30 September 2016

A groovy wine tour at Domaine O'Vineyards

I'd heard from some of the other Naked Wines Angels and Archangels that a visit to the Domaine O'Vineyards in France is an absolutely excellent experience. So when we were in the Languedoc this summer, we decided to book a night with meal and wine tasting with Joe and Liz O'Connell.
Joe giving his
groovy wine tour

It was a really, really hot on the day we visited. Apparently it was the hottest September that the region could remember. We'd spent the day wandering around nearby Carcassonne and lying by the lovely but very breeze-less Lac de la Cavayere and we were literally expiring when we arrived.

We were over half an hour early, but Liz, Joe and Muse the dog opened the doors and welcomed us into a wonderfully cool room and opened an ice-cold bottle of delicious white wine. It was absolute bliss. And, it wasn't a thimble-full of wine either, it was a nice, big, juicy glug.
The view from our balcony

Liz and Joe were like these super cool hipsters. Not cool in a modern way. More a laid back, 70s throwback sort of way. Joe kind of shuffled around in his Hawaiian shirt, jeans and sandals, humming away to his Beatles and Elton John music with a wry, knowing smile while Liz wafted in and out in her denim shorts and huge shades. Apparently they met while she was sunbathing nude on a beach in California. Says it all really. Very cool.

My husband and I
enjoying the yummy wines
The winery and the vineyards were absolutely stunning. Joe had designed the building himself and the decor and structure were an interesting mix of modern, rustic and baroque. All peppered with art that you felt they'd collected on their journey through life. Our bedroom had a fabulous view of the vines and I joked to Liz that I would need a ladder to get onto the ginormous bed. Everything was very luxurious and felt like a proper treat. Again, probably not stylish in a modern or conventional sense, but all very cool, eclectic and distinctive.

When everyone else arrived, Joe introduced the event as "not a wine tasting, but a wine drinking". And, that really set the tone for the event. The measures were generous as were the hosts with their time and attention.
Stunning sunset over the vines

The tour itself was informal and fun. It didn't feel like a stuffy lesson on winemaking. But it had enough content to be interesting and enough interaction for us all to feel comfortable and get chatting.

Joe and Liz moved to France with their son Ryan to make the type of wine they wanted to make, the way they wanted to make it. Apparently, there have been some frustrating times along the way navigating the Languedoc Appellation rules. But he'd come out the other side and has earned a great deal of respect for his wines and methods both in France, England and across the pond in America where his son, Ryan does a great deal of work with Naked Wines USA.

Me with Joe and Liz
and the star of the show, Muse
At the tasting and meal, we were treated to glass upon glass upon glass. So much so that I think we tried everything in their range. The wines were stylish and interesting, without taking themselves too seriously. For example, all the bottle labels were designed by the family and one even had the head of a Naked Wines Archangel on it. 

My favourite wine was probably the O'Chasan 2015. I'd never tried a pure Chasan wine before, but apparently it is a popular, but underrated wine of the Languedoc region. Very light and easy drinking and perfect served crisp cold. We also loved the O'Syrah 2011. A smooth and peppery Shiraz that left my mouth warm and very happy for a long time after each sip. 
We tried pretty much the
whole range

The food was all lovingly prepared by Liz. The website promoted the meal as "home cooked food". Well, if you live in a house with about 20 chefs! I have no idea how she managed to create all that food. We enjoyed course after course of interesting and intricate Asian-French-Californian fusion food. And Liz lovingly enthused about how she made each dish and her added personal touches. 

But the real star of the show was their beautiful conker dog, Muse. He seemed to lead the wine tour, obviously knowing the route by heart. Staring lovingly up at us all with gorgeous eyes, hoping to perhaps get a few of Liz's supper treats.

What a view to have from
your dining room table!
When we finally stumbled to bed, I've never seen such a beautiful sky from our balcony overlooking the vines. Hundreds of stars and with not an artificial light or sound in sight.

The whole experience was extremely relaxing, very decadent and, well, groovy baby....

21 September 2016

A wine tour with Virgile Joly (a day spent with the beautiful people)

On a recent trip to the South of France, I thought I would visit a few of the winemakers whose wines I have particularly admired on the Naked Wines website. So, of course, I had to visit the wine legend that is Virgile Joly whose cellar door is in Saint Saturnin de Lucian.
Views from Saint Saturnin

Saint Saturnin couldn't be more French if it strung some onions round its neck and wore a beret. The town consisted of a restaurant, a hotel, Virgile's cave, the church and a few stone houses. Everything was fading slightly at the edges and pretty much the only person in sight was a slim lady brushing up some leaves from the restaurant floor (in a very laid back, unhurried fashion). It was like a scene from a movie (something arty in French that I probably wouldn't understand!)

Camille in the Vines
But then Magdalena, Virgile's partner who I had met at a wine tasting in the summer, arrived followed by our tour guide, Camille Renault. Both were incredibly welcoming, spoke amazing English and were, frankly too attractive!

Camille drove us to a vineyard overlooking Arboras which is where Virgile has his actual winery. In the car, I said to my husband "didn't she have the most beautiful eyes"? 

It was a gloriously sunny day and the view over the vines was completely stunning. The plants looked green and lush and the sun was glinting off the leaves. All the plants looked amazingly uniform, like they had been perfectly tamed to grow in little lines in identical shapes. All around the air was filled with the buzz of little tractors putting around the countryside assisting with the harvest. 
The grapes being sorted
We then proceeded to meet Virgile and see some of the wine production. In the car on the way, I said to my husband, "why don't we live somewhere like here?"

I'd never been lucky enough to visit a winery during harvest and everything was in furious, focused production. Two men were effortlessly scooping up ginormous crates of luscious looking grapes and emptying them onto a conveyor belt that took the grapes for sorting. The whole building and courtyard smelt very sweet and fruity.

Virgile showing us around
the winery (with his
dreamy hair)
Virgile was kind enough to spend quite a lot of time with us. I'm sure he must have been extremely busy with the harvest. But he never seemed as though he was pressed for time and was extremely generous with his attention. 

We tried some of the juice from the grapes that had been picked yesterday. I've never had the privilege of trying day old wine before, but the liquid was clear, crisp and incredibly sweet. I could have drunk it all day. Virgile spoke passionately about his organic methods and how he does his best to respect nature. Producing quality, unique and individual wines of which he was very proud.

The ridiculously
stunning view from the winery

He told us that he was worried about how some of his wines were fermenting. And he wasn't sure whether to add more oxygen or to change the temperature. Evidently, he is serious about his art and wants to make the best wines possible. I get the impression that he worries a lot.

Finally, we went back to Saint Saturnin to try some wines. In the car on the way back, my husband said "now there is an attractive man, I am very jealous of his hair."

The range of wines we tried

We went into another building (how many buildings does Virgile have?) to try the wines. Camille with the beautiful eyes explained to us that all of Virgile's wines are very distinguished and have a "feeling" of the man that runs through them all.

Camille spent a great deal of time "helping" us to smell and taste the wines. Sadly, despite us enjoying wine and spending a lot of time talking about it, we are clearly complete heathens when it comes to describing the subtleties of the wine. But she was very patient and kind and the whole experience was really enjoyable and the wines were delicious.
Tasting the wines

My personal favourites were, despite me not being a massive pink wine fan, his Saturne 2015 rose which was fresh, light and perfectly dry. I also enjoyed his Carthagene Rose Liqueur wine which had a wonderful pinky-orange colour and tasted of lychee and rose. One of the nicest sweet wines I've tried in a long time.

Lunch at Le Pressoir
Part of our tasting package was to have lunch at Le Pressoir restaurant over the road. I think we were the only English people in there and lots of the people around us looked as though they had just stepped in from the harvest to enjoy a glass of pastis. The food was delicious, but mostly I have no idea what I ate. I couldn't even read the hand written menu board, let alone translate it into French. Poor waitress had to resort to "moo" and "baa". We washed it all down, whatever it was, with a bottle of Virgile's Saturne Rose. A great experience.

We had the most wonderful time and I would encourage anyone to visit Virgile and try his wines. However, be prepared to feel slightly unattractive, slightly unworthy and very, very English. And also, just a tiny bit in love with Virgile Joly....

You can buy Virgile's wines in the UK on the Naked Wines website. And, he is such a complete legend that there is also a book about him which is available on Amazon. But be warned, you may be more in love with him and Magda after reading it!

17 September 2016

A day trip to Hambledon Vineyard

I first met Ian Kellet from Hambledon Vineyard at a Naked Wines tasting event. My husband and I enjoyed several glasses with him and bent his ear about English Sparkling wine. So this summer we thought we'd pay the vineyard a visit since it is only down the road from where we live.
Beautiful vineyard in rolling
Hampshire countryside

We contacted them via their website and discovered they had a range of wine and food events as well as a vineyard tour which is what we opted for. 

Despite it being a fairly dark and dank day when we visited the vineyard, the Hambledon estate is absolutely stunning. Long rows of vines stretching seemingly endlessly down across virtually unspoiled countryside views. Who knew we had such beautiful wine country here in England?
Bottles fermenting

Arriving late (as usual) we missed the start of the tour. But I guess there was about 15 people on the tour. My husband laughed when he saw everyone and said "Typical English people, getting dressed up to the nines to walk round what is essentially a farm in the rain". Too true.

Felix conducting the tour
Winemaker, Felix, conducted the tour. He clearly had a passion for winemaking and the production methods at Hambledon. Interestingly, despite this being an English vineyard, nearly all the machinery and many of the wine makers are French. It seems that, English wine production is still relatively speaking in its infancy. 

But it's led by Ian who is a Yorkshire man and all of the marketing team we met were English. So I guess there's a balance. 

Tasting some of the
good stuff
I'd never been on a Sparkling wine vineyard tour, so most of the production method was new to me. Especially as nearly everything they do at Hambledon is by hand. To make a sparkling wine, apparently there is a second fermentation in the bottle, with every single one of the bottles being stored at an angle and turned by hand every day (riddling). Labour intensive stuff and evidence of the care and love they put into the production.

They planned to start harvesting the grapes the second week in October which is apparently a month after France. But with the warmer weather in England this is a really exciting time for English wine production. And all the team seem really excited about what the future holds. 

Finally, we got to try some of the good stuff. Sadly, we only got to try one glass and none of the Hambledon wines. But I guess English Sparkling wines is pricey stuff and there were quite a few of us on the tour that day. Ian has subsequently told me that it's not really viable to open too many bottles. And perhaps doing wine flights and charging slightly more will be something they will consider in the future. 

We actually tried a glass of Meonhill Grande Reserve which was absolutely delicious. 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay, with tiny bubbles and a really crisp, fresh and sherberty. This wine was grown on an estate that Ian and the team recently purchased and apparently is the English Sparkling wine that Virgin Airways has chosen to serve in upper class.

They have a number of wine events between now and Christmas. Including the chance to make your own Sparkling wine for Christmas. 

A lovely vineyard to visit and the wine we tried was absolutely exquisite. Very much looking forward to trying the wines we bought on the day!