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~ Chateau de Ventenac Minervois ~

Ventenac is a lovely little village located in the Minervois wine-growing region of the Languedoc, set on the banks of the picturesque Canal du Midi with the northerly protection of the Montagne Noire behind. The village is only small, yet is extremely welcoming and well worth a visit not only for its wine cave but also for the ambiance of its setting. Here you can sit on the banks of the canal and watch the world go by, or eat in one of its busy, yet non-expensive restaurants, overlooking the Canal.

In the height of summer there is almost nothing better than to enjoy a chilled glass of wine by the canal, maybe a slightly blushed Rosé - a delightful assemblage of 20% Syrah and 20% Cinsault - or a crisp and fruity Chardonnay. As time gently passes, relax and watch the boats drift by, ducks waddle on and the old men play boules, as you bask in the beautiful sunshine that the region is blessed with or daydream, away from chillier climes, under the dappled shade of the magnificent plane trees that line the Canal.

The village, like all of the villages in the region, has everything needed to be independent, self governed and self contained, it has its own post office, its own Marie (Mayor’s office) and most importantly of all its own wine cave, which dominates the village. The Chateau, prominent on the skyline, looks down from an elevated position high on a ridge that overlooks the canal. The original castle dates back to the Twelfth century, when Simon de Montford captured it, in the bloody Albigensian crusade.

As soon as you drive towards the village and cross the bridge on the canal, you are immediately struck by the beauty and impressive architecture of the Chateau and the Caveau, its turrets rising higher than anything else in view. In 1880 Madame Seguy Saint Siran bought the Chateau and built the Caveau with the help of The companions of France. In 1938 the vine growers of Ventenac joined together and bought the Chateau and Caveau with its extensive vineyards planted in a vast amphitheatre of rich lands facing south.

Nestled amid countryside of scents and flavours, the wines are indicative to the region that they are grown in. Some of the reds are aged in oak for up to a year like the cuvée special, 60% Syrah, 30% carignan and 10% mourdevre - having complex flavours of wild herbs like thyme and rosemary. The white cuvée special is also aged in oak for three months but has more of a smokey flavour reminiscent of the wild pine and is made from the maccabeu grapes that originally came from Spain, an hours drive away.

For wine dégustations, you enter through the grand oak doors of the caveau. Once inside you have the perfect balance of old and new, just like the Languedoc region itself. Inside the chai you are greeted by a plethora of visual treats, from neatly stacked boxes of wine to glass cabinets filled with oddly shaped souvenir bottles and glasses. You are greeted at the counter by the vignerons and their helpers who immediately set about making you feel welcome and getting down to the business of the wine tasting.

Neatly tucked away behind the counter you have the modern side of the Chateau de Ventenac,such as the computer, fax machine, credit card processor and various other essentials for any modern day business. All these items are neatly hidden away as if causing embarrassment to the rest of the establishment. In this region, modern technology is an often avoided necessity, in many ways an unwanted modern intervention into their part of the world.

Around the chais (wine store) there are various artefacts that you can purchase, from paintings of their vineyards, to photographs of the extensive barriques kept in the cave. Again you become part of the blending of the old, with the new. If you are interested the vigneron can show you around the lesser seen parts of the cave and you can discover the wonders of the vinification process, from picking the grapes, the vendages, through to the bottling of these lovely rich full blooded red wines.

The wines made in Ventenac are made from combinations of grape varieties including Syrah grape, Grinache, Mourdevre, Cinsault and Carignan. During the degustation the charming vignerons can answer any questions you have on the wines, their origin and their production. They conduct you through a plethera of wines, introducing you to the varied nuances and tastes of these extremely palatable and well-presented wines.

However, more interesting and indicative of the cave and the region itself are the wonderfully packaged Carthagene wines which, including, the enigmatically named L’or du Bacchus (Gold of Bacchus) provide you with wonderful dry / sweet musty aperitif or desert wines. They can be served with Fois Gras, Jambon Payenne or just on their own. Everything in this cave is produced with not only the finest quality but also excellent presentation, making everything you purchase, be it a present, for personal consumption or even just for a taste, a pleasurable experience. If you enjoy red, white or a little aperitif you are guaranteed to find something to suit your palate and leave you feeling extremely satisfied with your purchase.

On the top floor of this wonderful Chateau is their own museum, detailing the history of the cave and the village, giving you a valuable and extensive look into the history of the Chateau and its present day wine production. The museum encompasses the history of the village over the past couple of hundred years, so for anyone, who not only loves to imbibe the wine, but also enjoys discovering the history of wine, this is an ideal, and as yet relatively undiscovered, place to visit, encapsulated by the idealistic setting it has found itself in.

This article was provided by GoHolidayFrance organisers of Cooking Holidays and Wine Tours in the Languedoc region of France

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