Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


Becoming naturalised


En français

I have spent most of the last 25 months living in the Languedoc and as that period draws to an end I have begun to feel naturalised: my French has started to adopt a local accent such as ‘veng’ for ‘vin’; I tut at anybody and everybody; I rush for a jumper if the temperature dips below 20°C; I even went to a rugby match!

We are searching for a house to move more definitively to the area, it is where I feel happy, healthy and home. Sadly, when I look back across the Channel I see little to make me feel at home there. Brexit has seen a fall in the £ of more than 20% in less than four months. There has been a startling increase in racist and homophobic attacks. The government (with an unelected Prime Minister) is hell bent on going it alone, prepared to do without the EU single market even if it means damaging the economy. Companies such as Nissan have warned they will leave the UK if that is the case yet the government ploughs on determinedly. The 48% who voted to Remain in the EU are ignored, reviled and, today, told that they should be silenced.


Mrs. May told her Party, “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”

Worrying times. Is it any wonder that I, proud to be a citizen of the world, feel more naturalised here in the Hérault? Though Robert Ménard, the far right mayor of Béziers, is doing his best to out do May’s government by opposing the housing of immigrants relocated from Calais to the town. He sanctioned this poster for example:


As for wine?

After a few tranquil months natural wine has again become the focus of attacks and disparaging remarks by those who seem threatened by it.

In France, Michel Bettane, elder statesman of wine critics, accused natural wine drinkers of being ‘peu democratique’ in their words and ways. No great surprise from a man whose connections make him part of the wine establishment.

In the UK one of the most respected and established of wine merchants, The Wine Society, published this statement from one of their senior buyers.


“Prone to spoilage, high proportion not particularly pleasant to drink, rarely demonstrate varietal character or sense of place.” A damning list. And I am a member of this co-operative group!

Again I feel alienated from mainstream opinion. Sykes is talking complete rubbish and dismisses great wines and talented winemakers with generalisations and prejudice.

I don’t always agree with Alice Feiring, one of natural wine’s more celebrated advocates. However, in a recent article she stated that she cannot support faulty winemaking and those who seem to favour it as an expression of their anti-establishment credentials. I agree. Wine must be drinkable, must be pleasurable, must, above all, be interesting. I could name dozens of natural wine producers who make great wine, it just happens to be natural wine. Are Barral, Foillard, Métras, Coutelou, Occhipinti, Radikon, Ganévat etc making wines as Bettane or Sykes describe?


Tasting Casa Pardet in 2015, a moment when wine stops you in your tracks and makes you say, wow

I have tasted many natural wines which sing of their cépage and origins, wines from France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Australia. They tell a tale of their producer and their terroir. They are interesting, some stop you in your tracks and make you reflect on their beauty. Rather those than the very many dull, monotonous wines which taste the same as everybody else’s from Otago to Oregon.

I do enjoy conventional wines, I really like some of them. However, I often find more excitement and interest in the many, well-made natural wines.

Long live freedom of movement, long live the Languedoc and long live great wine.

I am becoming naturalised.



Mas Coutelou Roberta 2003, fresh as a daisy in 2016. Take note Mr. Sykes


Let’s be Candide

“Il faut cultiver notre jardin.”


En français

Voltaire’s character Candide uttered this phrase as his philosophy to express the delights in, and benefits of, taking care of the small things in life. To occupy oneself with gardening is to take your mind off troublesome thoughts leaving one happier as a consequence.

Never has this phrase been more apt than the last week when my home country has lurched from its traditional sense of fair play, tolerance and progression towards isolationism, ignorance and prejudice. We are told, by  a former Education Minister, that British people ‘have had enough of listening to experts’ (Gove). Just remind yourself there, that’s a former Education Secretary advocating ignorance over education. We are told Britain will continue to welcome Europeans whilst some Leave supporters abuse migrants from all around the world.


When I studied ‘Candide’ at university I was free to travel, live and work in Europe, now that freedom will be much more restrictive for our young people. And, life will be harder for those of us who have had the joy of living in Europe. Meanwhile US Presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted:

“Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back.”

In fact Scotland voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU. Be very afraid.

That sounds more like Martin’s gloomy philosophy in the book that evil will win over good. Hence the need to look after our garden, to balance my spirit. What better way than by looking at the vines?

Hot temperatures and strong winds have helped to diminish the threat of mildew. Jeff completed his final spray against the disease last Tuesday, his battle has been a hard one but hopefully he has won the war. The vines themselves are making up for lost time, the young grapes swelling in size rapidly. There is a real vigour and energy there at present.

In the cellar work has begun to create a mezzanine floor at one side. This will allow the grapes to be put into the tanks from above rather than having to be pumped. Access to the tanks for pigeage. cleaning etc will be much easier too.

Martin was wrong, there are many good things in the world, the wonders of nature, not least in the vines. Pangloss, his counterbalance in the book, was wrong too, all is not for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Looking after the vines, and the wines, has never looked to be such a wise choice. Candide was right after all.