“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.” Plautus
There is something special about Oenophiles, those talented among us that are devoted to wine, who can describe a vintage in countless different ways. They have such highly acute senses, that they can pick-up on minute traces, those fragrances and flavours that the average person simply misses. Beyond the typical salty, sweet, bitter and sour, they now say we can taste up to 15 distinct flavours on our tongue; soapiness, lysine, electric, alkaline, hydroxide, fattiness, piquancy (like red hot chili peppers), coolness (like a peppermint patty), carbon dioxide, metallic and lastly, umami the savoury distinction. Wine aficionados may taste an infinite number of variations when paired with the trillion different smells detected by the human nose. A hobbyist connoisseur of fine wines can train these senses, but usually this is a gift people are born with. I have found that these talented individuals also have an appreciation for fine dining, and no surprise, many can pair wines like a sommelier to enhance the flavours of a meal. A good sommelier in a posh restaurant is worth their weight in gold, but a good Oenophile at your home dinner table is worth their weight in saffron.
It was a typical Indian summer day; the sort we are spoiled with here in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France. The sun hung low casting long shadows and the last blooms of the season bask in the glowing sun. Wendy enters wearing a light coloured sundress, her hair classic blonde bob hits her shoulders and she greets us with the traditional cheek-to-cheek kiss. It was the first time I met this energetic lady, although she has been working with my husband for months, and her reputation precedes her. Her book, The Wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon, is for sale in most souvenir stores in the region, and having a masters in Languedoc wines, she is well known to the vignerons as well as the communities they span.
We sat down for lunch at Domaine la Veronique. Chef Peter had prepared Persian chicken cooked in a tajine, with a mix of onions, bell peppers, lemons, fennel, saffron, and tarragon. It was a remarkable experience for all my senses plus the added pleasure of good conversation, mostly revolving around food and wine.
Wendy brought some wine for us to try, that she thought would pair nicely with today’s meal. I was surprised at the amount of knowledge one needs to be able to pair on this level. Her confidence was astonishing and her pairing was a success. I would have been frightened at the thought of trying to pick wines to compliment a meal with such complex, bold flavours.
The apero served was a sparkling white wine from Limoux made exactly like the more famous Champagne in the traditional method. A little known fact is that Limoux came first in 1531, the actual origin of this method was by a Benedictine Monk from this region. Next was a dry Languedoc vermentino which brought another level of taste accenting the savoury main dish and gave a subtle mellow melange. And lastly, the sweet Muscat from Clos du Gravillas was served with the fresh fruit topped jelly dessert that brought out hints of ginger and infused mint and the sweet wine was in direct contrast with sharp roquefort cheese platter ending our gastronomic adventure.
Wendy Gedney moved to France to start Vin en Vacance, a tour company that visits the best domains and restaurants in the Languedoc. Her customers give raving reviews, and a five star ranking on Tripadvisor. Notably the #1 activity to do while visiting the famous city of Carcassonne. As of late, Wendy has teamed up with my husband Alfonz and now Vin en Vacance has branched off to include Capestang as a starting point. Wendy has taken him under her wing, and helped him prepare for his WSET accreditation exam, which he passed with merit. With Alfonz as the tour guide, and Wendy’s support, and knowledge; we all hope for the same success.
Who is Wendy Gedney of Vin en Vacance? You may find a little inspiration in her words…
I first came to Languedoc in 1990 with my husband and children for a holiday and fell in love with it. Little did I know that fate would bring me back here nearly 20 years later. My husband lost his life in a car accident at Christmas 2000. He had been a Francophile and a wine lover and because of him I became a fan too. He had wanted to live in France and run wine tours so when I lost him I decided to learn about wine and eventually come to France and try to achieve his dream for him. I did it in his memory.
Did you experience culture shock?
I came here to use my skills as a wine teacher and was very single minded so worked nonstop for the first four years. That meant I hardly noticed the culture shock until I began to slow down and try to integrate with people on a non-work basis and that was when I encountered the difference in cultures.
Did you do anything since moving to France that you never would have expected?
I wrote a book about the wines of the region. I had never planned to do this but the more I learnt about the area and the wines the more I realized just how complicated it is for the layman to get to grips with the wine laws, different wine styles and grape varieties and the important role that terroir plays in the style of the wines. Languedoc-Roussillon is the most exciting wine region in France. It is still evolving, is on the cusp of greatness and the world has not caught up with the quality revolution that has taken place here over the past 20 years. I wanted to write a book that would capture the ‘spirit of Languedoc’ and tell its story so that visitors and the people who live here could appreciate it even more.
What did you do to integrate with your community?
I have to admit I’m not good at this, not even in my own country! Here I have tried to learn to speak French but found this very difficult although I get by reasonably well. I tried to join a couple of associations but because my business is very demanding of my time I have found it difficult to commit to things. My job has helped me meet winemakers and some have become colleagues however only a few have become friends.
I have come to realize that no matter how long I stay here, how well I speak French and try to integrate I will always be English and I need English speaking people to talk with. We think the same way and mostly have the same sense of humor and values. I cannot speak or think like a French person and I need my own sort of people around me. Although I love it here in Languedoc and have no intention of leaving. I live on my own and being the sort of person who finds it hard to socialize I have a small group of friends and pretty much keep myself to myself.
Tell me something special about the Languedoc that most people don’t know?
Languedoc hides its riches and you need to delve deep to find them. I have learnt a lot about the history of the region and some of it I feel should never be forgotten such as the devastation caused by phylloxera at the end of the 1800’s. Not only did this cause hunger and poverty but men died trying to better the lives of the vineyard workers and winemakers.
What is the worst thing about being an expat?
I have not found anything bad about being an expat apart from the form filling and misunderstanding of the systems.
What is your favourite thing about being an expat?
The large majority of expats living in Languedoc are here for the same reasons and mainly their love of this country and its lifestyle. Therefore in the most part, I find that we all have a lot in common and get on well together.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
A sense of truly belonging and the knowledge of how to behave and fit in. I miss being able to walk into shops and ask for what I want clearly and succinctly
But most of all I miss my family and friends.
What advice would you give other expats?
Try to learn as much of the language as possible and use it when you can. Also understand that the French people have a polite etiquette that we should follow. I once saw a sign in one café that said something like this:
‘Une café’ – €8
‘Une café s’il vous plaît’- €5
‘Bonjour, une café s’il vous plaît’ – €3
What are you currently working on? Projects, books, business ventures…
I am always designing new vineyard tours for my business. I have a lot of return customers so it’s important I have new offerings.
In 2016 I am launching a new business called Taste Tours, which will offer food & wine tours in different parts of Europe, and I am currently working on tours in Tuscany, the Rhône Valley and Catalonia.
I am also writing a fictional book, a love story set in the UK and France. It spans a period of over 150 years and highlights the plight of the people during phylloxera but also uncovers a secret lost to the family for a long time. It’s called The French Bed.
What I found most inspirational about Wendy is her passion for her business, her kindness towards the people who work with her and her honest love of the French wines of the Languedoc. It is a winning combination.
‘Wine is bottled poetry’ Robert Louis Stevenson
If you are visiting the region and would like to get in touch with Wendy at Vin en Vacance the information is listed below.
In France: +33 (0)6 42 33 34 09
In the UK: +44 (0)7880 796786
Vin en Vacances
10 rue du Pont Vieux Villeneuve-Minervois
For more information visit their website http://vinenvacances.com/