Have you ever dreamt of one day setting off into the sunset and buying a vineyard? I don’t know a wine drinker who hasn’t.
Well it’s exactly what Lidewij van Wilgen did 20 years ago - swapping the bright lights of Amsterdam for the French countryside with three young children.
And now we get to taste the fruits of her adventure.
Welcome to France’s most dynamic (and ancient) wine region
When it comes to growing grapes, the locals in the Languedoc know what they’re doing. They’ve been at it for centuries.
But they’ve only figured out how to make good wine in the last 25 years or so.
And it’s taken a bunch of outsiders to show them how to do it.
Winemakers like Ben Darnault, who lived and trained in some of Australia’s top wineries for years, returned to France and settled in the Minervois.
It’s a winning combination - taking this precious raw material and using modern winemaking techniques to turn it into liquid gold.
Meet another outsider - who traded one dream job for another
Early on in her career, Lidewij had the Dutch corporate world at her feet.
Aged just 30, she was already a strategic director at a top advertising firm in Amsterdam.
But having progressed so far at such a young age, she thought, ‘is this it’?
So she packed her bags and headed for the south of France with her three girls (ages 6, 4, and 8 months - eek).
Talk about a career change!
All roads lead to the Languedoc
She’d considered buying somewhere in Bordeaux and Burgundy, but unless you’re a billionaire, there’s never going to be anything special available.
But the Languedoc, with its affordability, as well as lack of rules and regulations, strongly appealed.
So she found a beautiful 250 year-old property with surrounding vineyards, high up in the hills above Saint-Chinian, and bought the place.
There was a special micro-climate up here - situated in a small valley near the River Orb and surrounded by wild herbs, trees and rocky vineyards, the vineyards felt much cooler and fresher than nearby areas.
She called it Terre des Dames, named after the adventure that she and her girls were about to go on.
It was a brave move - but it’s all coming together now
It’s been a long journey for Lidewij.
The girls are all in college now - one doing film studies and the other two studying medicine - but they’re still involved in the business, coming home every year to help with harvest and blending.
And Terre des Dames is now one of the Languedoc’s most exciting names. Jancis Robinson, the world’s most respected wine critic - called it ‘one of my Languedoc favourites’ in the FT.
But the biggest honour of them all? Of all the countries she sells to, France has become Lidewij's biggest market.
Including several Michelin starred restaurants around the country.
After years of building her business, she feels like she’s finally been accepted by her adopted home.
The Dame and the Diva have arrived in Ireland… greet them here
I first met Lidewij at a wine fair in Montpellier earlier this year. I loved her wines and her story, so I placed an order for her main wine, La Dame, straight away.
And I knew once the cold weather hit, it would be time for La Diva to shine - a richer and more powerful red.
That shipment has finally arrived, so I’ve mixed a 6-pack of Lidewij’s beautiful wines so you can try them for yourself. In the case you’ll get:
- 4x Terre des Dames La Dame 2020 - a classic Languedoc blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah. This is my go-to red in the house, it’s that delicious. You can serve it slightly chilled and it will make anything out of the oven sing. 17/20 from Jancis - high praise indeed
- 2x Terre des Dames La Diva 2020 - Saint-Chinian is generally known for robust and rustic reds, but this wine couldn’t be any more different. It’s a blend of Syrah, Grenache and a special 100 year-old parcel of Alicante Bouschet. It spends 12 months in finely-grained Burgundy oak barrels, which gives the wine a lovely softness but preserves all the amazing aromas from the fruit. It's as elegant and sophisticated as they come around here.
The value here is just sensational
There’s simply nowhere else in France you can get this kind of value for red wines.
And the WineSpark model, where you pay a monthly fee to get wholesale prices, makes them even more affordable.
It turns out that we’re kindred spirits in that way - Lidewij tells me that she keeps getting told that she could (and should) charge more for her wines.
But we’re both in this so that more people like you can enjoy better wines.
In the long run, we believe that happier customers will make for a much better business.