Adventures In French Wine Country–Where Everything Is Old, Small, And Charming
“The picture on the Internet was of a stone house straddling a river in a small French village,” writes new Euro-Correspondent Jann Seal. “It looked idyllic, and its location, in the town of Gabian, was exactly where I wanted to be–a few miles outside Pezenas, in the French countryside, where everything is old, small, and charming.
“The vicar who owned the house and lived in England promised he’d have his house manager warm the three-foot-thick stone walls before the two post-menopausal women from Florida arrived mid-February.
“That the house manager has no idea of how to give sensible directions had no affect on us.
“That the roads got narrower as the winter day got darker had no affect on us.
“That I was driving a stick-shift car through a tiny village of tiny, winding streets had no affect on us.
“But the freezing cold, no-fire-burning, only-cold-water-running-out-of-the-taps house…that had an affect on us!
“The house manager was quite pleased with herself. She had, as instructed, turned on the electric heaters that morning in preparation for our visit. She’d turned them on medium. Have you any idea how long electric heat, on medium, takes to penetrate three-foot-thick stone walls in February? We don’t either. After one week, as we pulled away from the house to head back to the airport, we were still waiting to find out.
“But I’m getting ahead of my story.
“Gabian is just a few miles west of Roujan, which is just a few miles northwest of Pezenas. It’s a lovely drive over a narrow two-lane road bordered by plane trees and vineyards as far as the eye can see. We decided to forget how cold we were as we bundled into every stitch of clothing we had brought with us. We left our stone igloo, brushed the newly fallen snow from our windshield, got into the car, and turned on the heat! Prieuré de St-Jean de Bébian was our destination and drinking delicious French wine was our goal. Why else would anyone choose to visit France in February?
“Karen Turner, Bebian’s effervescent Australian winemaker, greeted us with a smile and offered us a glass of wine to warm our insides straightaway. Not wanting to insult our hostess, we practically grabbed the glasses from her hands and drank quickly. Yes, warmth followed. We were ready for our tour of the 12th-century wine-making buildings dotting the Pezenas landscape.
“Wine is the backbone of life in the Languedoc-Roussillon département. There is more wine produced in this region than in any other, and its quality is now garnering high marks from connoisseurs around the world. Many garage wines, produced under the radar (in a country that takes the regulation of its wine production very seriously) rival the prestigious Bordeaux, and dégustation signs dot the roads throughout the lushly planted area. Less costly than their Bordeaux cousins, Vin de Pays d’Oc, as the appellation indicates, can be sampled in just about any town in America. Simply look on the lower shelves of your favorite wine store, and you’ll find a treasure trove of some wonderful, not-expensive vins.
“Karen must have taken pity on us confused Americans traveling in French wine country at such an unlikely time of year. After our tasting, she invited my friend Katie and me to dinner at her house, assuring us the heat was on and the rooms were toasty! Indeed, but our hearts were more warmed by her hospitality, friendliness, and openness to welcome strangers into her home.
“Then, Mother Nature seemed to take pity on us, as well. The sun came out warmer, and the air grew less biting. By the end of our visit, we’d been won over completely. We left behind bits of our hearts in that still chilly stone house straddling a river in a small village in the south of France.
“And we can’t wait to return.”