Gaillac Wine Festival in Tarn department
Gaillac Fête des Vins - Gaillac Wine Festival
Gaillac Wine Festival - Fête des vins - roughly translated as a giant 48-hour wine party taking over the entire town of Gaillac during the second weekend in August.
So number one piece of advice – decide who’s going to be the driver.
Number two piece of advice – pace yourself.
Take the full two days to sip and slurp around the 57 exhibitors.
You get to drink a lot of wine if you are taking the festival seriously.
And as you roll your last sip round your palate as the sun sets gently into the west on the Sunday, remind yourself that you have only tasted about half of the Gaillac appellation.
However, half or not the Gaillac Wine Festival has to be the best way to test out the full range of the Gaillac wines within the confines of a weekend and find out about the area’s unique grape varieties: l’Ondenc, le Mauzac, le Loin d’Oeil, le Braucol, le Duras, Le Prunelard.
Even the names sound tasty!
I have recently discovered the charms of Mauzac in its sweet version which makes for a truly delightful aperitif served very cold.
There is nothing cloying or syrupy about it that makes people steer clear of sweet wines.
In fact, as the sun is over the yardarm I think I shall go and pour myself a small glass right now.
Mind you, it could just as easily have been a glass of the lovely lemony Braucol rose.
However, I tend to keep that for when the thermometer climbs over 35C.
The very grown-up red, a 14.5% blend of Prunelard and Braucol, I shall (try to) keep for a year or two and serve up on some grand, festive occasion, carefully decanted.
Just for now I shall render a translation of the truly poetic label attached to my bottle of 'Le Grand Tertre 2012'.
‘The magic of wine is in the vine stock, but its expression is a result of the skill of the roots to communicate the minerality of the soil.
The wine liberates the deep darkness of the mother rock into aromatic luminosity.
It is the variations of climate over a thousand years that concentrate and animate the wine’s soul.
The true essence of wine is aesthetic, bordering on an art form.
Just like a painter, the maker of wine translates this richness of the earth into melodies and harmonies.
This wine is liquid sky and earth: the supreme drink.’
(Apologies to M Michel Issaly)
My translation has nowhere near the elegance of the French.
Messe des Vignerons
However, it does convey something of the deep seriousness of the whole business of growing vines and making wine.
A seriousness that is expressed on the Sunday of the Festival with the Messe des Vignerons.
This is a colourful ceremony, somewhat reminiscent of a Harvest Festival.
The maîtres vignerons resplendent in robes, tricorns and nice white gloves, being joined by their confréres d’ail, de brioche, de jambon, de Roquefort, de poulet, equally resplendent in tabards and aprons, berets and fedoras, and medals are worn.
It is a very solemn event with much exhortation from the priest about the duty of les vignerons to bring joy to the hearts of man (and woman) that turns into a rollicking singsong after a generous quantity of aperitifs have been sampled.
I am always impressed at how much fun the French have in taking their food and drink very seriously indeed.
There are probably quite a few hangovers and sleepyheads at the Mass.
Grand Ball and fair
Indeed, the previous night’s celebrations have culminated in a Grand Ball that has gone on to at least two in the morning.
There are also circus performers and fireworks, strolling players and face painting for the children, apero concerts and three non-stop restaurants in the Gourmand Village serving such local delicacies as duck in every shape, form and description, cassoulet, smoked ham from Lacaune, sheep’s cheeses and yoghurts and apple pie, the Tarn also being one of France’s major apple producers.
Personally, I find lashings of foie gras a bit rich, though an excellent excuse for sampling some more Gaillac Doux.
My failing is fritons de canard, south-west France’s answer to pork scratching.
Another very popular attraction is the guided wine tastings organised by the Maison des Vins.
The Fair is located in the grounds of the 17th century Château de Foucaud.
It's not the most interesting of defunct stately homes, but beautifully situated on the banks of the Tarn with a park perfectly designed for the celebration of Gaillac’s favourite product.
This is slightly out of the centre of town.
Parking can therefore be a bit of a challenge, especially if you have made quite a few purchases.
However, there is a little bus that goes backwards and forward from the centre; it's free if you are carrying boxes of wine!
The exhibitors will deliver any wine bought at the Festival for free anywhere in France, providing you have bought at least two dozen bottles, which, believe you me, is not difficult.
It is at times like these that visiting France by air can have its disadvantages.
If, however, you are loading your car up, take care not to overdo it.
Glass bottles of liquid are heavy.
Last piece of advice: follow the weekend by a very quiet Monday.
And make a date in your diary for Gaillac’s Organic Wine festival that takes place at the beginning of December.
That should just about give you enough time to recover.
Department of Tarn
Coordinates: Lat 43.901816 - Long 1.896506