One of our favorite food and wine experiences in our region comes from Emma Kershaw of La Maison du Rire. You may recall our post from last year.
Château Canet was new to us, but if Emma was involved, we were in!
The drive from Carcassonne, to the northeast, runs through gently rolling dry land, covered with vines, olive trees and scrub. A turn off a village road into the domaine of Château Canet transported us into a lusher shallow valley. Ranges of mature pines encircle a microclimate of vineyards, olive orchards, oleander hedges, and great deciduous shade trees.
We arrived at Château Canet on an appropriately hot summer late morning. The cicadas were “singing” in full force.
Cicadas, or cigales in French, are a famous part of the Provence region, in southeast France.
But over here, in southern France, they also deliver their distinctive scraping and buzzing sound once the temperature reaches about 25 deg C / 77 deg F and sun is shining.
According to Provençal myth, the cicada was sent by God to disrupt the peasants’ endless siestas and stop them from growing too lazy. There are about 2,500 species of cicada, around 15 of which live in the south of France. They have a four-year life span but only a few weeks are spent above ground, during which time the males sing to attract females by contracting and relaxing ribbed membranes inside their stomachs. The cicada is the one of the world’s loudest insects, recording sounds of up to 120 decibels – but below 22 degrees Centigrade the resounding sections of the diaphragm lose their elasticity, which explains the quiet during periods of rain or after sunset.
Happily, we found that two of our anglophone friends from Carcassonne had chosen to attend. The four of us sat at one of the tables in the garden under the shade trees — all appropriately set apart, of course.
Our hostess, Victoria Lemstra-Bake, introduced Château Canet. She told us the story of how she, who is British, and her Dutch viticultural husband sought a vineyard in the South of France.
From their website:
A traditional 19th century wine estate, Chateau Canet is today recognised as one of the leading domaines of the Minervois region in the heart of the Languedoc Roussillon. The 45 hectares of vineyards are complimented with 3 hectares of olive groves and over 65 hectares of farmland and pine forests. The setting is truly enchanting with all the buildings nestled in the heart of the estate. There are uninterrupted views over the vineyards and olive groves to the distant Alaric mountains. It is a perfect place to unwind and soak in the beauty of the South of France.
Today, all the original buildings are still in use although they have been significantly modernised. The old winery is fitted with state of the art wine making equipment, allowing us to blend traditional ‘savoir-faire’ with modern day techniques. The stables are now used as our “aging cellar” where the wines quietly mature until ready to be bottled and enjoyed. The manor house is still a family home and the original “vignerons” lodgings have been converted in charming guest cottages.
Victoria also introduced us to the wines of the domaine. Again from their website:
The 50 hectares of vineyards of Château Canet are located in the middle of a natural heaven, the Balcons de L’Aude in the Minervois region. A great wine “terroir” made up of clay and limestone soil.
We manage the vineyards according to the guidelines of sustainable viticulture, following the brief of ‘Terra Vitis’® The mandate helps us grow great grapes while respecting the environment and maintaining the long term health and sustainability of our vineyards and surrounding agricultural land.
The vines also benefit from a warm Mediterranean climate and the interesting climatic conditions caused by the winds; the cool northerly Atlantic wind called the Cers and the warm Vent Marin which blows in from the coast.
The principal grape, covering over half of the vineyards, is Syrah (Shiraz). The more mineral soils are planted with Chardonnay, the remaining vineyards are planted with Grenache, Merlot, and the regional varietals Roussanne and Bourboulenc which form the basis of Chateau Canet’s white Minervois.
80% of the domaine is recognised as “Minervois”, one of the Appellation d’Origine Protégée (A.O.P.) of the Langudeoc Roussillon. The remaining vineyards are classified as Pays d’Oc I.G.P. (Indication Géographique Protégée).
After all that introducing, with an overlay of cigale songs, the wine and tapas started arriving. Beautiful food and wine!
After our feast of a lunch, one of Victoria’s daughters showed us around the B&B facilities. One of our Carcassonne friends runs a personalized tour company; she focuses on a few regions of France, including our own. She is always looking for interesting properties for her customers to stay in. We had the good fortune of being able to tag along.
The property includes olive groves as well as vineyards.
From the Château Canet website:
The 3 hectares of olive groves are made up of a number of different olives, including the very local varietals of Lucques; a bright green moon-shaped olive unique to the Lanquedoc Roussillon and Picholine; a smaller almond shaped olive that is used for both olive oil as well as table olives.
The olive groves were planted in 1995 and are now just coming into their prime of their olive producing life. Like our vineyards, the olive groves are managed following the guidelines of “Terra Vitis” or sustainable agriculture; thus limiting the use of chemicals and replacing them with more environmentally friendly methods such as ploughing the land to control weeds.
Traditionally the olives are harvested towards the end of November when they ripen and turn black. The olives are pressed within 24 hours to ensure that we obtain the classification of extra virgin olive oil. This cold pressed olive oil is the highest quality level with very low acidity and bitterness.
After the oil is extracted in the centrifuge it is left to settle for 2 to 3 month. Then in the beginning of February it is bottled without filtering.
The Chateau Canet olive oil has a smooth and buttery structure with luscious aromas of almonds, dried fruits and a hint of citrus. It is tasty over a salad or with some poultry but best with a chunk of fresh bread, some ‘fleur de sel’ and a glass of Minervois ‘les Evangiles’.
The food and tapas were delightful. Victoria and her family welcomed us all warmly. We consciously fell under their spell, which means we left with a few cases of their wine, a couple bottles of their Lucque olives, and a bottle of their on-site pressed olive oil.