Summer festivities in Saint-Chinian

For this post I have decided to concentrate on the many things that will be going on in Saint-Chinian this summer!

The very popular night markets will be starting on July 4, 2017 and will take place every Tuesday throughout July and August.

Every Saturday there will be a Vide Grenier, a flea market, in the shade of the plane trees on the market square.

On Thursday nights there will be open-air cinema in front of the town hall building – July 6th and 20th, August 3rd, 10th, 17th and 24th.  Free admission!

On July 9th, Chateau la Dournie will be holding an open day from 10am to 6pm.  Visits of the cellars, wine tasting, craft market, picnic in the park.

The Fete du Cru will be taking place on July 23, 2017 – a great day of wine tasting in the market square!  The Fete du Cru is organised by the winemakers of the Saint-Chinian area to showcase their wines and to allow the public to discover the great variety of wines on offer.

The music festival will take place from July 26 to 30 this year.  Five days of concerts in the historic surroundings of the former abbey church, the cloister, and the parish church of Saint-Chinian.  A variety of concerts with different styles of music which are sure to appeal: Classical, New Orleans jazz, Latin rhythms, world music, choral, etc…  Full details can be found on www.festivalmusisc.wordpress.com

On August 4, 2017 the Cave Cooperative winery will hold its open day.  Free guided visits of the cellars throughout the day.  Unveiling of a new mural in the cellars, followed by an open-air meal and concert.

On Mondays during July and August, a guided visit of the architectural heritage of Saint-Chinian takes place, starting at 9am from the entrance hall of the town hall building.  Reservations via the tourist office.

On Tuesdays during July and August, there is a free guided visit of the Chapel of Notre Dame de Nazareth at 9am.  Meeting point is at the start of the path up to the chapel, where the D177 forks to Assignan and Babeau Bouldoux.  Reservations via the tourist office.

On Wednesdays during July and August, you have the option of a guided visit of the Capitelles, the little huts built with just stones and no mortar.  The visit is free of charge, reservations at the tourist office.  The meeting point is at the windmill, and the walk starts at 9am.

Thursday mornings during July and August are dedicated to guided visits of the Cave Cooperative, the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian.  The free guided visit starts at 10:30am and the visit is followed by a wine tasting.  Reservations via the tourist office.

The Canal de l’Abbe is the theme for a guided visit on Fridays during July and August.  This canal was built during the Middle Ages, originally to power a number of mills along the way.  To this day supplies the vegetable gardens in Saint-Chinian with river water!  The free visit starts at 9am from the town hall in Saint-Chinian.  Reservations via the tourist office.

On Saturday mornings during July and August, a visit of the former Abbey is on the agenda, showing the evolution of the buildings between 1656 and 1950. The free visit starts at 9am in the town hall building.  Reservations via the tourist office.

The windmill, which sits on the rocky ledge above Saint-Chinian, can be visited on Sundays.  The free guided visit starts at 9am at the windmill.  Reservations via the tourist office.

There’s never been a better time to visit Saint-Chinian, so book your stay now!

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Advertisements

Food and wine

Back in January, I attended a tutored wine tasting with food pairing at the Maison des Vins in Saint-Chinian (see post here).  Since then, I seem to have developed a bit of a fancy for this kind of event.  When the Maison des Vins announced a series of food and wine pairing dinners in collaboration with the restaurant Le Village in Saint-Chinian, I did not hesitate to make a reservation for the first one.  There are four more of these dinners – follow this link to see the list of dates!

The formula is simple – three courses and three wines, the whole for 25 Euros.

Menu soiree vigneronne – a food and wine pairing dinner.

The wines were presented by Elisabeth Poux from Domaine Pech Menel.  The meal started with steamed green asparagus and half a grilled artichoke heart, served with mountain ham and a mousseline sauce.   The mousseline sauce was made like a hollandaise sauce, using the Blanc de Pech Menel 2015 wine, which was served with this course.  Whipped cream was added to the hollandaise sauce just before serving it, to give it a mousse-like texture.  Mme Poux explained that the white wine was made with a blend of grenache, rolle (also called vermentino), roussanne and viognier grapes.  It was delightfully dry and crisp, with hints of honey and dried fruits.  This was the first time I had tasted the wines from Domaine Pech Menel, and I was impressed!

A starter of steamed asparagus, mountain ham and grilled artichoke heart, served with mousseline sauce and accompanied by Blanc de Pech Menel white wine.

After a little pause, to allow us to finish our wine, the main course arrived, accompanied by a different wine.  The wine was Chateau Vallouvieres-Pech Menel 2009, a full-bodied, deeply coloured red wine, made from 70% mourvedre grapes; carignan and grenache grapes made up the rest of the blend.  This wine was a wonderful accompaniment to the slow cooked lamb, which was served with home-made fries and a medley of vegetables.  The lamb was tender and succulent, the fries were lovely and crisp, and my only criticism could be the colour of the plate the dish was served on! 🙂  Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but on the whole I prefer food to be served on white plates.

Slow-cooked lamb with home-made fries and a vegetable medley, accompanied by Chateau Vallouvieres-Pech Menel red wine.

The dessert was all chocolate – perfect for me!!  On the plate in front of me were three different kinds of chocolate desserts: in the picture below from left to right – moelleux au chocolat, a kind of moist chocolate cake; mousse au chocolat, chocolate mousse; and crumble a la banane au chocolat, banana and chocolate crumble.  All three were delicious, but my favourite was the banana and chocolate crumble!  To accompany this dessert, Mme Poux had chosen a red wine called No Name.  This was a fairly young red wine, a 2013 vintage, made from a blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre and cinsault grapes.  It was a fresh tasting wine with a hint of smokiness, and it had a slight petillance, very different from the wine we drank with the main course, but a perfect foil to the richness of the chocolate.  No Name could be a wine for every day drinking, and could be perfect for an aperitif if served slightly chilled.

It was a great evening, spent with good food, good wine and good friends!!  Having discovered the wines of Domaine Pech Menel, I’m looking forward to visiting the winery and tasting their other wines.

Coming up – the festive season

Now that the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder, people everywhere are thinking about preparing for the festive season.  In our area, the marches aux truffes and the foires aux gras – truffle markets and foie gras fairs – are very much part of the run-up to Christmas.

IMG_5190

The truffle markets will be taking place all over the Occitanie region (formerly Languedoc-Roussillon and Pyrenees Orientales) from mid-December to mid-March.  The ones before Christmas will be especially popular with buyers who want a special touch of luxury for their celebration.  You can find a list for the truffle markets in the region via this link.  And if you want to know what it is like to visit a truffle market, have a look at the post I wrote about my visit to one such market a little while ago.

IMG_5174

The foie gras fairs start in mid-October and run until the end of March, and are for those who enjoy eating foie gras and ducks and geese.  At a typical fair you’ll find many different kinds of foie gras for sale, along with the meat of the birds who produced the fattened livers, either as whole birds (minus the livers) or pieces thereof.  The legs can be turned into confit de canard (or confit d’oie if it was a goose), the breasts are grilled and the rendered fat is a great replacement for butter or oil in cooking.  I’ve written about my quest for making confit de canard in a previous post.  If you are interested in any of this, you can find the dates for the foie gras fairs via this link.

IMG_9365

In this part of the world, to prepare for the festive season also means stocking up on good wines.  To make it easier for the buyers to do just that, the Saint-Chinian winemakers’ syndicate has come up with the idea of an open day, a Journee Portes Ouvertes. The idea is that you can go from winery to winery, meet the winemakers, taste what what they have on offer, and buy what you like.  The event will take place on December 10th, 2017 and you can find full details here.

IMG_3192

Once you have your truffles, foie gras and wine, you’ll need to shop for presents.  Where better but at one of the many Christmas markets which are taking place all over the region?  Some are one-day events, whilst in the larger towns they can run for the whole month of December!  Month-long markets can be found in Montpellier (1 to 28 December 2016), Carcassonne (3 – 31 December 2016) and Perpignan (3 to 31 December 2016); dates for the Christmas markets in Narbonne have not been announced at the time of writing this, and in Beziers there will be pop-up Christmas shops all over the town centre, rather than a classic Christmas market.

IMG_3724

The smaller one-day events have already started, and here is just a small selection, to give you an idea of what is coming up!  The first market on my list is at the Chateau Abbaye de Cassan on November 26th and 27th, 2016.  This is a very popular event with many stalls.  On December 3rd, 2016 markets can be found at Agde, Quarante, Serignan and Servian.  The following day, on December 4th, 2016, Christmas markets take place in Saint-Chinian and at Terra Vinea near Portel-des-Corbieres.  On the following weekend, there is a market in Lezignan Corbieres on Saturday, December 10th, 2016, and on the Sunday, December 11, 2016 there are Capestang and Cruzy.  On December 17, 2016 there is a Christmas market in Valras Plage, and Chateau Coupe Roses in La Caunette is hosting a market on December 18, 2016.  The last market on my list takes place in Caunes Minervois on December 20, 2016 – for all those last minute presents!!

IMG_4619

Do you have a favourite Christmas market?  How do you prepare for the festive season?

Trading places

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember my mentioning Domaine La Madura every so often.  Over the years, I have become friends with Nadia and Cyril Bourgne, who own the domaine, and I’ve been able to observe the wine-making process at close quarters.  If you type “la madura” in the search box on the blog website, you’ll find quite a few articles which mention the domaine.

Today’s post isn’t as much about wine making as it is about the winery itself.  When Nadia and Cyril first bought the vineyards in 1998, the winery building was part and parcel of the deal.  It was located in Saint-Chinian, on Avenue Raoul Bayou, and it was very typical of a small winery building dating from the early part of the 20th century: two rows of concrete fermentation vats/tanks facing one another, and a kind of attic space above.  Very little room to manoeuvre  and almost completely dark without the lights switched on or the barn doors open.

IMG_2929

For years, Cyril had been dreaming of working in a modern, newly-built winery, where he would be able to have the best possible working conditions for making his wines.  After many months of wrangling with the planning authorities, Nadia and Cyril finally received permission to build a new winery on one of their former vineyards, just outside of Saint-Chinian.

Getting the new winery built was no mean feat – all the services had to be connected, and the smallest detail had to be thought of.  When he wasn’t working in the vineyards, Cyril spent every moment he could spare at the building site, to make sure that everything was going to plan!  The new winery was ready in time for the 2015 vintage!!

Here now, is an overview of the new winery, in all its gleaming glory.  The new building is off the Route de Salabert, and you’ll see this sign on the side of the road:

IMG_3131 Arrive at the winery and you’ll see that everything has been thought of.  There’s even a car park!

IMG_3244

Here’s what you see when you approach the building:

IMG_3134

Of course by the time of your visit, it won’t look like this any more, the landscaping around the building will be much more advanced!  The colour of the wall render was carefully chosen to harmonise with the surroundings.  If you turn away from the building, looking towards the village, you’ll see the most wonderful view:

IMG_3136

There’s another great view from the terrace outside the tasting room:

IMG_3225

IMG_2575

Perhaps I’d better tell you a little more about the layout.  There are several parts to the new winery.  There is an office, where Nadia can be found most days, during office hours.  The office is behind those three windows, as you arrive at the winery.  Next to the office is the laboratory, where Cyril analyses samples of wine and grape juice.  From the laboratory a door leads into the winery proper, where the fermentation vats and storage tanks are:

All of the tanks are fitted with sensors and equipment which allows for temperature control during fermentation.  Stainless steel stairs and a walkway give access to the air locks on top of the tanks.  The air locks ensure that the fermentation gases can escape, but no air can enter the tanks.

IMG_2559

There is ample space for storage:

IMG_3147

… and there is lots of light and air – it must be a pleasure to work here!

From the winery a door leads to the storage area.  At long last, all the bottled wine can be stored under one roof.  Before, it had to be stored in several different locations, in Saint-Chinian and Assignan, because of lack of space.

IMG_2570

From the storage area, another door leads into the barrel cellar, where the wine is ageing in oak barrels:

IMG_3182

From the barrel cellar, a glass door allows access to the tasting room.  The tasting room has lots of space, along with a very zen atmosphere!

The views from the large glass windows are wonderful, especially with a few bottles of wine in front:  🙂

IMG_3192

So you’ve seen pretty much everything – all that is left to do is for you to visit the new winery in person!  And taste the wines, of course! 🙂

If you would like to visit Domaine La Madura, please get in touch with Nadia Bourgne ahead of time, either by e-mail or by phone on +33 (0)4 67 38 17 85.

Blues in the night

I seem to be on a roll about fetes at the moment, but my excuse is that a) it is still summer and b) that’s when the fetes are happening in Languedoc!!   This post is about an evening of music, wine and food at the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian.  It takes place once a year, and it always coincides with the open day at the Cave Coop, as the cooperative winery is known locally.

I did not go to open day this year, since I’ve been several times before, but if you go to the next open day,  you will be able to visit the working side of the winery, which is normally closed to the public.  The inside looks not unlike a cathedral – incredibly tall, nave-like and with light streaming in through high windows at the end.  Instead of pews there are wine tanks everywhere!

IMG_0113

The reason I went inside the winery, before the fete started outside, was the unveiling of a picture.  Last year the cooperative winery started a project called L’Art en Cave. Under the project a contemporary artist is commissioned to paint a mural on one of the cement tanks in the winery, which is then used as the label on that year’s special cuvee. Here is a picture of the 2013 commission:

IMG_0111

This year Miss’Tic was commissioned to paint a mural on another tank, and there was a fair “buzz” before the unveiling, in the presence of the artist.  I’ve since learnt that Miss’Tic is an internationally recognised street art painter.

Miss’Tic has been creating her pictures with the help of stencils since 1985, and I found a few of her works on the walls around the cooperative winery, discreetly placed:

Before the unveiling there was a short speech, introducing the artist, and then a few words by the artist herself.  You can see they were having fun!

Then the moment came to pull on the string, to reveal the mural:

IMG_0126

And here it is:

The mural is also reproduced on this year’s Cuvee Miss’Tic

IMG_0098

 

A literal translation of the slogan on the picture would be “wine for a life without seed”, but the actual meaning is more along the lines of “wine for a life without problems”!! I’ve not tried that particular cuvee yet, so I can’t vouch for it:)!

After the unveiling there was of course a “verre d’amitie“, the all-important glass of wine. I joined my friends outside, who had found our allocated seats at one of the many tables, which had been set up in front of the winery.

The event is always well frequented by locals, and the wine grower members of the cooperative all work very hard each year, to make the event a success.  The band that evening was playing R&B music, and the food was all locally prepared.  Here’s a picture of the wine list:

P1120414

And here is the menu:

menu

The food on offer was as follows:

  • Mussels Languedoc style with a glass of white wine
  • Melon and mountain ham with a glass of rose
  • Grilled duck breast and sausage with vegetables, with a glass of red wine
  • Goat’s cheese with a glass of red wine
  • Pastries with a glass of muscat

With each course came a glass of wine, and you could buy a wine glass, with one filling included in the price of the glass.  You could of course bring your own glasses, which you had bought the year before…

The way it all worked is that tickets of a different colour for each course could be bought, either in advance at the winery, or on the night at a central till.  One part of the ticket would get you the wine, the other the food. For six wine tickets you would get a whole bottle.  And if you didn’t want to drink the regular wine, or weren’t hungry, you could just buy a regular bottle, pretty much at the shop price.

The mussels were cooked on great steel trays over an open fire, and they tasted absolutely delicious!

The sausages and duck breast were grilled over the same fire!

As the evening wore on, the atmosphere changed – the coloured lights started to twinkle magically 🙂 .

Cheese was followed by dessert, and by then the light was getting a little too low for pictures.  The band was playing great music, and the whole evening was just wonderful!

Don’t miss this evening if you are in St Chinian in early August!

Making a dash for it

This year, the Fete du Cru Saint Chinian took place on July 20 – the Sunday after Bastille Day.  As the poster hinted, it was a jolly occasion, and to my mind, a fete not to be missed!  The Fete du Cru is a once-a-year happening, where the producers of AOC St Chinian wines have a chance to meet the public en-masse.  I have previously written about the “wine” part of this Fete, and you can find the post here.

CCI310714

On Sunday morning, all 60 stands were manned by either wine makers or local food producers. My favourite goat’s cheese producer was there – Chevrerie de Combebelle – with a great selection of cheeses.

The Confrererie des Chevaliers du Saint-Chinian were inducting new members into their chapter, and they had invited other Conferereries from the area for the occasion.  All were attired in sumptuous robes – I can only imagine just how warm it must get under those robes on a hot summer’s day!  Each Confrererie has its own distinctive colours and the robes are generally designed to echo those colours.

Here are some details from the robes:

The Pena du  Languedoc were keeping up the festive atmosphere with music (e-mail subscribers, please visit the site to watch the video):

At noon members of the Rugby Club of St Chinian were offering a sit-down meal in the gardens of the town hall.  Everything had been prepared, the tables and chairs all set out under the trees, and people were getting ready to take their places when …  it started to rain!!! :(.  The rain wasn’t heavy, but there was thundering in the distance, and it looked as though we’d all get soaked if we stayed outside.  Some quick thinking was done on the part of the organizers, and tables and chairs were carried into the cloisters 🙂 .  We decided to make a dash for it too!

 

P1110719

 

Outside, the cooking continued apace, despite the rain:  huge pans of potatoes and meat were cooking over a fire, the stirring being done with a very clean-looking shovel!

Once we’d taken our seats in the cloisters, the volunteers started to get going with the service.  Everyone received a small plate with a nectarine and a piece of individually wrapped camembert, a set of plastic cutlery, and a plastic cup.  Someone else came by and dropped off baguettes.  We were waiting for the wine, until we realised that we would be helping ourselves to that.   Boxes of wine had been set up, along with a stash of clean and empty bottles, so we could draw off any colour we liked :).

P1110724

 

The first course came in a square dish – a salad of fresh tomatoes, tuna fish, olives and egg – very tasty!

We’d seen the main course cooking outside, so there were no surprises to find potatoes and pork ( 🙂 ) on our plates, seasoned with garlic and parsley!

P1110731

We followed that with the cheese and dessert (nectarine) which had already been served.  The whole meal was very simple but delicious, and there was a great atmosphere in the cloisters!

All the time we were eating and drinking, the wine tasting continued in the main square!

See you there next year, perhaps??