Harvest 2014 is coming to an end. We are very fortunate not to have been hit by any of the hail or severe thunderstorms that occurred during this growing season. Looks like another promising year!
Starting the days at 4:00 to get our grapes in at cooler temperatures.
Hard work! but of course the fun continued with our guests!
Delicious Food & fine Wine continued to be served during the long harvest weeks!
Don’t worrywe had an extra help force….
Ryan flew back from Napa for a short week …. and long days!
George Gracia, Maitre Sommelier, came to help entertain our evening visitors!
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
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.
So YouTube (which is owned by Google) has a tool that lets you make movies out of your Google searches. It’s pretty primitive, but it’s a fun way to spend a few minutes. errrr.. scratch that, 35 minutes. Damn it. Now I have to go back to work.
Oh well, here is the story of a person trying to research cool wine related stuff near Carcassonne. And only getting one result over and over. No, I’m not referring to trip advisor. It’s O’Vineyards. The best indie wine estate to visit near Carcassonne.
Search terms used are:
“wine tasting around carcassonne”
“meet a winemaker near carcassonne”
“visit a winery near carcassonne”
“best wines cite de carcassonne”
“make wine around carcassonne”
“vineyard holiday in carcassonne”
If there’s a message to take away from this video, it’s that people aren’t maximizing SEO about wine tourism yet in the Languedoc. The post that turned up in most of these searches was written last Sunday. Gites and Chambres search engine optimization is locked down, but there are tons of wine keywords that are still up for grabs. Especially in English. And Carcassonne is a good example because it receives millions of anglophone tourists every year. And the word on the street is that some of them drink wine.
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.