Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Vigneron Picnic chez Virgile Joly

Normandy has been alive with D-Day remembrance celebrations this weekend. Elsewhere, like here down in the south, it's been the weekend of the Vigneron Pique-Nicque: you come with a picnic, the vigneron provides the wine. Sounds great!

My DB and I decided to participate this year. The weather was promising and it would be a good opportunity to get out and do something interesting, and taste some wine. Muggins here would be driving, so tasting would be minimal, but at least I'd get a nice lunch on my own terms.

I decided to make a tomato puff pastry tart. Very simple, just take a block of puff pastry, cut in half and roll out, thinly slice some tasty tomatoes, place in thin layer on pastry (swipe some mustard on pastry beforehand if you like), sprinkle over basil, S&P etc. and chuck in oven until cooked. Foolproof, normally. Unless you inadvertently buy some gluten-free frozen puff pastry. Pastry it was, puff it had not. I decided to taste it later.
Does this look like puff pastry to you?

I picked up my DB and we set off to Domaine Virgile Joly, chosen because one of my friends does the communication for them and I was curious to taste their wine. This is also the domaine that stars in the book Virgile's Vineyard by Patrick Moon.

We arrived just after midday, was told we'd missed the visit of the vineyard which apparently had been scheduled for 10am (!) but in fact took place at 11.30am (glad we didn't turn up for 10!), but that we could taste the wine. The village of Saint-Saturnin-de-Lucian is a typical Languedoc village, with cream stone buildings, an old church, narrow streets and a central place. Virgile's cave was on the place at the end of a tree-lined esplanade, and there was a busy restaurant opposite.
Place, Saint-Saturnin-de-Lucian, Domaine Joly back left

Domaine Virgile Joly
I thought wistfully about our picnic, left in the boot of the car (in the shade) as we tasted the wine on empty stomachs. Breakfast had been several hours ago, so one sip to many in the hot sun and I'd have been anybody's... We tasted two white, three reds and a Carthagène from the domaine, plus two wines from the Domaine Cinq Vents (D5V) that Virgile produces on behalf of its British owner, Christopher Johnson-Gilbert - a rosé and a red.

The wine was all very nice, very good, and pretty pricey. It was all out of our normal range of price for everyday wine, and we don't drink special wine very often, but keen wine enthusiasts who like to invest in an excellent bottle would undoubtedly find a treasure. We particularly liked the D5V red, which has a Montpeyroux appellation, at €18 and the Virgile Rouge, which has a Saint-Saturnin appellation, at €38. We were told that there was a BOGOF promotion on the D5V rosé if we bought a box (€28.80 instead of €57.60), but we had yet to go on our picnic, so decided to wait until the end of the day rather than lug it about.

Having finished the tasting, we waited. And waited. Some more people turned up - two couples with kids, friends of Virgile and his Polish wife, Magda, and they started tasting. Then Christopher and his partner turned up. Where were the people from the visit? I was expecting about 40 people to be there as the website said they had room for sixty.

In the end it was just us ten adults and about six kids. My DB and I were the only 'strangers'. Eventually they packed away the tasting equipment which was outside, and we got into our cars and followed the leader to the Rochers des Vierges. At a car-park halfway up, we put our cool-boxes into Virgile's minivan and started walking up to the picnic spot while he drove up the track.

It was 2pm by the time we sat down at the picnic tables, opened our cool-boxes and poured some rosé. The one large double table was occupied by a family, so we had to take two single tables on opposite sides of the shady clearing. The unpuffed pastry was pretty unpleasant, so I chucked it and just ate baguette, cheese (Beaufort), onion, tomato and peas. They were all very tasty. We had an entertaining time on our table talking to Christopher, his glamorous partner, and the girl who does the marketing for Virgile.
Shady picnic spot
Although the website had said "Visite guidée des vignes et de la cave, dégustation de vins, randonnée pédestre, repas sur la place tiré du sac" we hadn't realised that 'randonnée pédestre' meant a 20-min walk up a steep, pebbly track if you wanted lunch. My DB had had tendinitis in his feet just the weekend before which had only just mended. Walking up the track did it no good at all as it reopened the problem so he was a bit grumpy because of that, and the late lunch (think 'grumpy teenager'). Had we known what to expect, we would have declared forfeit on the picnic and gone to eat our lunch elsewhere.

Once there though, the picnic spot was lovely - shady, and with stunning views. After lunch, we walked the 100m or so to the top and admired the 360° panorama which shimmered hazily in the sun. There's a very basic refuge up at the top containing nothing but two rooms, dirty floors and holes in the roof. You'd have to be a pretty desperate Compostella to think of sleeping there, especially as you'd have to go equipped with a stiff broom and be prepared to walk the 3km to the top!
Two-room refuge with filthy floors
We also peeked inside an abandoned medieval chapel and climbed on the ruins of the small castle that had stood amongst the massive rocks.

Abandoned medieval chapel
Nifty rocks

View of D5V vines

View towards Saint-Saturnin (foreground) and Jonquières at end of straight road

Looking towards Lac de Salagou
Back at the picnic site, Magda poured coffee for us all on the now-vacated double table, and the buddies settled down for a good natter. My DB and I wanted to leave as it was, by now gone 4pm, but we couldn't leave before the others as our cool-box had to be transported back to the car-park. In the end, I told Virgile that we had to go, which meant raising the others, but, hey, they could always continue their natter back in the village.

As a marketing operation, the picnic had a fatal flaw because we were so late getting down that we just went straight home. We didn't go back to the domaine and we didn't therefore buy any wine although we had been tempted by the special offer on the rosé and the Cartagène apero wine.

It was a shame that participation in the picnic was limited to buddies, colleagues and us. I wonder how other domaines fared. I found out about it in the Hérault magazine, but didn't see any other publicity except for a bit on Facebook.

1. Got out instead of sitting about at home.
2. Got to taste Virgile's wine
3. Visited a lovely local site
4. Met some new people
5. Got some exercise

1. Waiting about
2. Late lunch
3. Organisational error: not being able to come and go once on the picnic
4. Walk too hard on delicate foot tendons

We would do it again, and visit a vineyard in the Montpeyroux appellation as we like their spicy full-bodied reds.


  1. Ooh, I really enjoyed Patricks books, so would have loved this. Sadly too far for us and the wine sounds a little above our normal supermarket buys as well!

    1. They had vigneron picnics all over France. If you click on the link in my blog, you'll see the site where you can find out which vignerons were participating in your region. :)

  2. My kind of day, save for the waiting....


  3. I checked the link and no one in my area was participating so I couldn't ask friends how it went there...
    The open days used to be well organised.....though the food, whether snacks or a full lunch, was free, but your experience seems to show the usual French incomptence at organisation.
    'Build it and they will come' doesn't seem to work in France....

    1. This is the fourth year this event has been running too... !

  4. Weighing up the pros and cons, this sounds a super day out

    I decided to do a food -themed travel round-up for BritMums (food markets, restaurants etc) so this will be perfect.

    1. En gros, as they say, it was indeed lovely. My feet were fine so I was just a bit hungry, but I was also a bit stressed because my DB was moaning. Having a grumpy partner when you're on an outing is a bit of a downer. :)

  5. How very French! On paper it was a super idea, Sarah, and I'm glad you found so many plus points in the day, but what a shame about the lack of organisation. It could have been so much better - and more profitable for them.

    1. Which, I suppose, was the aim of the event!

  6. I luuuurve St. Saturnin. That restaurant Le Pressoir is not haute cuisine but one of the best in the region. And the village is a perfect place to play pétanque, too.

    Little-known fact: Montpeyroux is pronounced like Montpeyrousse. And the wine is excellent.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Expat. We'll have to go there some time. We love Montpeyroux red too. :) Apparently it's not that popular with British wine buyers because they think it doesn't suit UK tastes. I think they're wrong! :)

    2. Well, the predominant grape variety is carignan, which has a distinctive flavour not thought to be popular UK-side. I have friends who make wine not far from St Saturnin (actually in Pégairolles de l'Escalette which you drove right past recently). They complain "if only they'd let us plant grenache we could easily double our exports." But as you know the appellation laws are strict when it suits them to be.

      On the other hand, my friends the vignerons chuckle greatly when they notice tanker trucks with bordeaux licence plates turning up in the Midi right after the vendange.

    3. Yes, we spoke about the Bordeaux lorries come to stock up. :)

  7. Lovely old chapel. Made me wonder about the hundreds, possibly thousands, who had passed through over the years.

    1. It's amazing to have such old buildings all around us. They certainly knew how to build to last in Medieval France!

  8. I like the look of that crispy tomato arrangement, simple and yet delish looking, you could start a domestic trend. That place looks fabulous, very dramatic for a picnic, just lovely. My husband is a big one for the sparkling blush type of wines, i always tease him they are the girlies drinks but they are great on a summer day

    1. The tart actually tastes delish if you use proper pastry too. I can never be fagged to make puff pastry so buy it, and it makes a lovely summery tart. Next time I make one I'll take a piccie (if I remember...).

      We tried a bubbly rosé flavoured with grapefruit juice (the real thing, not a chemical substitute) recently and it was fab as an apero.

  9. I think that my last comment has been eaten up...I think that you are living the French life. Good for you. In the meantime, it is raining in London. Where did I go wrong again?

    1. THE main advantage of living in the south of France, Muriel, is the weather. Lots of sunshine doesn't half make life more pleasurable.

      If I could transport the centre of London to the south of France though, I'd do it, if only to be able to attend the School of Life activities!

    2. Same here...It looks like we can't have everything, right? Come to think of it, it sucks. Why do we always have to make a choice?

  10. All of you look so happy sitting together on that bench! And the views in your photos are just incredible.

    1. Oh yes, by then we were full of lunch and wine. :)
      It's a great place for a picnic, if you're not lugging too much stuff. The gravelly path getting there is quite treacherous. Put your foot down and it can slide out from under you completely unexpectedly. It's worth it for the views though, and must be even better on a clear day.


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