TO KNOW | LA RAMONETA OF THE MONTH
Every month, we introduce you to an interesting woman living in Languedoc. Curious as we are, we like to find out why she is living in this beautiful region, what she does for a living and some of their Languedoc favourites. This month we would like you to meet Kate Wardell from Vinitude Wine School as Ramoneta of the Month. (P.s. All pictures included are from Kate herself).
I was born near Poole in Dorset, although both sides of my family hail from Southampton. We left England in 1977 as my father became the General Manager of the Hong Kong Container Line. After five years in the Far East, we moved to Villars-sur-Glâne in Switzerland, where I did my secondary education and went to University. Then Greece beckoned, so we did a spell there, but I returned to the UK before my parents. Eventually, the wanderlust struck again, and I moved to France in 2007.
I worked for many years in the Travel and Hospitality Industries, both on the frontline and in the training departments. Eventually, I ended up as an assessor for NVQs (vocational qualifications). I love to cook and to entertain, and I’ve nearly completed my WSET Diploma in wine studies – there will be a BIG party once that’s done!
First time in the region
Oooof… that was maybe 20 years ago. I was working for a company that offered villa rentals for holidaymakers, and they were looking for a French speaker. But my love affair with France started way before that. My parents used to drive from Switzerland to the UK each summer. No trip was complete without a stop first in Alsace, and then on the Normandy coast.
Settling in Languedoc
I moved here lock, stock, and barrel in September 2007. I’ve never been one to leave a toe in another camp ;). Languedoc offers so much – we’re close to the Mediterranean Sea, we can get into the mountains, we’ve got beautiful lakes, and room to breath. We’ve also got amazing transport links – I’m a big fan of trains (I think it’s a Swiss thing lol) and good links for low-cost airlines. So, if the pull of bright lights and the big city gets too strong, it’s not difficult to get to an exciting metropolis. But I do adore living in the country (1) – in a village – in a community.
Living in the South of France
Aside from the amazing history, fascinating culture, wonderful food, innovative wines and the generous spirit of the people, I love the pace of life and the sense of togetherness. I love that I can go to the Saturday market in Carcassonne (2), have a grand crème at Chez Felix, and inevitably bump into someone I know. I also love the camaraderie of being in an Association (I’m in one that puts on classical and contemporary music concerts) or in organising fundraisers. It is never ever dull.
Vin en Vacances (3) has been running ten years now. It really is the brainchild of Wendy Gedney, who I genuinely regard not only as one of my dearest friends, but as a mentor. We run both scheduled and bespoke wine tours, which started out just in Languedoc. But now we do them all over France, and sometimes Spain and Italy. I have the immense privilege of working with Wendy, Marcel, a Dutch Sommelier, and Carlos, a Catalan history expert and guide. Together, we organise around 200 tours and events a year, and our clients come from just about every country on the planet. My highlight this year was touring with four guests from Georgia (Tsiblisi) around Champagne and Northern Burgundy. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe this is my job!
About 18 months ago, Wendy and I started up a little local wine school: Vinitude (4). In all honesty, it was sort of born out of many conversations we’d had with friends, sat around various kitchen and dining room tables about how we communicate about wine. We discovered lots of our friends and acquaintances want to know how to talk more knowledgeably about the vast array of wines from this region. Also, they would like to have the chance to try wines from other parts of France and other parts of the world. So we try and split up the courses, some feature local wines and grapes, and sometimes we’ll focus on upcoming regions. For example, in November we’ve got one exclusively featuring Argentinian Malbecs!
The classes focus on getting you to taste systematically – because although preference is subjective, assessing a wine is actually an objective exercise. It’s always good fun to have someone in the class who, by the end of it has to begrudgingly admit that despite hating a particular wine, they have to rate it as very good or even excellent. That always tickles me.
I’ve been lucky enough, thanks to both Vinitude and Vin en Vacances, to have been asked to judge at the Millisime Bio Challenge. Wendy and I are both qualified to teach via the Wines & Spirits Education Trust – so you’re in very safe hands. I love teaching, so the idea was a stroke of genius, really!
Living the French Dream
It can be tough. I would say if you don’t already speak French – learn it! You also have to get to grips with NOT raging against the machine of French bureaucracy. They don’t do short cuts; they want what they want. And just because you’ve already supplied it, doesn’t mean they won’t ask for it again… lol.
It is not a cakewalk – but it is worth it. The astonishing realisation struck me that in September, I had lived in my house in Caunes longer than I had lived anywhere else in my life. For someone whose feet are as itchy as mine, that’s nothing short of a miracle! I also love that my parents moved here too. Sadly, my father passed away nine years ago, but my mother is still happily living about half an hour from me. I know she has no desire to move anywhere else. Mind you, she’s 80, so…
I think one of the things that sets Languedoc (5) apart from other winemaking regions in France is that we’re still relatively under-rated and less well known. Our saving grace was the influx of new blood. Winemakers who don’t just come from other parts of France, but from different parts of the world. The revival of ancient, heirloom or heritage varietals can blossom in a region like this.
More and more winemakers are waking up to the idea that planting the right grapes in the right place, in the right climate, actually makes better wines than just planting the international seven varieties that everyone knows. Innovation with a healthy respect for the environment and the history, that’s what makes Languedoc special.
Best Languedoc wine
This is like asking me to choose my favourite child! I could maybe do a Top 3…
1. I’m very enamoured with the wines made by Ferrer Ribiere down in the Roussillon. Their entire range just blew me away. If you’re fond of old vine Carignan, theirs is from ungrafted vines ( if you want to know why that’s so cool, you’ll have to come to a Vinitude course!).
2. I had an absolute belter of an oaked Chardonnay from Domaine La Louvière (6) in the Malepère this summer. It was so good, I can still taste it.
3) Clos de Papillons from Mas Gabriel never ever disappoints. It’s a white Carignan of such poise and structure.
But the truth of the matter is that much of the decision making is based on what I’m eating. I rarely drink wine without a meal. I’m not really a vin glouglou girl ;).
I am very blessed to know a lot of good cooks – so some of my favourite places to eat aren’t restaurants. However, I’m very fond of La Cave at La Caunette, which is run by three sisters. They don’t really serve an à la carte, more of a three menu formula. I also love eating at markets, so Chez Bebelle in Les Halles in Narbonne is always fun. And I love going to the Bistro d’Augustin in Carcassonne and ordering Fruits de Mer. Just for the pure theatre of eating.
Perfect day out in Languedoc
Depends on the time of year… Right now, on one of our beautiful cold, clear, bright blue sky days, I’d like to take one of the pups for whom I act as ‘Fairy Dog Mother’ down to the beach for a good old blustery run-around.
In the depths of winter – one of the truffle markets followed by a bunch of friends, cooking and eating together.
In spring – a hike when the wildflowers and herbs are out, and the vines are getting the first ‘frilly knickers’ of new growth.
In the summer – a drive down to the wild Côte Vermeille – the secret Mediterranean, lunch of some deep-fried squid and a glass of something cold and crisp, and maybe a dip in the sea.