In 2009 Paul and Isla Gordon moved from New Zealand to Laurens in Languedoc-Roussillon where they set up Domaine La Sarabande. FrenchEntrée finds out why they came to France, the challenges involved and what advice they would give others…
Paul, did you have any previous experience working in the wine industry, pre-Domaine La Sarabande?
I was red winemaker for Whitehaven Wines and Isla was assistant viticulturist and administrator for Astrolabe Wines.
What first attracted you to life in France?
Good wine, great climate, great place to bring up kids, beautiful place and people. Needed to escape the depression of Ireland and the UK.
Where do you live? Describe your property.
We rent a house on the outskirts of our friendly village Laurens and have set up our winery in the garage. It’s a small house with a big garden for the winery, dog and chickens.
Was it a long search?
We had to find somewhere to make wine in Faugères and had only a couple of months to find a house as Isla was six months pregnant when we moved.
Did you have to do much work on your property?
Just install all the winery equipment.
How have you found setting up a business in France?
Pretty tiring as a lot of bureaucracy and frustrating not knowing the ins and outs of how to do things, but rewarding when you finally get that little piece of paper you need after supplying 40 other pieces of paper to get it. It took me three years to finally receive a long term carte de séjour. It is the beauty of the system that a small victory leads to a large celebration.
What type of wine do you make?
The Faugères appellation is dominated by Grenache, as is most of southern France. Our wines are a combination of old and new world techniques. This means that the wines are hand harvested, naturally fermented and are bottled unfiltered and unfined. The strong emphasis is to bottle wines that express the soils and climate of the vineyard while being technically correct and are free of wine faults and spoilage.
How many bottles do you produce each year?
24,000. We are starting to sell a lot through cellar door but the majority of our wine is exported. We sell to Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
Describe a typical day.
We don’t have a typical day and as our children will testify, we have very little routine. Depending on the time of year we will juggle day care for the children with vineyard work and office work. Our boys, Rory and Peter, have grown up in the vineyards. Rory’s first year consisted of rolling around in the dirt of our vineyards while we worked. Peter was out in the vines four days after he was born.
How do you spend your free time in the Languedoc?
Walking and sightseeing. We love the Orb valley and the Cévennes Mountains. We will escape up there when it gets hot in summer. We rarely go to the beach but love the local rivers.
What have been the main challenges about the move?
I don’t think we would have done anything differently. It would have been good to speak more French when we arrived, but even that has been a fun part of the challenge to move countries.
How have you benefited from the move?
We work for ourselves and don’t have to commute. It is a great place to bring up our kids. Of course the wine and food help us enjoy our time here as well.
Have you found it easy to integrate into French life?
Love the food and wine and lifestyle here so integration hasn’t been hard at all. Isla has always said if I was more laid back I would be in a coma.
What advice would you give others hoping to follow your lead?
Dive in and make mistakes!