The Domaine de Blancardy is located in the Hérault department of France. Located on the Mediterranean in southern France, this region has more vineyards planted than any other French department. While many other wine producers in this area are updating their production techniques with stainless steel tanks, and computer driven processes, Alain Martial, the wine producer and patron of the Domaine de Blancardy likes things as they are. A producer of 11 different wines, I would call him nothing less than a professional. Alain and Laure Martial started their inn over 30 years ago, with her personal recipes of perfection and his relaxingly efficient wine producing techniques, they make the perfect pair. Starting with a fortified farm as their home and three guest rooms in the west wing of the farm and 14 hectares of wine crop, they got off to a good start. The domaine was originally her fathers and was passed down to Laure and her sister when he passed. Alain was born and raised in the closest village nearby, Ganges, and married into the family at a very young age. As the years went on and their success blossomed, the Martials added an additional building with ten more guest bedrooms and a breakfast hall. They also remodeled the interior restaurant, replacing the floors with a beautiful tile rather than the old wood floors. Over their 30 years of service, they acquired an additional 8 hectares of land to plant, totaling to 22 hectares today. With remodeling updates, the family has still been able to represent their original recipes for several duck products and wine. This isn’t just a destination for a traveler, many locals would come to the restaurant on a weekly basis, and every other weekend in the summer, they would hold a concert of a different genre each time.
After a week on the farm, I was completely acclimated and felt like a part of the family. In the mornings, I would help Laure’s brother-in-law, Pedro, serve breakfast to the guests, then I would help the waitresses set up to serve lunch or the cooks with the dish of the day. By the time everything was set up, the family would come together on the private back patio of the house to have lunch. We enjoyed salad made fresh from the garden and fresh meat that Laure would have picked up that morning in town. After lunch, everyone would take a nap for an hour or two, meet back on the terrace for an afternoon coffee and then continue on with their work. Laure would take her role as head chef in the kitchen, while I joined Alain in the cave and vineyards. We would first circle all of the vineyards to check on electric lines which surrounded them to prevent boars from coming in and eating all the grapes, as this is an annual issue in this region. As I mentioned before, Alain is a man of tradition and is very self-sufficient. His cave was not top of the line, he did not use stainless steel tanks to store his wine, he did and does not use computer driven systems to monitor their temperatures or acidity. Most of his smaller wine containers held 25 hectoliters and are made of a strong and repairable plastic, while his largest four tanks can hold up to 250 hectoliters. It was absolutely fascinating watching him perform the Carbon Dioxide and temperature tests by using the same simple gadgets that he has used for years. He also uses a number of barrels for fermentation a second time after being in these large tanks, making the taste of these wines more refined with a well-rounded depth and categorizing them as fût de chêne.
Alain was very adamant about keeping track of everything, his inventory was on the dot and he has written his daily activities, weather conditions and rainfall measurements in 30 different yearlong calendars since day one. In common conversation, we would talk about updates which are being made in caves throughout the area, but Alain was able to illustrate that he is the wine maker, he is the one who grows the grapes, monitors them throughout the growing season, harvest them, produce them into wine, monitor their evolvement as a product, bottle or bag the wine and sell it. He said, “When the wine-making process is taken over by hired persons, and all tests and modifications are made with a press of a button, it is the computer that is controlling the wine, not me.” Working with this man was an obvious thrill. On rainy days, or any day rather when it wasn’t dreadfully hot outside, we would spend the afternoon in the cave, generally boxing thousands of liters of wine a day, filling up pallets in under three hours, and we would be lucky if this amount would last us the week! Most of the bottles were already filled for the year but we did near a low quantity of a few varieties, so we would bottle, cork, label and box hundreds of bottles at a time; this process taking much longer than boxing the wine.
As the sun started to set, I would return back to the boutique to work with Laure’s best friend, Carla, who conducted a nightly degustation of at least six of their wines and local food products, which accompanied each one. This was one of my most enjoyable times especially being able to interact with the guests, whom would sometimes need English translations, and also being able to learn more about the wine which I had been helping to produce. For the degustation, we would start with a Chardonnay and Viognier, both white wines, the Chardonnay with a more buttery taste while the Viognier presented a touch of sweetness. The final white wine was a white fût de chêne, which is 50% Chardonnay and 50% Viognier which were combined after the first production and then placed in fermenting barrels together for an additional six months for a delectable flavor. The white wines would be given with an accompaniment of fresh fruit slices to bring out the fruity aromas. The second groups of wines for the tasting were the two rosé wines, one being an AOC and the other a pay d’oc, and both served with a locally made goat cheese and dried barriers. We would then pour two different red wines, one an AOC (rouge) and a pinot noir, these being very full in flavor with a complex bouquet and served with a choice of slices of fresh magret canard or smoked ham, or the ever so popular homemade gingerbread, accompanied with Laure’s award winning foie gras. When everyone expects us to be finished we serve the tasters a final red wine, a fût de chêne pinot noir. This wine tending to be a favorite of guests and visitors, we served it with homemade chocolate truffles as it could be served as a dessert wine with its rich flavors and full-bodied texture. By this time if the guests weren’t already feeling a little tipsy, they were blown away and there was not one time when someone left the boutique without purchasing at least one product that they had just tasted. Carla and I would pack up gift bags and sell as many products as we could.
After the degustation, I headed to the restaurant to play host for the evening. Whether full or not, reservations were always a plenty and as far as I could see, there was nothing but smiling faces throughout the room as they tasted Laure’s most delectable recipes, the best and most popular being duck products. By the time all the diner guests had arrived and been seated, I met back with the family on the terrace where we would often have family friends join us for dinner. Some sort of wine would accompany each dinner, but most often, we would enjoy the rosés of AOC. Every meal was served with fresh bread and salad, which I couldn’t get enough of. After dinner is when the real fun began, and when I bonded most with the Martials. As I briefly mentioned before, boars are a huge issue for wine makers in the south of France because they can eat an entire harvest in a matter of weeks if they have access to it. When electric wiring and fences would not suffice the patrons would be forced to take matters into their own hands and hunt these animals. Having hunted at home with my father before, I was very adamant to take part in this adventure. One night after dinner, we all loaded up in the truck, Alain sat in the front with the spot light, his daughter who was visiting for the weekend drove and I sat in the rear with Alain’s friend Pedro and his son-in-law. I aimed to the left side of the truck while Thomas (son-in-law) took the right as Alain spotted from side to side. We had only been out for a matter of minutes when the first boar was spotted on my side, however being about 200 meters away, he was far from view without a clear shot so we continued on. Circling four or five of the vineyards for about an hour we hadn’t seen anything else so decided to head back to the house. As we pulled out of the vineyards and into the clearing before the house we saw three boars running about 70 meters away. Alain shined them; I aimed for the second one and shot within a matter of seconds. Thomas had aimed for the third and shot twice but he didn’t seem to think that he had gotten one. We all got out of the truck and started searching as Alain held the light. The dog, Dread, jumped out of the window of the truck and ran straight out into the field, until he reached a certain point and stopped in his tracks. We all walked towards Dread and there she was, my boar! The screams of excitement could have been heard for miles. Everyone jumped with joy and we hurried back up to the house. We carried her into the kitchen freezer for the night since by this time it was about 2:30am, and headed to the terrace for a celebratory toast (or five)! It was of the most exciting things I have ever experienced!
It is easy to see how much of an adventure this was for me, everyday presenting something new. Staying and working with a family who has been bonded together for 30 years in a family business was an absolute thrill. It was a sad day to leave Domaine de Blancardy, and I cannot wait to go back!!