My friend Anne Hynes, an arts administrator, accepted an invitation last month to try out a new form of eco-tourism with her husband Phil. Below is her account of the experiment - JR. Many established winemakers are well placed to ride the crest of the wine tourism wave - they have large estates with multiple accommodation options. However, visitors to these plush estates may well miss out on one of the key ingredients of great wine - the passion of the small winemaker.
The solution is obvious - why not set up camp in the vineyards themselves?
I think I have seen the future at the first Vinolodge site at Domaine Virgile Joly set in the heart of the Terrasses du Larzac in the hills of the Languedoc. This is no ordinary campsite. Sized at a generous 50 sq metres, each tent is high-tech, luxurious and has green credentials that would make Al Gore proud. They are equipped with solar panels and a wind turbine and possess all the things that the quasi eco-warrior needs: power sockets and an en-suite bathroom/toilet using recycled water.
The principle behind the Vinolodge is to leave the vineyard intact. At the end of the season these tents will be taken down to leave no evidence of their impact. The potential is unlimited. The tents can be strategically located to allow a parcours through a wine region. In the longer term they can also be erected in sensitive sites of natural beauty such as National Parks.
Winemaker Virgile Joly certainly shares the same passion and values as the Vinolodge team. He makes exquisite organic wines; combining his multinational experience and degree in oenology to nurture premium wines from a unique terroir. Guests at the Vinolodge are encouraged to tour around the vines and participate in wine tastings.
Domaine Virgile Joly offers a showcase for the local cuisine. Guests can enjoy an on-site dinner prepared by local chefs, or can sample Virgile's wines at the local Michelin-starred Restaurant de Lauzun. If your travelling companion is not totally absorbed in wine culture then you don't have to resort to sulky stand-offs as the local area offers plenty for the average tourist with Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert a highlight - one of the most beautiful villages in France.
Reservations at the Vinolodge are now being taken for dates from May 2011. There will be only six tents available in the first year, with introductory prices to tempt the discerning wine tourist.
Claude Cruells was responsible for all these photographs.