…any day now.
And he has a (very enthusiastic) little helper, checking on sugar levels.
Time for a bit of a plug. Mmn, maybe not the right word here(!)- time for a little update on a little adventure Benji and I enjoyed this Summer…
We hit the road and joined the Naked Wines Tasting Tour of the UK.
But sorry to disappoint, no further naked bodies to follow – we didn’t get down and dirty with grapes and wine – but some pics of the many wonderful people we met and re-met and chinked glasses with, from all corners of the wine-making world, as we travelled the countryside in a tour bus driven by the lovely Bob, in late June, to show our wares.
Norwich, Cambridge, London, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester, Edinburgh, Leeds, Birmingham – nearly each stop on the 2012 tour (Benji and I could only make half of it) was sold-out and each tasting event held in a beautiful venue of each town. It’s an impressive sight seeing the doors open to hundreds of wine enthusiasts ready, with ther glasses poised, to try over 140 wines!
France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Germany, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, the U.S. and bien sur, Australia! – these are the countries that the winemakers selling their wines with Naked Wines hail from and what a bunch a great people they are!
It was brilliant to finally meet all the people behind the names I’ve only, until now, seen and admired from the website – and get to try their wines for the first time and to enjoy some time talking on the bus, over a breakfast table, behind a tasting table, over a take-away pizza, watching the Australian cricket warming-up in the nets at Lord’s, on a walk trying to find the nearest public loo, disco-ing on a dancefloor until the early hours… You know, quality times like that. It’s not often I get out of my hamlet and get to bond with people from all over the world in such a short time, having so much fun!
And then of course, there were the tasters! A thriving mass of curious, enthusiastic, incredibly friendly people who came out to our tastings and worked their way through the hundreds of bottles. Benji and I loved the atmosphere of each tasting and picked up good feedback, first-hand, on his wines. It was hard not to soak up the fun – obligatory tasting required for quality checks. And then there were all those wines from everyone else that we hadn’t even tried yet….
All in all a great tour and LOTS of fun. I kinda like being the Vigneron’s helper.
And after every good wine tasting, there comes a delicious all five food groups breakfast…
And they all (well, apart from the couple we saw having a tiff under the tree in Cardiff) went home happy.
So no, he didn’t win. Big shame as I was doing the food shopping the next day. Ah, the trails of a housewife…
They got through a few bottles between them though! Please note, that all comments on the wines however, are mine! Even if I wasn’t playing, the wife does get to try the vino!
Here’s the damage:
Chateau Maris Rose 2010
Macon-Peronne en Chassigny 2008
Chateau Maris ‘Continuite de Nature’ 2008
Chateau Villerambert Julien Minervois Rouge 2004
Chateau Maris ‘Las Combes’ 2009
Benjamin Darnault AOP Languedoc 2010
There you have it. If it sounds like I’m biased towards Benji’s reds, it’s correct! But please be aware that I am very open-minded when it comes to tasting all the wines. It just happens that I tend to enjoy his. Fortunate that!
Thought you were going to see a cheeky image of naughty bits??
Sorry, no, it’s Summer and this is often what our table looks like the morning after…
Glasses are cleared but the bottles are waiting to be packed and emptied at the village recycling bin (and how the old mesdames and messieurs of the village, seated on their bench, must love counting how many wines that Aussie girl manages to consume).
It’s now past the middle of August and I can’t believe how quickly Lilas’ school holidays have passed, how many interesting people have stayed or called by, and how much wine and food we’ve consumed. It seems like a non-stop degustation here sometimes, with the Beroccas coming out first thing in the morning, but things will certainly slow down now that ‘les vendanges’ (harvest time) are approaching and Benji prepares the cellars for receiving grapes. Soon he’ll be working a seven-day week and mostly absent from our daily timetable. It’s an intense time until all grapes have been picked and are safe in the tanks or going through the press, so it’s good to make the most of it with family and friends time in this heat.
The bottles photographed above are the empties from an evening with some of the ‘Naked’ crew. Joe from Naked and is family came to visit, one warm and windy night and an informal tasting turned into a bottle fest (with Lilas and the kids meanwhile transforming the living room into a Playmobil playground) with everyone trying the whites and reds from Benji’s range together with local cheeses, bread and mountain lamb (big merci to our friends Vincent and Isabelle who were staying that week and gave us a huge help in the kitchen – the bbq’d lamb was a treat!). It’s always great to meet new people around a table of wine, glass in hand and every Naked tasting we’ve had has been full of laughs with interesting people from all parts.
You’re probably wondering what on earth Naked is. It’s a company in the UK called Naked Wines and Benji makes and sells wine with them. It’s been just over a year since the collaboration started and we’ve met so many great people – customers and other winemakers – and had lots of fun tasting the range over dinners, lunches and informal evenings like this one. I know it sounds like a plug – and it is! But seriuosly, all puns aside, it is an energetic company run by young people with enthusiasm and a love for wine, and fuelled by a community of customers – people buying and tasting wine from anywhere in the world and then sharing their experiences online. Benji’s range has done well and we’ve learnt a lot from the forums and the feedback people have offered. Thanks to everyone, Rowan, Joe, Amy, Sam, Fran, Simon, Frankie, Kevin, everyone, for the ride so far!
It’s that time of year already… everyone’s thinking of summer. Trips to the beach, trips abroad, no school, hairy legs to shave, and umpteen outdoor bbq’s with friends, food and wine.
The lead-up to the harvest, after the big risk period for frost has passed (phew, it’s around now and looks like we’re ok), is a relatively easy-going time in the vines. They’re growing with hopefully enough rain and a lot of sun, and have a few organic treatments here and there etc. Sounds like an ideal summer!
But this is the time Benji begins to stress.
In his head he’s organising the entire lead-up to the harvest and beyond and no-one knows what the weather will do, and how the fruits will develop. There is the cellar to organise, extra work to take on filling in for those taking summer breaks, and prevention of disease in the grapes. Any rainfall during this hot time can be dire.
As I said, this stress is cyclical. And sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally!! Ever had an argument about the ‘correct’ way to boil an egg? (although we ARE in France…).
So getting away last Friday night to the beautiful ‘La Clape’ area was a perfect way to switch off for 24 hours.
La Clape (yes, fair share of commentary) is a lovely seaside wine region (15 00 hectares of vines within the Coteaux du Languedoc apellation) not far from Narbonne. From the town you take a spectacular, windy drive through the rugged hills of Le Massif de la Clape and there’s always a huge gasp of pleasure and surprise when the Mediterranean greets you on the other side. It’s been years since we did this, but it’s still as beautiful and ‘sauvage’ as ever.
We were headed for a gite not far from the beach in St Pierre La Mer, Chateau d’Angles (so lovely, thank you!) and arrived just in time to join our friends for the ‘aperos’. Vanessa’s hot homemade pesto, cheese and tomato pastries were fantastic and went down beautifully with the local white.
Then it was down to business, the men got tending the bbq (sound familiar?) and us ladies fed the kids who’d been on the go ever since we arrived.
Yum! There’s nothing quite like a fresh seafood platter. We ate a blend of raw and bbq’d delights collected from the nearby ‘poissonnerie’. I must admit the seafood platter was half the reason I’d been so keen to come!! Absolutely delicious – you can’t beat the mix of garlic, freshly squeezed lemon juice, aioli, and burning wood with clams, ‘bulots’ (whelks), prawns, ‘couteaux’ (razor clams) – I could eat like this everyday.
Top it off with a crisp, frsh white or rose and it’s heaven! We followed the local white with a Muscat Sec and then a bottle of Benji’s delicious Viognier. I wasn’t sure about the mouth of the muscat at first. Dry muscat is a strange one sometimes, the nose is so inviting and floral and sweet and then the mouth seems dry and short. But this opened up beautifully. Benji’s white, as always was floral, crisp and fresh. These whites were great mates for the seafood.
Dinner ended being a casual, straight off the barbie affair. No set seating, just constant ‘aller-retours’ with everyone taking turns bringing new dishes to the table. I like this way of eating at the beach. No fuss, just enjoying each other’s company and each new wonderful flavour. As the light dimmed we got out the camper lanterns and popped the kids to bed. Ready for another white!
And a quick plug!… we had an abundance of ininvited mosquitos joining us and the good old Aussie products of Rid and Aerogard came out in force. Must say that the Frenchies were quite impressed with how well the stuff worked!
Like happy campers (and a happy winemaker), we all headed for bed in the fresh of the night.
A day of collecting to follow…
Ispiring times at the moment. On the Easter weekend we were invited to lunch at Liz, Joe and Ryan’s at Domaine O’Vineyards to meet up with Danny McCubbin, the editor of jamieoliver.com. Danny and his photography assistant Anthony (both Aussies!) were travelling around the South of France and stopped by to taste some of the wines and produce from our region.
They’d been filming a luncheon the day before at the ‘La Barbacane’, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Hotel de la Cite,
a grand hotel situated within the walls of La Cite, the medieval city located inside Carcassonne, and were now out to see what gets served at a local ‘vigneron’s’ table amidst the vineyards.
I’ve got to admit that I was quite nervous about the whole thing (and I’m not even the winemaker! – can’t imagine how Benji must have been feeling), but once we’d met up with Danny and Anthony, I felt much better! They are great guys – so sincere and laid-back yet incredibly inspiring when you listened to what they get up to for the site and in their personal time. It’s inspiring to meet people like this who are so motivated to help and educate others. I know I was shaking at the knees beforehand, but inside I had been thinking that anyone working for Jamie Oliver would have to be cool as well as full of energy, and I was right.
It was a delightful afternoon, full of delicious nibbles and dishes prepared by Liz (would LOVE the recipe for your spicy sauce Liz!)…
Over the course of our marathon lunch some particular highlights in the wines for me were: Hegarty Chamans Blanc Minervois 2008, Trah Lah Lah 2008 and Benji’s Minervois 2010 and his St Chinian Organic 2009.
Thanks to everyone involved in the afternoon – we had a wonderful time.
Let’s get going and invite you in!
You’ve found us!
I’m Australian, Benjamin is French and we live in a remote, rural area in the south of France. He is the vigneron, I am his wife and he makes wine that I love to drink.
Our daughter attends school in the local village (we call her the ‘Aussie frog’) and it almost feels like Little House on the Prairie except she wears jeans!
We’ve been living here for the most part since 1998, making and working in wine. It is wine that led us here and wine that keeps us here. Our life is inextricably linked to it and why I’ll probably be talking a lot about it here! …And I guess living where we are, food may get a mention too!!
To outsiders it’s a quiet and very isolated life, if you compare it to the razzle dazzle of a city but delve deeper and, like anywhere, you’ll find a lovely hum of people busy in all sorts of interesting actvities. People from all walks of life – the locals born and bred here, French people from other parts seeking change and a growing community of ‘etrangers’ are all enjoying the wonderful landscape and quality of life that this region offers.
Influences and arguments fly in all directions. In this mix, food and wine are two major elements of the day and what connects us. There is an almost ritual-like approach to making or serving food and wine that I hadn’t encountered before living with a Frenchie in this area. I can’t think of a better way of getting to know all these people either! A few good wines and good food always seems to help my fledgling French.
I may not be sharing any images of the Eiffel tower, baguettes in hand, candlelight dinners overlooking the Seine – or frilly French knickers for that matter (who said all Frenchman were romantics?)… but a no-frills account of what we get up to here in this part of France. I’m not going to spend 365 days eating only foie gras and camembert either, but I will make a good go of drinking Benjamin’s wine – and a lot of others, cooking and sampling foods and sharing these experiences with you.
Welcome to our home, warts and all, happy that you might visit!
p.s. I know I promised no snowdome scenes of idyllic life, but there are some beautiful sights around here that I’d love to share that are unmistakably ‘French’. Sometimes you do actually get those ‘ooh la la ‘ moments that take your breath away . This occurs almost daily for me here and it helps keep the homesickness at bay!
…and I do LOVE the Eiffel Tower.