.

A recent article in the Revue du Vin de France about the terroirs they believe to be Grands Crus du Languedoc shows disagreement with the CIVL classification.  Notably, they include the Cabardes (my appellation and the subject of my book “Wines of Carcassonne“) as a grand cru.  It makes me happy that the Cabardes made it onto the VIP list.  And while the disagreement between the prestigious wine magazine and the interprofessional organization seems like it could damage the promotional efforts of the “grands crus” system, it will only be noticed by wine nerds like me.

In more detail

cover rvf mars 2011So the RVF decided to name their top 11 grands crus. I was excited to see my own appellation named as one of the grand crus of the Languedoc. GO CABARDES! There’s a nice little portrait of one of my neighbors, Clement Mengus and they talk briefly about how we are the westernmost appellation in the Languedoc and we’re doing interesting things.

Now where this gets weird is that the CIVL doesn’t actually consider us a grand cru. And we don’t have the legal right to use the trademarked phrase “grand cru du languedoc” on our labels even though my wines meet all the requirements for the grands crus status. And apparently, experts agree that the Cabardes is a grand cru.

Part of me is a little worried about the mixed messages of this initiative. On the other hand, I should repeat that this worry is silly because only the nerdiest wine geeks will even notice discrepancies like the RVF-CIVL disagreement. The important part of this article is that people will read about my beautiful appellation and may be inspired to try our wines or to read other books about the Cabardes. Just as the important part of the CIVL grands crus initiative is that people will see “grand cru du Languedoc” on a wine label and some people will be inspired to try a bottle of Languedoc thanks to that initiative. That is the important thing. It’s much more important than the nervous rambling I get into when people start asking me serious questions about it.

Differences between the RVF and CIVL Grands Crus du Languedoc

PS, since people will ask, the RVF’s Grands Crus du Languedoc are:

  • Aniane-Puechabon (part of the terrasses du larzac)
  • Terrasses du Larzac
  • Saint Chinian
  • Faugeres
  • Pic Saint Loup
  • Pezenas
  • Corbieres Boutenac
  • Minervois la Liviniere
  • Fitou
  • La Clape
  • Cabardes
  • Notable differences include the strange specificity of Aniane-Puechabon, a part of the terrasses du larzac. This is especially odd since the terrasses du larzac themselves are just a specific cru within the AOC Coteaux du Languedoc. And so their number 1 grand cru is actually a subset of their number 2 grand cru, neither of which is technically an AOC. It’s also notable that the RVF included ALL of Saint Chinian instead of specifying certain crus within it like the CIVL did (eg roquebrun). Inclusion of Cabardes, as mentioned before, defies the CIVL’s initiative and makes me gleeful because I know we deserve to be a grand cru. The omission of Gres de Montpellier from RVF’s list might shock a few winemakers in the Herault since the Gres have been on the list since the CIVL’s earliest drafts back in the summer of 2010. Limoux’s still wines are also omitted although I’ve seen them on and off the list lots of times.

    If somebody has the official CIVL list that got released recently, please send it to me so I can repost. I’m having an absurdly hard time finding the official CIVL list.  Here’s an article from December that has a CIVL list that seems very accurate based on what I’ve heard in aoc meetings.

    “lavishly illustrated”
    “takes advantage of the medium”
    “an enterprising first stab at self-publishing”
    –Jancis Robinson, Vintner turns e-author 21 Dec 2010

    What a trip.  Seven years ago, I was reading the Oxford Companion to Wine and daydreaming about being a winemaker.  And today, the editor of that book and one of the world’s foremost wine writers is bigging up my writing on my little old wine region!

    And she knows that I want other winemakers to do the same thing.  I want them to write testimonials for their own regions.  And she sees it as clearly as I do as she wonders “How many more wine producers will be moved to invade the territory that used to be the preserve of professional and many semi-professional wine writers? It could be a perfect activity for the winter months in between those sales trips to Shanghai.”

    Of course, Jancis isn’t worried about her job security.  But all the same, I think this is a perfect time to address the notion that I’m encouraging winemakers to take wine writer turf.  I see this more as an opportunity to expand the world of wine writing.

    I’m not asking winemakers to steal ground from wine writers.  If we tried to write our own version of the Oxford Companion, we’d do an awful job.  Because we lack objectivity and distance from the subject.  Instead, we have to conquer new lands.  Invent new genres or reinvigorate types of writing that were abandoned in the past century.

    So what if, in general, winemakers lack the objectivity to write excellent wine manuals and reference books.  That subjectivity makes us perfect authors for authentic portraits of every wine region on earth.  Every appellation, AVA, DOC, DAC, or plain old neighborhood that makes wine has inspired hundreds of winemakers and farmers.  It’s time for farmers to start giving back and sharing our love of our land with the world.  If you’ve ever been touched by a place, it’s time to write your book.   And we’ll win over new readers who weren’t ready for the reference books and tomes.  We’ll enchant them with medieval castles and gorgeous pictures of limestone on clay.  And the next thing you know, they’ll be drinking wine every day and then they’ll want to read more objective books from the critics and pros.  That’s my dream world anyway. Let’s make it happen!

    And yes I appreciate that we don’t all have time.  It’s ridiculous that winemakers have to leave the vineyards they love so much for the Shanghai sales trips Jancis alludes to.  But that is life.  We are expected to wear many hats and perform many jobs.  And I think some of you may be ready to be authors.


    book cover of wines of carcassonne

    How cool is that?  In October, Evan Schnittman told me about Amazon’s self-publishing platform.  And here I am just a couple months later with a book about the wines of carcassonne.  Amazon is mailing me a proof right now.  In January, I’ll approve the proof and Wines of Carcassonne: The Cabardes AOC will be for sale online.  Awesome.

    I want a free copy!

    I bet you do.

    Enter your email address and click submit to win a digital copy of my book:

    Wines of Carcassonne: The Cabardes AOC


    When you click submit, the page will refresh and it will look like nothing happened. Check your email to find out if you won.


    So why write a book?

    The Cabardes is a really cool appellation.

    • It’s right next to Carcassonne
    • It’s tiny
    • It’s dominated by independent producers
    • It has a unique climate
    • It has a unique blend

    One starts to wonder how there aren’t already books written about the Cabardes.  Well, those advantages that make the Cabardes good and interesting also make it hard to mass market.

    Our small production size means we can’t justify spending a lot of money to promote the appellation.  Even if we did market our appellation very well, we lack the large industrial producers to supply wine after that sort of promotional campaign.    The unique climate and blend that make the wine so interesting also make it sort of bizarre.  People don’t expect these varietals to appear together, especially not in the Languedoc.  Furthermore, people don’t expect these varietals to EVER go together in a French AOC.  In reality, all the things that make the Cabardes radically special make it hard to promote.  It’s complicated.

    Well I love complicated.  And what’s more, being a winemaker gives me the perfect perspective to write a book about the appellation.  This isn’t an objective reference book that has to cover all the wines of France or all the wines on earth.  I am only talking about the wines I can see from my hilltop.  So I can take all my time.  I can slow down and give you strange little details that I think are fun even though they aren’t important by most standards.  I can share a little gossip about who has projects on the table, what people did before they got this property, trends in certain estates.  That’s fun stuff right?  I just get to tell you why I’m charmed by this place.

    So what next?

    I’m going to be devoting a lot of energy to the promotion of this book.  I haven’t even written a post about it until now, but your tweets and facebook updates have helped hundreds of people hear about the book.  In the first 48 hours of the contest, we gave away 50 digital copies in ten different countries.  Thank you for all your support.

    And more importantly, the next step for winemakers everywhere is to follow my lead.  Write the book for your appellation or your neighborhood.  If you need any help, email me.  Some of this stuff is pretty technical.  Formatting the novel was actually pretty tough without any good software.  So please please please ask me for help.  I’d love to see more books like this one.  One for every appellation!! 🙂

    This morning, the Cabardes did one of its regular organoleptic test flights.  That’s a pretty fancy way to say we get together and taste newly bottled Cabardes wine.

    The primary purpose of these tastings is quality control.  We want to make sure that everybody is putting their best foot forward with their Cabardes wines.  But it’s a pretty intimidating prospect.

    tasting station at cabardes organoleptic testYou get there in the morning and you have a little desk set up with paper, pen, spit bucket, etc.  It feels a lot like I’m back in school except for the two wine glasses and plate of bread.

    There are five of us on the tasting panel.  We have a flight of 12 wines.  The tasting is partial single-blind.  That means that we, the tasters, don’t know what cuvées we’re tasting.  Although they do tell us the vintage since that is pretty important to determining whether or not it’s up to snuff.  There is a third party organisme d’inspection that is hired to make sure all of the tasting is legit.  They also do our field and winery inspections throughout the year.  They report the results to our ODG Cabardes and they also forward it on to the INAO, the national body that governs AOCs.

    If we find one of the wines to be flawed or not Cabardes-y enough, we could declare it NON CONFORME and the winemaker would be admonished.  If the wine is already on the market and it’s a first offense, the winemaker would be followed very closely on his next vintage.  And if its a second offense, we can even call for the wine to be removed from the market.  That’s a lot of power.  And everybody has to fight so hard to get wines on the market, it seems absurd that we might have to take one off the market.  But such are the rules!

    Anyway, today’s tasting went very well.  The quality was good to very good for the three rosés and nine reds we tasted.  I noted one weak objection on the last wine in the tasting that had a bit of reductive rubber/tar quality to it.  The rest of the panel approved of the wine, and I’m honestly happy because it was a good wine and I think the free market will naturally select the best wines in the Cabardes.  This tasting is more of a formality to prevent gross misconduct.

    Perhaps the best part of these tastings is that you get to see what the other producers are up to.  Although they never reveal what you tasted.  Cabardes is small enough that I can just ask around and the people who had to give samples to the inspection organization will know who they are.  And it’s fun to see what the AOC is up to as a whole.  And it’s a timely lesson as I put the finishing touches on my Cabardes book and map of the wineries in the appellation.

    The tasting is supposed to be more focused on defects than traditional wine criticism, but I took some notes anyway.  The keywords that kept coming up were dark fruit, plum, and garrigue.  There were also two or three mentions of eucalyptus, spice, and pepper in my notes.  One of the wines came off with an absurd amount of ripe raspberry or red fruit and really reminded me of certain coastal wines (which can happen in the eastern Cabardes).  And there were a couple that felt a bit rustic and a couple that felt a bit light (if I were in a bad mood, I’d say weedy), but this is a style and it has a place in the appellation. At least it’s not me who will put an end to that trend.

    Anyway, on the whole, I feel like the wines presented were well-balanced between Atlantic and Mediterranean traits.  They were bold and flavorful but they were also rather refreshing with a brightness that is somewhat unique to the Cabardes.  Amen!

    More wine!

    Oh wow, I forgot how much I love maps.

    I’ve been playing around in Google Maps and it’s really fun.  Some of you might know that I’m working on a book about the AOC Cabardes and the wines north of Carcassonne.  And so I’ve built a big directory and I’m defining certain climactic zones.  Blah blah blah.  But I took a few hours here and there to plot it down onto a 3D terrain map in Google Earth.  And it’s gorgeous.

    google earth screenshot cabardes wine map

    I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to use Google Earth maps in my work.  I’ll have to scour Google Permissions later.  But what I can do is share the work so far.

    To view in Google Earth, you have to download Google Earth and then use it to open Cabardes.kml

    To view the less awesometastic version, just look at my customized google map of the Cabardes.  You won’t need to download anything.  It’s set so you can make modifications, but don’t do anything cheeky.

    Making wine maps is pretty sweet.  If you have any ideas on how to format it or what I should add or anything else, feel free to speak up.  Oh, I took out three of the cooperatives because they produce very little Cabardes and are on the outside of the AOC zone.  If you know the location of the vines that contribute to the Cabardes of those cooperatives, please let me know and I will gladly add the vines to the map.

    If you’re wondering what the big splashes of color represent, those are different zones within the Cabardes.  An explanation of this map or one like it will be included in the upcoming ebook Introduction to Cabardès along with a directory of these producers and an introduction to the region’s wine and history.

    How to find us

    Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
    GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

    Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
    Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
    Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
    Wine & Food Pairing

    North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
    885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
    11620 Villemoustaussou, France
    Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

    1. Best by GPS.
      Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
    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 curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
    4. At the last juction, bear left. 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.