Exploring Gascony Wine on a Barge Holiday

Lying in the southwest of France and devoid of major cities, airports and busy roads, Gascony is a delightful corner of the country and the perfect place to get away from it all. The region’s main canal, the Canal des Deux Mers links the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and passes through L’Occitaine, a stunning area of orchards and vineyards that sets the scene for superb wine tours on board a luxury barge.

Gently making your way through the peaceful countryside passing medieval villages and charming ‘out of the way’ farms, you really could be in another world. Luxury accommodation is provided on board boats like the 8-berth Rosa, and the service you receive is second to none. Sharing the experience with friends or family, or indeed with other people you may never have met is all part of the experience. On these wine tours you can combine rest and relaxation with culture, history, great food, wonderful wine and excellent company too.

Here we introduce two famous producers in Gascony that you will be lucky enough to visit on many of the wine tours in the region.

Château Bellevue de La Forêt

An English wine fanatic, who gave up his high-pressured career to study wine and follow his dream, established this château. His knowledge and enthusiasm has made Château Bellevue de La Forêt a great success and a wonderful place to visit on wine tours to the region. The 122 hectares produce award-winning wines that are enjoyed worldwide.

There are three grape varieties grown on the land here, the primary one being the négrette, which is grown over 59 hectares. Cabernet franc covers 17 hectares, syrah covers 16, cabernet sauvignon covers 13 and gamay covers 7.

Négrette is the most interesting of these grapes as its production dates back over 2000 years and it is only produced in this area. With a strong trunk and large cottony buds, the vine has green and brown striped boughs. The stems are long and sturdy and the grapes grow into tight bunches of small, black, elliptical fruit.

Harvested in late September the fruit has a short life cycle but strong growth, and produces wine that has a deep colour, is weakly acidic and has moderate tannins.

Domaine de Lapeyrade (Armagnac)

Gascony is famed for its production of Armagnac, and the Domaine de Lapeyrade is a fascinating place in which to discover more if you’re already in the area on one of the many wine tours. Using the Ugni-Blanc grape, this liquor is produced rather differently to wine. Here we explain how.

These vines need to be well taken care of throughout the year before harvesting takes place in early October, when the grapes are pressed three times to extract a juice, known as ‘must’. Once pressed, the ‘must’ is fermented in the vinification tank, before being distilled in the alembic “armagnanais”. It takes 5 litres of wine to produce one litre of Armagnac.

Six hours after the distillation process has started, a colourless eau-de-vie begins to seep out of the alembic. This liquid is then put in oak barrels in the chai, which is an oldering cellar. This aging process gives the Armagnac colour and flavour and lessens the alcohol description.

On most wine tours to Domaine de Lapeyrade you will learn that the Armagnac is stored for 10 years, at least, and you will be offered a taste of both 10 and 15 year old Armagnac.

Under AOC laws Armagnac has to be aged in barrels made of locally sourced black wood from the Monlezun Oak tree. This gives it the distinctive flavour that evokes the taste of vanilla, burnt toffee and dried fruits.

Very different to other wine producing areas in France, Gascony has something unique, and is perfect for exploring on a barge holiday.

Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury barge holidays. Offering holidays to France and other great destinations, itineraries include wine tours and other cultural and themed activities. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.

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Author: Desiree Michels