Set in the gently rolling farmland of the Languedoc, Domaine St. Raymond sits in tranquility amidst its own lush gardens. The restored 19th century stone barn is home to the acclaimed French House Party, a unique villa for a unique gathering of intellectually curious travelers. From May into October, the French House Party offers participatory creative workshops in culinary arts, singing/songwriting and creative writing.
I’ve been fortunate to be invited three times to the French House Party to experience and write about its workshops – twice for culinary arts and once for singing/songwriting. At her villa, Moira Martingale, novelist and Ph.D., excels in providing an ideal atmosphere for relaxation so necessary to the creative process. Besides the swimming pool, tennis court, bicycles and other entertainment options during free time, Michelin stared chefs of the area frequently provide the food for guests at Domaine St. Raymond.
The culinary arts series for beginners to advanced cooks is taught by Michelin stared chefs and range from a few days to over a week. It’s serious training both morning and afternoon (2 to 3 hour sessions each) and in almost all cases one’s work becomes lunch and dinner accompanied by the wines of local Domaine Le Fort. Besides being 20 – 30 minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of medieval Carcassonne, the workshops may include excursions to area restaurants and for culinary arts to Domaine Le Fort and the Revel Market.
Domaine Le Fort
Le Fort Winery has 45 hectares planted in (reds) pinot noir, malbeck, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah. (whites) chardonnay, viognier, muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (a white wine grape of Greek origin that is a member of the muscat family) and Riesling. Then there’s Gewurztraminer, a class of its own.
Thomas Pages is the 3rd generation of the Pages family to oversee Domaine Le Fort. His grandfather turned the centuries-old family farm into a commercial winery 25 years ago. His father modernized and expanded the hectares under production. With a degree in agronomy and family experience grandson Thomas is well prepared to continue pushing the limits of quality of Le Fort wines.
Many of their wines are aged in oak barrels and are moderately priced – especially considering the quality.
I must admit that I’ve not traditionally been a fan of gewurztraminer or riesling wines. Growing up in America the latter half of the 20th century when wine imports were limited, the German varieties available were wines that simply were too sweet for my taste. It took later experiences traveling to Europe to discover that there are dry gewurztraminer and rieslings.
Although new to making gewurztraminer, Domaine Le Fort’s had a nose of early summer flowers, flowering herbs and a hint of lime zest. In the mouth the citrus notes were pronounced along with hints of mango and juniper. The finish left a clean dry feeling in the mouth and throat.
The Riesling had little aroma for the nose. That’s not a problem since hints of clean fresh air are always pleasant. The palate was quite surprised when it tasted notes of petrol at first sip that quickly dissipate into green apples, currents and fresh figs. Not as dry as the gewurztraminer, the flavors continued into the throat.
Chardonnay has also not been a favorite of mine, but Domaine Le Fort ages theirs in oak, which balances the sweetness of the fruit notes I find annoying in chardonnay. The oak does add subtle aromas for the nose of fireplace smoke in the distance when outside walking, honey and summer flowers. In the mouth these aromas smoothly blend and finish in the throat.
Rosé in oak also continued my education into the world of dry fermentations of this too often sweet wine. The oak imparts a lighter aroma than for the chardonnay but with hints of cranberries and raspberries. In the mouth the light oak tempers the sweetness of the fruit and adds a punch that most rosés don’t possess. The finish is surprisingly dry as the flavors dissipate in the throat.
Domaine Le Fort started growing malbeck grapes ten years ago. This grape that’s strongly identified with the fine malbecks of Argentina takes on a different character in southern France. The aromas to the nose were the traditional rich full flavors of ripe berries and sweet tobacco. In the mouth these notes were accompanied by a surprising sense of spice – freshly ground pepper. That added to the taste like freshly ground pepper on strawberries. The finish was still dry extending the flavor notes far down the throat. Its character is different than in Argentina, but a fine addition to malbec vintages.
For over 900 years the market in Revel has been in continuous operation every Saturday. Revel, in the Haute-Garonne in southwestern France, is about an hour from the French House Party and Carcassonne.
The halles (food market) is in the middle of the medieval town of Revel surrounded by arcaded buildings, some still the original half-timbered ones. Food vendors are under the roof, and miscellaneous items are on streets radiating from the central square.
The halles is the most notable feature of Revel in its central square. The 14th-century partially covered building is supported by massive wooden pillars and beams topped by a distinctive bell-tower.
The variety of foods available is overwhelming. From fresh black truffles to white asparagus, duck livers in tomato sauce to snails in garlic and parsley, the market requires a lot of self-control not to overbuy. It also highlights the abundance of agricultural products of southern France.
It takes awhile to comprehend that every Saturday for 900 years foodies have been coming to this site for the finest ingredients. Although it was my third experience, it takes time as well to comprehend the cocoon of serenity that Domaine St. Raymond provides for the creative activities of the French House Party. The 21st century isn’t about serenity, but that doesn’t stop Moira Martingale from ignoring that restriction. Within that cocoon an international gathering of the curious will share, learn and dine on fine food.
When you go:
The 2018 schedule of the French House Party runs from May 5 through October 1.
The French House Party, Domaine St. Raymond, is less than 50 miles (77 km) southeast from the Toulouse-Blagnac Airport and the rail station Gare de Toulouse-Matabiau. The Gare de Carcassonne is 16 miles (27 km) west. Transportation is provided for guests arriving by air or train from either Toulouse or Carcassonne to Domaine St. Raymond.
Moira Martingale, French House Party, Domaine St. Raymond, 11150 Pexiora, Languedoc, France.
Tel: +33 4 68 94 98 16
The French House Party: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/
Course dates: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/how-to-book/course-dates/
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the French House Party for three separate workshops – Song Writing with Dean Friedman and Gourmet Explorer Advanced.
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