Ventenac-en-Minervois is a small village in the Languedoc, in the Occitanie department of southern France. The local cave is located on the Canal du Midi, a traveler’s dream of a waterway that was once used to transport wine across the country via barges, such as the Marie-Therese, a restored boat docked outside.
Replanting an UNESCO Heritage Site
The Canal du Midi is a UNESCO Heritage site. According to UNESCO, “This 360-km network of navigable waterways linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through 328 structures (locks, aqueducts, bridges, tunnels, etc.) is one of the most remarkable feats of civil engineering in modern times. Built between 1667 and 1694, it paved the way for the Industrial Revolution. The care that its creator, Pierre-Paul Riquet, took in the design and the way it blends with its surroundings turned a technical achievement into a work of art.”
Icons of the canal include the proud rows of plane trees (oaks) that are symbolic of roads and waterways in Southern France, often dating back to Roman traditions. Many of the Canal du Midi trees, however, are being destroyed due to a canker strain virus.
The Ventenac-en-Minervois cave is taking action, with the production of a bottle of wine called Nos Nouvelles Racines (Our New Roots). Our New Roots has been released with a portion of the proceeds going directly towards replanting efforts. It is a medium-bodied blend of Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah which sells for €7.80.
Voies Navigables de France (VNF, French Waterways) is the official replanting organization, with several sources – including the Ventenanc cave – providing financial backing. The Club des Entreprises Mécènes du Canal du Midi is the public group for the VNF’s replanting program. This effort seeks to engage individuals and corporations not only for monetary support but for awareness. Several in the local wine industry have embraced this operation including: Celliers Jean d’Alibert (a Minervois co-op), Château de Pennautier (a historical château and vineyards), and Badet Clément (owner of several local wineries, vineyards and caves).
An Incurable Disease
The canker strain is incurable, and can bring about the death of a tree in 2-5 years after the microscopic fungus settles into the organism – the damage arises as the fungus blocks the vascular sap system. According to VNF, the disease is transmitted via contact; the close plantings evoke the intertwining of root systems and the fungus spreads in the underground environment.
It can also spread through destruction caused by human activity along the canal, “following damage caused by the friction of boats against the network of plane tree roots while they are moored outside the developed sites or directly alongside the trees.”
The sad truth is that the damaged trees must be felled and burnt – leaving a blank spot in formerly vegetative areas. Outcomes from the INRA (National Institute of Agronomic Research) have concluded that there are no valid chemical or biological treatments that can kill or slow the fungus to prevent or reverse damage.
According to VNF, “Around 9,850 trees were felled between 2006 and 2014, within 635 regions. 2,840 new affected trees have been detected during our prospection campaign of 2014, carried out on the riverside of the canal du Midi.”
How to Help
Aside from the clear environment impact of the degradation of a species, there are deep cultural holes left by the loss of this icon. And practically speaking, the impact comes with economic disintegration.
“A world-famous must-see river tourism venue, the canal attracts millions of visitors each year (1.5 million in 2010). 350 companies and 2,000 direct jobs depend on related local activities, whose annual economic returns are estimated at 122 million euros.”, this according to VNF.
Jodi Kennedy-Gaffey, proprietor of La Tour du Château in Ventenac-en-Minervois, has a view of the canal and the vineyards beyond. She introduced me to the situation regarding the diseased trees and connected me with the cave for a tasting of Our New Roots and their other selections. Many of her clients come to the area to experience the canal, having heard about the charm and history of the waterway. In town there are restaurants and shops, such as La Grillade du Château, that are accustomed to serving visitors that arrive on boats and they drift along the canal for their vacations. Kennedy-Gaffey herself runs Artistes de France Boutique which caters to vacationers that arrive via the canal.
Monetary donations are always welcome and are the lifeline of the effort, which extends beyond the simple purchase of replacement trees. While over 4,000 trees have already been put into the ground, preventive measures also must been employed. This includes the determination that trees with similar properties as the plane will prove to be adequately resistant, but equally beneficial.
“To retain the tree-lined canopy of the canal, the replanting programme has prioritised new species selected for their height and potential shading. Accordingly, 210 silver limes were planted at Villedubert (Aude) as well as 160 hybrid plane trees, resistant to golden canker at Trèbes (Aude) and 62 at Castelnaudary (Aude).” (Aude is a regional name for the area that is home to Ventenac).
To make a donation and to learn more, visit Replantons le Canal du Midi. Our New Roots wine is only available in France, but visitors to the cave can purchase a bottle or with the purchase of any bottle and accompanying stamp donates €1 and allows the purchase to list their name in a book signifying support. (Follow Our New Roots on Facebook.)
The French Winophiles
This month our French Winophiles wine writing group is celebrating the wines of the Languedoc and the surrounding Occitanie region. We’ve got a round up of top-notch articles covering food, wine, travel and culture.
Martin from Enofylz > 2014 Domaine L’Ostal Cazes “Grand Vin” Minervois La Livinière #Winophiles
Nicole from Somm’s Table > Domaine de Majas Côtes Catalanes Blanc with Butter Poached Salmon and White Asparagus
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm > Celebrating Languedoc with Cassoulet
Gwen from Wine Predator > Grilled Cheese with 4 Affordable Wines from Occitanie: new name for a fave region in France
Jane from Always Ravenous > Rustic Sausage Kale Pasta with Languedoc Wine
Melanie from Wining with Mel > French kiss: a glimpse into the food and wine of Languedoc
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla > An Easy Dinner with Anchoïade and Mas Cavalier de Lascaux
Olivier from In Taste Buds We Trust > Boutenac: Balance in the Languedoc
Lynn from Savor the Harvest > Making Great Wines in the Languedoc-Rousillion #Winophiles
From me here at L’occasion > New Roots Along the Canal du Midi