A life in the vines

Living France - - LIFESTYLE -

Glo­be­trot­ting cou­ple Caryl and Jan Pan­man made a new life for them­selves as wine­mak­ers in western Langue­doc. Do­minic Rip­pon tells their story

There’s nowhere quite like Li­moux on an early spring af­ter­noon, as vine­yards dis­ap­pear into forested hills, framed by the tow­er­ing snow-capped Pyrénées in the near dis­tance. You can al­most catch the scent of newly waxed skis and sim­mer­ing cheese in the wind. Be­tween the fa­mous peaks of Canigou and StBarthélemy nes­tles the smaller Pic des Rives-Blan­ques, af­ter which An­glo-Dutch cou­ple Caryl and Jan Pan­man de­cided to name their wine es­tate.

“Our first har­vest, in 2001, def­i­nitely felt the eas­i­est,” Jan re­mem­bers, “be­cause we sim­ply weren’t aware of all the things that could go wrong!” Nei­ther Caryl nor Jan had any train­ing as wine­mak­ers, but they had long dreamed of own­ing their own wine es­tate in France. It all be­gan years ear­lier with fam­ily hol­i­days in Bur­gundy, when they imag­ined a life mak­ing de­li­cious wines from the golden chardon­nay grapes. At that time, Jan worked in in­ter­na­tional fi­nance, so the Pan­mans en­joyed the glam­orous life­style of ur­ban glo­be­trot­ters, tak­ing them from Por­tu­gal to Asia via South Amer­ica and, fi­nally, Ire­land.

When they be­gan their search for the per­fect vine­yard, they found land in Bur­gundy pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive, so they looked fur­ther south, in Langue­docRous­sil­lon. The vine­yards of Li­moux, in western Langue­doc, have been lauded by Jan­cis Robin­son MW as France’s “most interesting chardon­nay vine­yards out­side Bur­gundy”, so it seemed an ob­vi­ous place to look. The cou­ple had al­ways planned to study viti­cul­ture be­fore buy­ing their vines, but an op­por­tu­nity quickly arose that was too good to miss: Eric Vialade, a renowned lo­cal vi­gneron, needed to sell his 20 hectares of vine­yards but was keen to stay on as wine­maker at the es­tate. “So we de­cided to learn on the job,” says Jan. “We slept with the UC Davis Hand­book of Viti­cul­ture and Enol­ogy on our bed­side ta­ble.”

Above: Caryl and Jan Pan­man Below: The Rives-Blan­ques es­tate

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