This is the end of my journey through the charming French wine regions, and the very last
stage in the Rediscover France series. My latest adventure takes me to the region of
Montpellier. Montpellier is the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon area and the Hérault
department (you could also pronounce this as hero, which sounds as good as the wine they
make here). The old town is one of the largest cities in the whole country, while Languedoc is
sometimes called the largest wine region in the world. So, I drink wine between flamingos,
shake cocktails with the best bartender in France, get lost in the ever-winding streets and
above all, taste a lot of the good stuff. Montpellier, I’m ready for you.
Villeneuve les Maguelone – Les companions de Maguelone
Together with Valérie, I suddenly stand on the golden-brown roof of a building that resembles an old cathedral – the Cathédrale de Maguelone. I am surprised by a 360° panoramic view with the intense blue of the Mediterranean Sea to my left, and the rippling bustle of the metropolis of Montpellier to my right. Below me, I can smell the greenery of 23 hectares of vineyards.
A little further on, about 10 people are working hard between the ranks. Cyril from Les Compagnons de Maguelone pushes a pot of fertilizer into my hands and explains that he and a group of disabled people give their love to the vineyard. Here, they focus on social integration and give those who often do not get a
chance in society a place to work in the vineyards. And while they toil, I get the chance to work with these wonderful people for a while. (The wines taste extra soft when you know the story behind them). The tour on and around the cathedral of Villeneuve les Maguelone has left an impression on me. When wine, heritage and a social project come together, it’s love at first taste.
Domaine St Jean de l’Arbousier
Today I sleep in a tree house among the vineyards and the view from my bed is magnificent. I feel like Peter Pan in Neverland as I explore Les Cabanes sur les Arbres by mountain bike. Nicolas, a sympathetic owner, proposes we have lunch by the terraced area to my cabin—I imagine myself God in France.
This is the perfect base to visit the area of Saint Jean de l’Arbousier. The domain is near the village of Castries and embraced by mountains, sea, and vineyards where the Knight Templars used to rule. Today sustainable wine is now continued by the fourth generation. With organic farming put first it benefits the wine completely. Between the gigantic wine barrels, I learn what makes this wine so unique. With a cheese platter, a bottle of wine, the sweet scent of the Provence, and a rising sun that drenches the sunflowers and vineyards in gold—It doesn’t get any better than this, the contrast with my home base in Antwerp could not be greater. I find myself crawling under the wool to my tree house.
A masterclass with world champion cocktail maker Julien Escot
In a tiki bar in Bonaire, I was presented with the best cocktail ever. And I thought to myself even back then, I want to be able to do that too. So, finally my time has come. Here I meet with Julien, the 2012 world cocktail shaking champion, as recognized by the American Cocktail Foundation. A proud resident of Montpellier he works in Aperture (not only the shutter speed on your camera, but also the name of one of the world’s best bars and noted as one the World’s top 50 Discoveries). Julien has also been voted best bartender in France and me …well, I’m just Jens De Maere with G&T as my cocktail specialty. Julien mixes Japanese gin with egg white, yuzu vanilla liqueur, and fresh lime juice into a drink that’s worthy of the gods. My attempt won’t make it into the annals of Aperture, but nevertheless we both drink our glasses dry.
Shake it like a polaroid picture. Cheers!
Chateau de Fourques
Powerful women make powerful wines. This area is where Lise, from Château de Fourques runs as a fourth-generation female winegrower. Here, she challenges me to taste 6 of her best creations, and then to a blind tasting session—challenge accepted! The authentic building where I start the tasting is the heart of the 50+ hectares of vineyard. With no fewer than 3 exceptional appellations to taste here: AOC Languedoc, AOC Saint Georges d’Orques, and AOC Grés de Montpellier. The fact that I dishonor my reputation as a
wine connoisseur by confusing red with rosé is really just a compliment to the fantastic wine (and a mark on my wine connoisseur body.) Blind tasting remains a challenge, but it’s a great way to test our senses to the fullest and bury all prejudices. Château de Fourques is one of the most beautiful domains I visit during my Discovery Series, and Lise is by far one of the interesting winemakers. A powerful woman who dares to challenge. Be sure to try it for yourself!
Château de l’Engarran – Cuvée St-DeMaré
A classical chateau towers in front of me—dressed in jeans and sneakers, with the dirt from
the vineyards still sticking to them, I walk a little uncomfortably up the large driveway. Like a lost Harry Potter at the big grey gate to a castle I knock on the door and get ready for an atelier de création. While that may sound like I’m going to make a witches’ potion, it’s the practice to make my own wine and the first step in the right direction of my very own Vin DeMare! My own wine smells of raspberry, blackcurrant, and sweet spices. I call Cuvée St-DeMarė where all the people I met at Chateau de L’Engarran taste it with enthusiasm. In the romantic garden I walk in the footsteps of the former ladies of this wine temple. I take my own bottle home. My first step to become the best winegrower in the world has been taken and I embrace Château de l’Engarran in my arms.
Château de Flaugergues
Pierre De Colbert greets me when I walk into the fifth beautiful domain in the region. In the beautiful front garden of his Château, he juggles blue-neon wine bottles and throws them gracefully into the air like an acrobat on a trapeze. Here you can afford to laugh every once in a while—it’s all about having fun and respecting the beauty of the past.
The castle was built at the end of the 17th century. They sometimes call this residence a “folly”, as are several buildings in the area around Montpellier. This comes from ‘Maison dans les Feuillages’, or houses surrounded by greenery and flora. The new aristocracy at the time loved this and hoped to impress the king and his officials.
In the library I discover books about travel and how everything is linked to our ancestors. The paintings on the wall color the Insta-wall of the château. I learn how wine is pressed in the latest machines and sit down at the table for what must have been the best lunch of my stay at the Folia Restaurant which is in the domaine. Worthy of Gault-Millau, I prepare for my very last visit to Montpellier. I don’t know how to keep my senses anymore, but thanks to Pierre, my laughing muscles are already in shape!
Domaine de Verchant
Did I save the best for last? well, maybe. Domaine de Verchant used to be a bustling wine estate, but today it stands for pure luxury and relaxation. Colored and approved by Italian design, with influences from Poltrona, Moroso, Casa Milano, Nanimarquina… you name it.
Here you will find a starred restaurant, a wonderfully luxurious spa, and rooms to die for. I sit in the middle of the vineyards with my feet by the pool (I didn’t see that coming). The 5-star suites look inviting to me, and I discover which room celebrities like Madonna stay in when they visit.
In the wine cellar (secured by lock and key) I find a price list. This is where one Grand Cru competes against the other, and I am left utterly speechless. You cannot go to Montpellier and not visit the Domaine de Verchant. This is the perfect place to take a break and finish my Rediscover France series.
Montpellier, you were mesmerizing. A city with a golden heart, like its sunsets—I’m glad we got to know each other.