Just outside of the town Caune-Minervois, where we are staying in the South of France, is one of the best known and most famous wineries in the Minervois wine region of the Languedoc. It is Chateau Villerambert-Julien and indeed it is one of the most spectacular wineries we have visited on our current wine country getaway.
The Chateau is a beautiful 16th Century Castle with a chapel that now functions as the winery’s tasting room. The setting is stunning as you drive the small road leading to the winery. The road is surrounded by vineyards with the majestic Chateau ahead. When I arranged for a visit to Chateau Villerambert-Julien, I had no idea that leading us on a tour and tasting would be none other than the owner and winemaker, Michel Julien. Michel is the fifth generation winemaker at the Chateau. How gracious it was for him to take more than an hour with us in the midst of what has been a very busy harvest season.
As we strolled through the vineyards, Michel explains that this has been the latest harvest that he has experienced in recent memory. We watch as a mechanical harvesting machine works its way through the rows of vines. It is so interesting how this machine works. As it moves slowly but steadily through the rows it is able to take the grape clusters and remove the stems and the leaves from the grapes. The grapes, now loose in the machine’s bin, are then deposited into a special truck that contains a screw-type grape crusher.
Now at the cellar we watch as the truck’s bed, filled with grapes, backs up to the cellar door. The crusher begins its work and the juice and skins are dumped into a receptacle and then pumped into a cement fermenting tank. These are Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, not one of the traditional grapes of the Languedoc. Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsaut are the common red grapes of the area. Michel recently purchased a neighbor’s vineyards, some of which are the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Michel leads us to the historic chapel to taste some of the finest wines made in the Languedoc. Michel explains that he exports 60% of his wine. He exports to China, Belgium, the U.K. and Canada, but none to the United States. He expresses his frustration at not being able to get his wine into the U.S. markets. It is unfortunate that our three-tier system of wine distribution is a major stumbling block for the lesser known wine regions and small-to-middle sized wineries. What a shame for us not to be able to enjoy a large variety of worthy wines of the Languedoc in the United States.
For our dinner on the last evening in the Languedoc we purchase two wonderful Château Villerambert-Julien wines. The 2012 Viognier is a beautiful and delicious white wine that makes a wonderful aperitif. The price is 9 Euros.
The second wine is the Chateau Villerambert-Julien top-of-the-line red, the Incarnat. It is a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah from Michel’s best vineyards. The wine is a beautiful dark red color, complex and full of many flavors. The aroma is just huge. With the character and complexity of this wine, it is ideal for light to heavy red meat dishes. The price for this 2008 vintage is 14 Euros. At home a wine of this quality would easily reach the $40 or above category.
Before we leave, we meet Michel’s mother in the garden thinning some beds of plants. What a delightful woman and so strong and vibrant. Her English is perfect and she talks to us like we have been long-time friends; this is a family-run winery that rings with passion. They are so proud of their wines.
We are very impressed with the Languedoc wine region. It is largely an undiscovered area of France. It has many attractions and points of interest. For the tourist, things are less expensive and less crowded. The wines are well made, delicious and are excellent values for the price. We hope in the next few years, the Languedoc wines will become much more available in our wine shops across the U.S. As Michel Julien states, It will take a huge effort by the Languedoc wineries in time and money to get their region recognized as a premier wine growing region and one worthy of respect.