Ever since I first drove up the road from Cucugnan, past the castle of Queribus, and then down to the village of Maury, I have been smitten.
And ever since then, I have brought countless hapless visitors to the same spot, and watched them fall in love too.
For some rather foolish reason, about a year ago, I stuck my hand up and volunteered to organise an ‘MW trip’ to my favourite region.
Now, the MW trip is one of the best perks of being a Master of Wine. Essentially, for a modest contribution towards costs, MWs can enter the ballot to gain a place on one of 6-8 trips that are run every year to different wine regions.
The idea of the trip is to condense the best wines and best producers in a region into a very focussed and intense visit. The outcome should be that every MW feels fully up-to-date with what is going on in the corner of the wine world that they are visiting.
But my secret plan for this Roussillon trip was to make sure that they too fell in love with this stunning part of the world.
Our first visit was to the hugely inspiring pioneer of the Roussillon – Gerard Gauby, who has torn up the rulebook of biodynamics and written his own. He told us that “If Steiner [founder of biodynamics] was a Catalan, he’d be doing what I am doing”
Everything Gerard does has ‘love’ written all over it – love for nature, love for biodiversity, love for the people who work with him, and love for simple wines, naturally made. He has pioneered something he called ‘agro-forestry – inter-planting rows of vines with rows of olive trees and fruit trees, and this helps to encourage the wild birds that eat the destructive insects that give rise to grape diseases.
An inspiring and fascinating visit.
The next component of my secret plan was to coax the unsuspecting MWs away from wine for a brief hour, and plunge them into the cauldron of Cathar history that is the castle of Queribus. Never taken in battle, this stronghold could be held against all comers with fewer than 20 men.
With incredible views of the whole region, and buffeted by gusts of wind that could lift a child off her feet, we were lucky to climb to the top on a day of stunning visibilty.
No-one escapes Queribus unmoved.
Later in the week, we added into the mix a masterclass on ‘Vins doux naturel’, the famous fortified wines from the Roussillon, a walking tour of historic Perpignan, a ‘sea and mountains’ safari in Banyuls, a dip in the sea at Collioure, a night in the world’s only hotel built in a revamped co-operative winery, and countless excellent tastings, lunches and dinners.
And, of course, the chance to taste some Domaine of the Bee.
With all this planned, I hoped we had the recipe for a visit that the MWs would remember for many years to come
I think it worked!
We had some very effusive thank you notes from almost everyone on the trip, and the feedback forms are coming in think and fast studded with enthusiastic exclamations.
No other MW has, to my knowledge, yet bought themselves a vineyard in the area, but it is only a matter of time…..