Carol enjoying her freedom at the paws of "Puppy" by Jeff Koons
When our two-month lockdown ended in the Languedoc, we felt the overwhelming urge to spread our wings and travel. Since most folks in the EU are wearing masks and practicing social distancing, we felt comfortable with a road trip to the nearby Basque region of Spain. First stop — the Guggenheim Bilbao!
Bilbao won “Best European City” at the Urbanism Awards 2018. The Guggenheim, an architectural wonder designed by Frank Gehry, undoubtedly influenced the decision. There are fewer tourists these days and as we explored the museum, it almost felt as if we had the place to ourselves. On the plaza outside, we took in Jeff Koons's joyous Puppy, a 40 ft. tall sculpture of flowering plants in the shape of a West Highland Terrier. We then made our way to the arresting (and decidedly less adorable) Maman by artist Louise Bourgeois.
"Maman" by artist Louise Bourgeois
The interior of the museum was a marvel of space, light and movement. One of the more dynamic installations was Olafur Eliasson’s In Real Life, a beautiful confusion of cosmic spheres and spirals.
Our mission is to expand and delight the palates of American wine lovers, so we’re always on the lookout for new grape varieties and vinification methods. From the shores of the Mediterranean to the foothills of the Pyrenees, the wide array of climatic conditions and soil types produces an astonishing diversity of wines. We will continue to taste hundreds each year to bring our wine club members the best!
While dining at the fabulous Rekondo restaurant in San Sebastian, we were thrilled to discover Godello, a white varietal that was virtually forgotten until the 1980s. Our Languedoc wine educator Kate Wardell who does Zoom calls for our wine club members told us to be on the lookout for this grape.
The 100% Godello wine recommended by the sommelier was from a Galician bodega, As Sortes. The winemaker, Rafael Palacios, tends his vines on unforgiving, high-elevation plots that are often difficult to access and farm. Some of his vines are 100 years old producing very low-yields. No chemicals are used in the viticulture or winemaking, all of this making it clear why his jewels are considered “cult wines.”
We savored every sip of his labors! Aromas of ripe fruit, gardenia and honeysuckle drift into cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of cloves. On the palate, it's full and vinous with flavors of white peach and pear. We also detected marvelous mineral notes of limestone and slate, and bright acidity with long persistence in the mouth. And the gorgeous, golden hue was mesmerizing...
As Sortes with traditional Basque seafood soup
We hope Godello will be our next, up-and-coming Princess and Bear find as we continually search for delicious and unusual grape varietals.
At Rekondo we also loved the traditional Basque seafood soup, a dish which is a bit like Louisiana gumbo. Carol’s mother was a great gumbo chef, so we felt as if we'd come full circle on our road trip, our thoughts returning once more to home and the gift of connection.
Nothing says summer like a chilled glass of liquid sunshine. From backyard barbecues and oysters on the half shell to the perfect poolside sipper, picnic pairing, or date night wine, we have six essential wine options that just arrived from France to meet all of your summer needs!
Katie Jones of Domaine Jones (middle) & husband, Jean Marc Astruc (left)
In line with the theme of our June newsletter, localized communities of caring, we stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and all individuals who are peacefully protesting in the US and elsewhere. None of us are whole until all of us are cared for.
In the 1970s, economist E.F. Schumacher authored Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered. His book envisioned a "village-based" economy of “enoughness” shaped by human-friendly technologies and sustainable development.
We love Small is Beautiful! Part of our mission is to support the small family farmers who've existed in the Languedoc-Roussillon for over 2,000 years.
In the video below, we join Katie Jones of Domaine Jones in her recently purchased, one hectare, Grenache Gris vineyard. We thought Katie would be the perfect person to speak about "Small is Beautiful" in viticulture.
You'll hear her describe the joys of her small-scale farming practices—and the challenges, including vines planted with narrow, "horse-width" rows from a time before the modern tractor existed. You'll also see a panoramic of the gorgeous countryside!
Katie seeks out old vines, some 100 years old, with rare grape varieties, such as Macabeu and Carignan Gris. With exquisite care, she hand-harvests the small yields (apprx. 1 bottle per vine) to produce delicious, high-quality wines.
Katie relies on an antique tractor affectionately named "Mignon." The model was the first to replace horses and thus was designed for narrow rows.
We love visiting Katie Jones — and all our winemakers! But it's not only for pleasure.
A recent New York Times article noted the difficulty for wine lovers of verifying a producer's claims about "natural" French wines. We agree that wine designations are not enough. We personally visit every one of our winemakers, tasting wines, touring vineyards and winemaking facilities and, most importantly, building friendships and community. So you can trust that the wines your purchase from us are the best of the Languedoc-Roussillon, from root to sip!
Below are two wonderful wines from Domaine Jones. We think you'll find that small is delicious as well as beautiful!
During quarantine in the Languedoc, we’ve used the one hour allowed for daily exercise to explore the countryside surrounding our village. Often we walk to Domaine Château de Saliès where the Gombert family has made delicious wines since 1960. The estate is stunning, with rolling hills and glimpses of the Mediterranean. Vineyards, olive trees, wheat, garrigue and pine forests thrive on the fertile land.
But the greatest pleasure is visiting with the father and son winemakers, Xavier and Benoit Gombert!
The Princess with Benoit and Xavier Gombert at the gates of the Château de Saliès.
Xavier and Benoit are part of an incredible winemaking culture that extends all the way back to 79 CE, when Mount Vesuvius erupted and Roman winemakers resettled in the Languedoc. One such winemaker built Villa Celiano and began producing wines that shipped all over the Roman Empire. In the 18th century, Château de Saliès was constructed on the grounds of Villa Celiano.
History also marked the land by way of the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James). Domaine de Saliès is halfway between Rome and the Spanish town of Santiago de Compostella, so pilgrims traveled directly through the property.
The Gomberts grow classic Languedoc red grape varieties such as Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan and Mourvédre, and international varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. White varieties include Viognier, Ugni Blanc and, more recently, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Xavier and Benoit have graciously allowed us to tour the "caves," the underground cellar where the wine is made. We were amazed to see an enormous oak foudre, 25 ft in height, from the last century.
Left: 25 ft high foudre. Right: Original underground wine cellar, built in 1870
Five years ago, Xavier passed on the role of head winemaker to Benoit, who is in his mid-thirties. According to Xavier, his own wines were “rustic,” while Benoit's are “elegant and fine."
The wine community agrees! This year, Benoit won a bronze medal for his rosé (arriving at our Seattle warehouse in early June) and a silver medal for his Marcelan red wine.
A limited supply of Benoit's 2019 Sauvignon Blanc will arrive in June with the rosé. Want something sooner? His 2018 Sauvignon Blanc is available now for only $9.99!
Domaine de Saliès
100% Sauvignon Blanc
The sun-kissed grapes of the South of France give this wine a lively, refreshing and expressive character.
Super drinkable on its own, but also perfect with grilled white fish in a lemon butter sauce.
Excellent as an aperitif with cheese and crackers or even popcorn!
We eagerly await more "elegant and fine" wines from this brilliant young winemaker. Just a short walk from our home and soon to be within reach of all US wine lovers!
Left: Xavier Gombert and the Bear share a laugh. Right: the Bear brandishes three new Domaine de Saliès vintages, ready for tasting!
First let’s get one thing straight, when they say isolation at home in France they mean it. We are well into our third week of being completely at home with no guests and no outings other than grocery shopping, and a maximum of 1 hour walking but within 1 km of home. To leave home you need your passport and a signed and dated form with the time of leaving one’s home.
Our village of 1,200 people is eerily quiet.
Fortunately our village is surrounded by vineyards and olive tree orchards. Everyday we walk our maximum of 1 hour, trying not to go over the limit. Spring is everywhere and it is so beautiful!
We have been cooking up a storm as you can see on Instagram @princessandbearwines and we harvest wild herbs on our walks every day.
The vineyards are just beginning to bud so the glorious carpet of green lushness will soon arrive, giving all of us hope that we are in a cycle and things will return to normal by mid-summer.
We are also reminded of the continuity of civilizations and generations of humans inhabiting this earth. Our village is an old pre-Roman hilltop settlement. On our walks we see the stone huts in the vineyards built by earlier generations in pursuit of the good life that comes from farming.
In this tiny village in this time of great need, since the schools are closed, the village is providing child care for children ages 3-12 for those parents who can still work.
This reminds us that we are all connected and helping others builds a strong web that ultimately supports all of us. Be Safe. Help Others In Any Way You Can. Spread Joy.
With love from the Team at Princess and Bear.
To Our Princess and Bear Family,
Steve and I were planning to be in Seattle until the last week of March. We were excited about seeing everyone at our tasting room and at events around Seattle. As the magnitude of COVID-19 started to become apparent a couple of weeks ago I had a really strong feeling we HAD to return to France. As it turns out it was a good instinct! While I was flying out of Washington, D.C on Wednesday heading back to Paris, the US travel ban went into effect. Steve left Seattle on Friday and was on one of the last international flights out of Seattle. He landed in Frankfurt and here is what he saw upon landing:
We are so disappointed to miss seeing everyone and share our wines in person! But leaving early was the right decision for us. We have a lot of work to do to help our winemakers get their wines ready for our shipment, scheduled to leave France the first week of April. Because everything is so uncertain and many of them have never shipped their wines to the US before, we are very glad we are here to help them.
Like many of you, we are obsessively tuned in to news from Johns Hopkins University, the CDC, and the WHO. Our heartfelt thanks go out to all of the scientists who are trying so hard to get everyone all over the world the best information possible from the limited data they have. We will share and implement any advice we get which affects the health and safety of our club members, customers, guests and employees.
The great news, in an otherwise dreary setting, is that our shipping staff is ready to go! To ensure you don't run out of our hand selected wines or have to run around all over a city looking for something great and life-giving to drink, from now through April 30, we are offering free shipping on all orders regardless of the number of bottles you purchase, plus 50% off all 2018 rosés (trust me, we picked ‘em and each one of them has a special character), as well as our Domaine de Saliés Sauvignon Blanc, the most easy drinking wine in the world with some extra special je ne sais quoi that makes it friendly and interesting to hang out with. As in, “How ‘bout just you and me, a great vintage TV series, a soft blanket and this bottle of wine?”
Visit our webstore and use promocode STAYSAFE50OFF
Keep track of all the hugs, kisses and handshakes you didn't get to give, and one day you'll have a chance to make them up! Santé! Stay safe and healthy!
With love from Princess and Bear!
Our winter Road Warrior journey began in January and we just crossed the finish line the first week of March! It all started at the MillésimeBio Organic Wine Fair in Montpelier, France.
Millésime Bio is the world’s largest organic wine fair and it’s our favorite event of the season! We see some of our favorite winemakers there and they are always so curious about how their wines sold in the US because, like 95% of our wines, theirs have never been imported to and enjoyed in the US before. It is also a rich source in finding new wines for our Princess and Bear wine clubs. Our winemaker friends at the fairs are generous enough to share the names of their favorite winemakers with us and so we get to taste them on the spot!
While we were in Montpellier we went to see our favorite group at winemakers, Vinifilles. Their events are private invite-only tastings called an “Off”. The wines poured are by members of this association of Languedoc and Roussillon female winemakers from 25 different appellations in the region. We know most of the winemakers, and already import and love their wines, but we are always searching for new fabulous finds. This year, we found two! One wine from La Clape and one from Terrasses du Larzac. Upon recommendation from our Vinifilles friends, we found Domaine Reserve d’O, owned by Marie Chauffray from the Terrasses du Larzac Appellation, and the queen of Picpoul, Anäis, at La Croix Gratiot.
After Vinifilles, we went to another “off” in a little town called Lattes on the outskirts of Montpellier. On the stairs of the event, I saw winemaker Jean Paul Serre of Sainte Lucie d’Aussou in the Boutenac Cru appellation. I have been chasing this man for almost 2 years! He’s never exported to the US and was scared to get an FDA number. We ended up going to his domaine where I registered him with the FDA and now we will have two of his wines coming for the spring and summer! He has one of the most delicious white wines I’ve ever tasted, an aged white carignan, which is why I have been chasing him for so long!
We also were invited to an off in Paris of winemakers from La Clape and St. Chinian. There we found one of the most outstanding white wines in recent memory from Pech Redon. Soon to arrive in the US!
After attending the two wine fairs we tasted about 800 wines and had to narrow it down to our favorite 100 wines. And now, it was time to see the vineyards! Our favorite thing to do is walk in the vineyards; feel the soils; smell the wild herbs everywhere; and understand the aspect of the vineyards’ altitude, proximity to the Mediterranean sea and the mountains surrounding the Languedoc-Roussillon. We covered 13 appellations over a 10 day period, driving over 1000 miles. We always take home bottles from each domaine for tasting with food before we make our final selections!
Road warrior itinerary
Halfway through our journey we stopped in Maury, known for its Vins Doux Naturels (VDN) or naturally sweet wines. No added sugar!One of our partnerships is with an LGBTQ exclusive guesthouse Cinq et Sept that assembles cases of Languedoc wines to show their guests the bounty and quality of the region. One of the wines included was a VDN from Domaine des Schistes in Maury and we currently don’t stock any sweet wines from this appellation. This appellation is known for its schiste soils and we were on a mission to seek out Domaine des Schistes, certified organic since 2015. After visiting we will be importing not only one of their VDNs but a white and a rosé.
La Clape Cru
Soon we were on our way to seek out another new domaine for the Princess and the Bear tasting room: La Clape Cru.
We visited Domaine Pech Redon, located on the Mediterranean sea, whose vineyards have a kiss of the sea! The sea breezes and high altitudes result in a long growing season which is perfect for many of the indigenous grapes they grow including Bourboulenc and Picpoul.
Terrasses du Larzac
Terrasses du Larzac is a prized appellation. There we visited Marie at Domaine Reserve d’O. This domaine has been biodynamically and organically farmed since its inception in 2005. During our visit through their vineyards, we found curved roof tiles of Roman buildings buried within the cobblestone soils. Their 40+ year old vines include Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault.
Pic St. Loup
Towards the end of our journey, we went to Pic St. Loup, 30 miles north of Montpellier. WOW! What beauty. Domaine de l’Hortus has some of the most beautiful vineyards we’ve ever seen. It is cradled between the Hortus Massif and the Pic St Loup. The land was chosen because the patriarch of this family-run domaine is a rock climber. The domaine is known for its indigenous Mediterranean varieties. We ordered a fabulous white and a rosé that should be here in about a month. Secret: some reds will arrive later this fall.
By the time we got home, we had more than 60 bottles to taste. After a good night’s sleep, Steve and I tasted roughly 20 rosés and 25 whites from the hundreds that we had looked at since the end of January. On the day we tasted, Steve and I first tasted alone and shared notes. Then we tasted through the wines again a few hours later with three professional wine tasters. Richard and Linda Neville, Languedoc tasters for Jancis Robinson, and Marcel van Baalen of Fait a Maison fame. Then, Steve made moussaka and 20 “lay people” from our village and the surrounding villages came over and they gave us their “favorites” list. So fun!! In the end we chose 15 new white wines and 8 new rosés. Wow!!
Right now we are filling out the purchase orders, drafting letters of appointment for them to designate us as their importer for Washington state and, very time consuming, working on labels for U.S. government approval. Once the labels are approved, we’ll be sending the information back to the winery so they can print and apply US labels to each and every bottle by the beginning of April. We can’t wait to get these 2019 whites and rosés in stock for the summer!
When I first saw Steve (the Bear), I felt lightning strike, and still do today. But can this happen with a place? I am here to say YES! The Languedoc was love at first sight for me—again. As the French say a coup de coeur.
In 2015 an acquaintance told me about her home in the Languedoc and said she chose the region because it is close to the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees, Spain and Provence, BUT still untouristed, wild and beautiful. I could feel something special in my bones when she spoke, and began looking for a house before I had even visited the region.
On the very first visit in 2015, we bought an old winemaker’s house in a small village! It immediately felt like home—a real, authentic place to find beauty, slow down, be in the quiet of nature and truly enjoy life. We had no idea at that moment we would begin a new life discovering fabulous wines at irresistible prices and begin sending them to our friends and wine enthusiasts all over the US. But in 2018 that’s what we decided to do.
We can easily say now that the Languedoc region has given us more than we could ever have dreamed of. Our heads and hearts have been swept away by the authentic culture; the Cathar castles and their history; the Greek and Roman ruins; the beautiful Canal du Midi; the tiny village markets everywhere; the Mediterranean and all of her fresh seafood; the regional foods like cassoulet and duck confit; the olive trees, figs and fields lush with lavender and poppies; the herbs of the garrigue, and, of course, the wine! There are beautiful vineyards everywhere: by the sea up into the Pyrenees, which is why this is the largest wine producing region in the world.
We have become somewhat known in the region as “the American importers who are committed faithfully to only Languedoc-Roussillon wines.” We seek out winemakers who make “root to sip” wines. They don’t just make wines, they also tend their own vineyards, and grow and harvest their own grapes. Most of the domaines we have selected for our customers (and ourselves!) are committed to organic farming. Many use both innovative and ancient techniques, like amphoras to ferment and age their wines in addition to oak barrels and cement tanks. And..we have found so many amazing women who do it all - they are the owners, vineyard managers and winemakers. It’s been such a magical adventure, and we are just getting started!
As a team, Steve and I taste hundreds of wines a year searching in different appellations from the Mediterranean shores to the foothills of the Pyrenees, but we’re always looking for wines with character that strike us immediately, whether it’s a new grape variety, a tiny domaine making only 4,000 delicious bottles, or a new biodynamic farmer and winemaker. We’ve curated a portfolio of some of the finest, most delicious wines being produced in this region, a region of which we are so proud, that has totally stolen our hearts.
Thank you for allowing us to share our love of this place with you and we hope you are as swept away as we are by these fabulous wines and the passion behind the story of each winemaker and his or her family. Please let us hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
We have been to this organic fair for the last 3 years, and it’s our favorite!! Every year we look forward to discovering new amazing, organic wines from passionate winemakers, and bringing these finds to all our friends back in the US who love delicious, interesting,and undiscovered wine, most never having touched the shores of North America before.
We have such awe and admiration for the winemakers because they are so committed to growing organic, despite predictable losses due to the weather patterns.
Over 1,300 exhibitors worldwide flock to Montpelier, France to pour their organic wines (also beer, cider and spirits) and talk about their innovations with organic agriculture at the world’s leading organic alcoholic beverage trade show, the annual Millésime Bio (January 27-29, 2020).
At the fair we often taste 50 or more wines a day, meet the winemakers, find out how the grapes are harvested, how the wine is made and ask tons of questions so we can better share our passion for the Languedoc-Roussillon organic wine scene with you, our Princess and Bear family in the US. We want to know:
For those who don’t like US organic wines, it is important to note that EU organic wines may contain very small amounts of sulfur to stabilize the wine. In the US no sulfur can be added to organic wines, so US organic wines can have an overly matured smell and taste and they tend to lose crisp fruit flavors quite quickly. Not so with EU organic wines which often retain crisp, fruit complexity. We look forward to the budding relationships we made at Millésim Bio and can’t wait to bring our new finds to future club shipments. Don’t forget-we reserve new wines for our club members before releasing what’s left to the general public!
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Celebrate the holidays with some delicious wines at remarkable prices! But order today, we don’t want you to miss out on having our delicious wines for the holiday season, so we hope you can take advantage of our early Black Friday Sale 🍷
* Promotion ends November 30