I'm having lunch at Les Vins de L'Horloge in Montpeyroux, a village in France's sunbaked Languedoc region. Joining me are two local winemakers, Sylvain Fadat and Charles Giner, and a Languedoc-mad wine merchant from Paris named Juan Sánchez. There are about eight open bottles of wine on the table. Fadat's are big, a bit rough. Giner's are softer and gentler. I pace myself, but my companions devour everythingtuna tartare, grilled sardines and onions, steaks and the best french fries I've ever eatenwhile Fadat, the most outspoken member of the group, expounds on topics from wine cooperatives ("Obsolete!") to the green tomatoes he tasted on a recent trip to Spain.
My purpose in visiting the Languedoc was to meet mavericks like Fadat, who grew white asparagus and Cavaillon melons before he turned to wine grapes at Domaine d'Aupilhac, and Giner, who worked at IBM before founding Domaine Saint Andrieu. These pioneers helped transform the Languedoc from a source of mass-produced wines into one of France's most dynamic regions. I also wanted to check out the Languedoc's best chefs and food artisans and explore a place that so perfectly blends history, natural beauty and Mediterranean heat.
My guide would be Sánchez, the 38-year-old Cuban-American owner of the shop La Dernière Goutte, who champions smaller, experimental winemakers. "The Parisians wouldn't drink Languedoc wines when I first started selling them in 1993. They'd come into my shop and ask for Bordeaux, and I'd give them a Minervois from the Languedoc. They all thought I was crazy," he recalls. Today a quarter of his shop's wines are from the Languedoc, and they're his best sellers.