Planting Mediterranean Grape Varieties in the Ampelographic Garden
Just a few miles outside of Carcassonne, you can see a collection of different grape varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Macabeu, Mauzac, Picquepoul, Terret, Vermentino, and more! Just before budbreak 2012, dad planted the ampelographic garden at O’Vineyards.
A big thanks to the Chambre d’Agriculture who helped us find the best grape varieties, choosing the right clones to demonstrate varietal typicity on our terroir at O’Vineyards.
What is an Ampelographic Garden?
Ampelography is a big word used to describe the visual study and identification of grape vines. And that’s basically what you can do here. Wander down a row of vines and see if you can tell the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Or can you tell Clairette from Picquepoul? Which plants have leaves split into three parts and which have leaves with five parts? Which varieties have the most ample fruit clusters? The most leaf growth? And so on.
Why is this fun and not just for wine nerds?
It’s just a few dozen plants, and it seems pretty nerdy, but we think it’ll be very fun.
A lot of the folks who visit O’Vineyards ask what the difference is between Merlot and Shiraz. So it’s great to have a simple visual demonstration of how each of these varieties are unique and specially adapted to different conditions. It’s much more exciting to show people some examples of differences than just saying “Well they’re all genetically different which results in having varying amount, shape, size and placement of leaves and fruit.”
Varietial wine are very popular in many countries. Often times, people will just ask me “what type of wine is this?” meaning what varieties is it made up of? Wine drinkers in the US and UK are always keen to learn the difference between grape varieties.
Planting the Grape Vines:
Some photos of Joe O’Connell planting his young vines and Jean Heritier, director at the Chambre d’Agriculture de l’Aude, helping out.
Here’s a full list of the grape varieties (and their clones and rootstocks) in our ampelographic garden… before anybody yells at me, I know some of these aren’t mediterranean. But they should be fun to look at and they might exemplify the special climate we have in the Cabardes north of Carcassonne that allows us to grow some grape varieties like Merlot, Cot, and Cabernet
Cabernet Franc – 332 CALMET / 110 R
Cabernet Sauvignon – 15 / 161 49 C
Syrah – 524 / 161 49 C
Terret – CONS / 1103 P
Carignan – 274 / 333 EM
Cinsault – BED PLAI / 110 R
Cot (Malbec) – 594/ 140 RU
Grenache Noir – 433 / FERCAL
Marselan – 980 / SO4
Merlot – 184 CAL / FERCAL
Mourvedre – 360 / 110 R
Pinot Noir – 375 / 140 RU
Chardonnay – 96/ SO4
Chenin – 220/ SO4
Grenache Blanc – 143 / 110 R
Macabeu – CONS MAC PR / 110 R
Marsanne – 574 / FERCAL
Mauzac – 740 / 140 RU
Roussanne – 468 / 333 EM
Sauvignon – 108 / SO4
Vermentino – 795 / 140 RU
Clairette (gris) – CONS / 1103 P
Picquepoul (gris) – CONS / 1103 P
It has recently come to my attention that a lot of Japanese people are talking about my wine without popping into my google alerts. It’s probably related to the differences in language. Even though they usually write the brand in roman characters, there are often kanji suffixes or other weird linguistic quirks (e.g. o’vineyardsは).
Anyway, I did some active searching and found a lot of people talking about the wines. A few highlights:
A little tweeted tasting note. I’m ridiculously fascinated by reviews I cannot read. Google translate’s best effort approximates the review to “good easily”. Love it. Love that people are out there tasting the Mediterranean Mojo 2006.
And then there’s e-American. An online shopping site that offers deals on my Mojo.
But the big player online is Rakuten who are an enormous online retailer. They bought out PriceMinister earlier this year. And they put together this amazing banner that shows the Japanese are as enchanted as we are with the medieval Cité de Carcassonne.
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.
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
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
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
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.
The vineyards in the Languedoc-
Roussillon region enjoy winds from the
Mediterranean to the east and cool
breezes from the Atlantic to the west.
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
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
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
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.
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 curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
At the last juction, bear left. 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.