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Now it is exactly one year to the day since we roamed the Languedoc with the houseboat on the "Canal du Midi" (see columns "On the Canal du Midi from Agde to Carcassonne" and "On the way with a Pénichette"). Quickly, all too quickly, the experience has faded - pushed aside, overlaid by other events and impressions: for instance of a wine trip to China, of a visit to all the "Premier Crus" in the Bordelais or vintner encounters in Württemberg. Can the leisurely ride on a relic from the second half of the 17th century - although ennobled as "world cultural heritage" by UNESCO in 1995 - still exist? Can it leave traces, especially since the two weeks on the canal were also accompanied by the impression of the eternal same? Brown, turbid, slow-flowing water, overgrown, washed-out banks, endless avenues of poplars, behind them even more endless fields of vines. Exactly, the Languedoc, off the beaten track.

On the Canal du midi - World Heritage Site

However, as soon as the gorse bushes start to give off their sweet fragrance again, the barren landscape turns a fresh green with red dots from the poppies and the marsh lilies adorn the embankments along the canal, the culprit is drawn back to the scene of the crime. The perpetrator? The perpetrator? Yes, somehow the four-man "crew" of the "Jessy James" (that was the name of our ship) feels like intruders - potentates - nesting in a sunken world that 300 years ago was a lifeblood - a traffic stream - of a great, wide region. Hundreds, even thousands, of wine producers depended on it to carry their barrels on the Canal to the Atlantic and thence to the wide world of the wine trade. Today, there are no more cargo ships on the canal, only pleasure boats, also adventurers, who try hard to overcome the 240 kilometres with 63 locks from Toulouse to L'étang de Thau (or vice versa) as captains without a driving licence. (We only managed part of it in 14 days!)

The "staircase" of Fonséranne with 8 locks
So now we return to the scene of the crime. Also to the small, southern French village of Homps (hard to pronounce even for the French), where our journey left off. The small town, about 32 kilometers east of Carcasonne, was once an important "trading town," but today it no longer has 700 inhabitants. But Homps has one of the best wine shops on the Canal du Midi, housed in the "Capitainerie", which also serves as a gallery for art exhibitions and has to function as a tourist bureau.

Here, the best wines from the "Minervois" are presented and sold, at the same price as at the wineries themselves, as we are assured without being asked. Minervois? One of the least known appellations of the Languedoc, which only received AOC status in 1985. Minervois, where in the heart of the appellation, around Livinière, there are five communes that have formed their own red wine appellation since 1999 and probably make the best and most famous Minervois wines. Names like Gourgazaud, Piccinini, Centeilles, Oupia are also sometimes known by wine lovers - even in Germany. But who knows the Domaine Pujol, the Château de Fauzan, La Pade Mari or the cuvee "Le pas de Zarat" from the Domaine de Cazal? Surely only very few. What a pity!

Capitainerie% wine shop and art gallery

On a boat trip through Languedoc, there is no time for a deeper insight into the wine region passed through. Especially in the Minervois, which lies north of the canal on the particularly well sunlit foothills of the "Black Mountains", far less visible from the canal than the large flat vineyards in the south. Tourists visiting the medieval town of Minerve with its eventful and tragic history - one of the last Cathar refugees in 1210 - will hardly get to see the 60 or so wine villages north of Homps. All the more surprising is what we visited briefly on the boat trip a year ago, but are now exploring in more detail on our return: the best wines of the Minervois. Our "yield": six beautiful, characteristic, idiosyncratic, finely structured class wines (costing between 6 and 15 euros) are taken along as real "discoveries" in our luggage, first to our small apartment by the sea, later home to Switzerland

Presentation of Minervois wines

Actually, I'm busy adding the 2005 Bordeaux vintage Arrivage awards to my comprehensive Bordeaux documentation. Head shaking! No - head back and forth, back and forth. Again, no! There are wines to be found in the little-known Minervois - for a fifth or a tenth of the Bordeaux prices - on a par, albeit different, but usually even more interesting than in the high-dollar, increasingly uniform Bordeaux. And I, the Bordeaux lover, with a proper Bordeaux cellar of my own, am still shaking my head. I've obviously missed something in recent years! A development in the Languedoc, which is overlooked only as a result of my Bordeaux affiliation, the long internalized euphonious names, the worldwide luxury euphoria, the horrendous prices (a bottle that costs 100 and far more euros must be good, unique!!!) mostly, also by me.

Six selected bottles of Minervois

Yet the six bottles we took with us are only a modest selection. They could be completed with wines from Château Coupe Roses, La Combe Blanche, Borie de Maurel, de Violet, Villerambert Julien, Lapyere, du Donjon, Domaine Cros - just to mention a few names known beyond the Languedoc.

On the bumpy roads, as close as possible to the canal, we return to the little village of Le Somail, where in the small harbour an ivy-covered house from the 17th century still accommodates guests, where an old cooling tower as a witness of an eventful 200-year canal and wine cargo history is hardly noticed, where a ship's shop supplies the tourists from April to October and one of the largest antiquarian bookshops in France, with well over 50,000 books, is at home in a cultural no man's land.

Antiquarian bookshop in cultural no man's land

I almost feel the same way about Minervois wines: suddenly you discover real treasures where you hardly look for them and where the long arm of marketing does not (yet) reach. Trouvailles, says the Frenchman. For instance, good wines full of character, independent wines, strong and elegant, fruity and flowery, spicy, with fine tannins. But not only wines, also books about wine and wine culture or - from a completely different collecting area - books by Gustave Aimard - the popular writer who, with his adventure novels, decisively shaped the image of the "Wild West" - similar to Karl May in Germany. Books, which I usually run after with great difficulty, are here - away from the world of collectors - ready for purchase in unbelievable abundance and quality at the lowest prices. They only have to be paid attention to. Just like the wines of the Minervois.
So the culprit drives - this time with a much faster means of transport, the car, with books and wines in his luggage back to his Bordeaux table. Back to his "Bordeaux collection" in Switzerland.

50.000 old books for sale

Now the "culprit" has really become a culprit. He has not only marveled at the desired, the beautiful and the good. He has taken something of it with him, and he will return to the scene of the crime. To the Canal du Midi, where wine is not (yet) marketed quite as totally as in many famous wine regions of the world. Where wine is still what it wants to be: good wine, meant to be enjoyed and not a luxury product.

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