Monday 28 September 2009

Farm Bio Lous Selces

Going north up the hill from Aspiran towards Lieuran-Cabrières the road flattens out after 1.5 Km and to the right la ferme bio Lous Selces comes into view; the long polytunnel gives it away. The setting may look idyllic with views for miles around, but this must be the windiest place in the commune and natural shade is non-existent. The ground here is limestone – seashell fossils can be spotted everywhere in the rocks and soil. It needed compost, actually sourced from local recycled biodegradable waste, to make it fertile. An overriding reason for the location is the spring after which the farm is named, Lous Selces is Occitan and means the willow trees.

2007 was the first season for Roselène and Sirik Andringa who live on the spot with their two young boys, two dogs, several cats, occasional sheep and guinea fowl plus over 100 laying hens. Produce is seasonal – radishes, young garlic, lettuces, carrots, courgettes, aubergines, cucumbers, endless varieties of tomatoes, beans, peas, new potatoes to name a few. As well as the elements to battle crops are frequently attacked by moles, mice and rabbits.

You can buy produce late afternoon on Wednesdays and Fridays. Sirik also runs a stall at the Pezanas Marché Bio Saturday mornings.

Sunday 13 September 2009


The best wild fruit to be found around Aspiran is figs. They beat mulberries for diversity and speed of picking. Sadly apricots et al don’t seem to grow wild here. Quinces are insect riddled and pomegranates seriously seedy.

There are quite a few fig trees about, although many seemingly produce nothing or fruit that rots before it ripens. Edible figs are around from July to October and these six varieties were found on lane side trees within 3 Kms of the village in mid-September. Despite a book on figs and of course Internet searches, identifying species from pictures is challenging as appearance depends on the degree of ripeness; all figs start off a soft green colour. A visit to an arboretum of fig trees down the road at Nézignan-l'Évêque last year raised more doubts than answers on identification.

The bounty

The green ochre specimins on the top right could well be the Marseillaise variety and they’re delicious but prone to fermenting quickly when ripe (hours not days) so don't keep. The large ones on the bottom left match Madeleine des Deux Saisons characteristics because of their size and unbeatable sweet succulent eating. The grey cinder coloured figs top-centre look like photos of Grise de Saint-Jean and are also amazingly sweet. The central lime-green ones are harder to identify but I'll go for Sucre Vert as the trees are large and incredibly productive. They're also the last to ripen and go on producing the latest. With a slightly less sweet taste plus the quantity to be had they make fine jam.

The deep purple ones at the front could be one of several varieties, while the marble sized pile to their right are probably from a particularly water stressed tree. Either way, these noir varieties dry without fermenting making concentrated sweets to keep, if that's possible.

Saturday 12 September 2009


It hasn’t rained here significantly since sometime in June and August brought a mini canicule that's led to a prompt 2009 harvest. This is in stark contrast to 2008 when hail and heavy rain struck the commune on the night of 4th September after a relatively cool summer. The lack of rain has resulted in smaller grapes and for someone who scrumps wild figs the same botanical stress applies. The grape growers in the village who supply the declining co-op will be receiving less income as they are paid by volume and not for the quality of their harvest. Last year they would have at least had some compensation payment for the hail. Friends who live in the road to the co-operative say the number of tractors passing with their harvest has declined over the years.

One aspect I love is the heady grape and yeast fermentation smells oozing from the winery. This picture shows grape bunches being deposited on to a below-ground vat that weighs the grapes before gently transporting them to the winery to be pressed.
Another year, another discharge

Thursday 16 July 2009

Le Tour

The Herault is blessed with the presence of the Tour de France more than most departments of France, passing through more years than not. Seeing it live had been an objective for years, despite all the first hand advice that after hours of waiting it's all over in a flash. Our first view was actually "Le Grand Depart" from London in 2007, a great festive weekend with Languedoc like weather to match; but rural France when the race comes to you it wasn't.

This YouTube video was taken by a neighbour the same year at Canet, 6 Km along the Herault valley from Aspiran. The cyclists are in a single bunch, called Le Peloton, and pass by in just 20 seconds.

I took these shots in 2008 on the climb out of Neffies. One idea behind choosing this location was that being uphill the riders would pass by more slowly, but these things are relative and they still whizzed by.

There is more to it. As well as a great day out party atmosphere there's entertainment from the "caravan" that passes a couple of hours before the race. This stream of advertising floats throw out all sorts of gifts of varying usefulness. What also amazes is the vast number of accompanying support cars, motorbikes and vans that sandwich the riders - not to mention the helicopters.

Will Le Tour pass by next year? We'll have to wait until next May to find out.

Thursday 25 June 2009


"The first scorpions of the year are in our house" declared our neighbours the other day. The nearest to chez nous I've encountered one was outside the front door where this shot was taken. It may look lobster sized, but at most it was about 5 cm long.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Oldest Winery in France - at Aspiran

As you go north on the main N9 road from Aspiran to Nebian and Clermont l'Herault you pass over the river Dourbie. To the left, just before the trees and bridge is the archaeological site of the oldest winery discovered in France.

The winery dates from the 10th year AD, the time of Emperor Augustus. The owner was the Roman Quintus Julius Primus - his name has been found inscribed on pottery made in kilns on the site.

The pictures show where enormous Dolias pots with a capacity of over 1200 liters were buried in the ground. The winery was sophisticated - water circulated around the Dolias to keep the wine cool, much like modern stainless steel tank systems.
The building included luxuaries such as a large indoor pool, toilets and piped fresh water.
Below his is the site of the pottery where the Dolias along with the smaller amphora (used to transport the wine) were made. The site is on the route to the north from Agde and the Via Domitia - the Roman coast road from Italy to Spain. Two amphora have been found in Rome inscribed "I am a white wine from Beziers" and suggest that wine was sent to Rome from here.
The archaeologists, from the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), have been staying at the old Aspiran school. Here a team is excavating an area that included a bakery, kitchen and supply store.

Thursday 30 April 2009

View of Canigou

Mount Canigou in the Pyrenees is over 140 Km (87.5 miles) from the road between Apiran and Paulhan where this picture was taken on 16th April. There is still plenty of spring snow which makes it easier to see. The water tower is 3.5 Km away at Adissan. Despite the areas reputation for clear air, days this clear are relatively rare.

Friday 3 April 2009

Aspiran buildings and ramparts

The 13th century bell tower of the Church St Julien at sunrise. The current church on this site dates from 1145 although the bell tower is built on Romanesque remains.
The Chapel of Pénitents with the church tower behind. The inside is now a beautifully restored hall and exhibition space. The bell tower was built in 1816.
The ramparts date from the 12th century and still enclose much of the village with the old walls forming parts of many houses. At one time Aspiran had four portes (entrances) but only these two remain.

Friday 20 March 2009

Aspiran fountains

Aspiran has six drinking water fountains in the village along with an ornamental one in the small communal park.

The water is cool and delicious.

Sunday 1 March 2009


Aspiran is a wine village with a population of around 1250 on the western edge of the Hérault valley between Clermont l'Hérault and Pézenas.

There has been a settlement here since at least Roman times. Archaeologists have been excavating the site of France's oldest known winery dating from the 10th year AC.
Today Aspiran sits in a sea of vines along with olive, pine and oak trees.