Learning about wine from the ground up

Lets face it. Most people I know like wine and drink the stuff in varying amounts. Eventually some even get passionate enough about wine to want to learn the ins and outs. The road to fulfillment on the education front can be intimidating at best. And along the way one runs into more than a few wine snobs who don’t really get the point. You know. That wine is mostly just a humble beverage that brings people together and offers some small pleasures.

So you can imagine my excitement when I was invited to spend an amazing day learning about wine amongst the rolling hills of parasol pine,  old gnarly vines and a deep blue sky at Domaine Clavel in the Côteaux du Languedoc.  The day was organized by a young French company called mesvignes.com. They’re betting on the down to earth (literally) trend that brings together professionals from all walks of life to worship the golden grape.

An organic vineyard is full of life

Mes Vignes has partnered with 15 top wineries throughout France to offer their customers a hands-on way to learn about wine. People sign up for one to three workshops that take place at the winery of their choice and initially harvest the grapes that are destined for the cuvée Mes Vignes.  After a year of more of periodic workshops and lots of online updates, these web vignerons receive a couple of cases of “their” wine.

The participants, myself and 15 couples from all over the south of France are greeted by Stephen, Mes Vignes enologist/host for the day, Pierre Clavel and his wife Estelle. Over coffee and croissants we’re briefed on the day’s events.

Off to the vineyard

Before long, with shears in hand, it’s time to head out to the vineyard and pick grapes. The group is relaxed but excited at the same time. The steep, rocky vineyard is not the easiest of terrain but who cares  when the senses are teased by the stunning views of  nearby Pic Saint Loup and the intense scents of savoury herbs and parasol pine.

The “work” part of the day only lasts for an hour or so and then we’re off to learn about  tanks, vats, barrels and all the other hardware that help turn those ripe, succulent grapes into great wine. The information is precise without being overly technical and the crowd laps it up.

Pierre Clavel explains the primary fermentation

...under the watchful eye of Bacchus.

By noon our hosts sense our brains are full and in need of serious refreshment. The Domaine Clavel 2009 rosé is lovely, fresh and full of ripe, strawberry scented fruit. Soon we sit down to an excellent four-course meal and get to taste the domain’s best wines. By the time dessert is served almost two hours later, I and likely several others,  feel like a wee siesta, but duty calls so we all gather round the modern press where Pierre explains the intricacies of pressing grapes.

Stephen explains the art of using barrels to age wine.

Then it’s off to the barrel chai where some of the domain’s wines are matured in 228 l. oak casks. Stephen explains the reasons behind oak ageing and by the end of his talk we’re all fascinated by this complex and mysterious part of fine wine making.   Finally, our very satisfied albeit slightly tired group, heads to the tasting room, where those who want to can purchase additional wine.

My verdict? A great hands-on way to learn about wine from the people who make it their life’s work. And you’ll get a feel for the life of a vigneron to boot. The amazing vistas, the warm welcome and the knowledge one picks up,  make for an unforgettable experience, one that you’ll be reminded of each time you open a bottle of “your” wine.

More information can be had at; www.mesvignes.com (French only; a new site in English will be online by mid October) http://www.vins-clavel.fr/



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2 responses to “Learning about wine from the ground up

  1. Susan

    mesvignes.com is a great idea and your photos help explain the process. How many of these days do I do before I get “my” case of wine?

    Are lunches, tasting etc. gratis, in exchange for my labour? I think several Prince Edward County vineyards here in Ontario, Canada, put vendage volunteers to work picking etc. and then reward them with food and wine. By Chadsey’s Cairn for one.

    I look forward to seeing the company’s website en anglais.

    • The wine does not come for free. Clients pay to lease their vines for a season. The amount varies depending on the prestige of the domain and the number of workshops one decides to participate in. And for now they don’t ship to Canada! Lots of wine makers here do have teams of volunteers vendange for them. Look out for an upcoming post on my vendange experience. cheers. JM realfoodwarrior.wordpress.com

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