Our party of wine enthusiasts started the first cold day of the season (14th October) in the noisy sobriety of the barrel-making factory, Tonnellerie Sylvain. It might sound boring, but in fact, for some at least it was the highlight of the day, using mainly manual labour to work centuries-old oak from France’s public forests into some 33,000 barrels a year, 70% for export. Of course, given that all had been arranged by Marion and Pip, we did not lack for an inventive and appetising lunch at Catusseau or miss a well-organised tasting of fine Merlot (plus a little Cab. Sav.) at Château Clinet with its new vats and energetic marketing.
Nearly forty members and friends took to the locks of Toulouse on board the Occitania. As cruises go, this was not overwhelmingly sybaritic for either scenery (a lot of 60s HLMs/tower blocks, the Police Station and Haute Garonne Conseil Général’s Valhalla) or weather (how could Toulouse only muster 20 degrees on July 30th?).
But, and it’s a big but, we had a jolly good meal (with cruise booze of course) and most of all great company of our own making (typical of OUS SW France as a member noted), spiced up with good humoured local information from Pierre, our Captain for the day.
There were too many factoids for your webmaster to remember, except perhaps the enormous growth of Toulouse over the last ten years and the century plus that passed between the construction of the two canals linking the Atlantic and the Med.
We turned round in the basin where the Midi meets the Canal de Garonne and the Canal de la Brienne, and so our lock count for the day was six. All in fact a great success and our thanks to Pip for all the labours involved in getting it together with a not wholly responsive cruise company – evidently the only one offering serious catering on the whole canal.
On 5th May, a large alumni group visited the substantial Roman villa at Séviac, near Montréal du Gers. After Anthony’s Comfort’s lucid introduction to what is known of the site’s history, the evident luxury of which somewhat belies the supposition that the late Roman era was one of decay, we were able to admire the extensive mosaics, baths and splendid plumbing. Thanks to fine timing by organiser Marion, there was also a gorgeous display of irises.
Lunch in the circular square of the lovely village of Fourcès followed. We were then led to the Château of M and Mme. Alban de Saint-Exupéry, who very kindly showed us round its treasures. Its walls are adorned by Aubusson tapestries, family portraits dating back to the 17th century and a huge original by the school of David, showing Marie-Therèse, the lone surviving daughter of Louis XVI, fleeing into exile. All this was within a classic château layout comparable to that in Henri IV’s Nérac nearby, but extended to avoid the rigours of the gersois winter.
Wine tasting is a regular category of event for OUS SW France. It provides the opportunity to investigate and indeed savour the wide variety of wines that exist in this, one of the great wine-producing regions of the world.
Our visit to Lou Gaillot at Casseneuil (thanks to Jeremy James) enabled us to investigate and enjoy the results of ‘bio’ practices. This vineyard is outside the main appellations, on flat sandy land and a gentle slope by the Lot. Its owner, Gilles Pons, gave an exceptionally lucid presentation of the production processes and enabled us to understand the specific challenges that the commitment to ‘bio’ involves. We were intrigued by the post-WW2 concrete vats in the chai (no longer is use).
A convivial degustation and lunch followed and from the writer’s limited sample of members, we were keen buyers of the ‘Reserve’ wine.