26.10.2009 24 °C
The clocks have been turned back an hour and autumn is evident all around us, but it’s still in the low twenties by day, although there is a noticeable chill once the sun has set. With a little persuasion the garage door finally opened and we now sit around the fire each evening eating roasted, freshly picked chestnuts and drinking the local wine.
Languedoc Roussillon is probably Europe’s best kept secret. While well-heeled tourists have their pockets picked in the tarted up medieval villages of Provence and Tuscany, the savvy traveller seeks the authenticity and relative tranquility of this exquisite region at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains.
Here in Languedoc Roussillon there are quaint medieval villages by the bucketful and more ancient castles than you can cram onto a chessboard. The mountain scenery is breathtaking, the canal-du-midi is a serene aqueous artery and the local food and wine is a gourmet’s delight.
It is the wine, and the vines that grow the grapes under the sub-tropical sun that shapes this part of the world today. Wander into any wine merchants’ anywhere in the world and you are likely to find a Minervois, or a Fitou or a d’Oc, or Corbiere or Cotes du Roussillon. Not to mention classic aperitifs and dessert wines like Dubonnet, Rivesaltes and Banyuls. All of these wines, and many more, are produced within an hour or so of our new home.
The valleys and plains between the mountain ranges of the Pyrenees, the Corbieres and le Montagnes Noire, trap both sun and rain and provide the perfect climate for viniculture. But unlike Spain, where olives, oranges, almonds or grapes are each grown in specific regions to the virtual exclusion of all other crops, in Languedoc the vineyards are liberally scattered across a landscape which includes woodland, scrub and pasture.
Now that this year’s crop has been safely picked, pressed and bottled, the job of the vine’s leaves are over for another year and they turn golden and red in the sun.
But all is not well in the vineyards of France. Protectionism, over-production, cheap labour and hidden subsidies in many New World countries - including Canada - are forcing many traditional French vignerons like Henry Carbonnel to rip out their vines. Here’s Henry’s son-in-law, George, proudly selling Jim a bottle of his finest rose‘, pressed from hand-picked organically grown grapes, for a little more than the price of a Starbucks’ cappuccino.
It is frustrating that due to punitive taxation designed to protect Canadian growers we have to pay eighteen dollars a bottle for the same wine that costs only a few dollars here. But wait a minute… bottles of wine for just two dollars all year round ... maybe you can have too much of a good thing!!