There is part of France, in the Perpignan region, which historically was part of Catalunya. Perpignan was a key port for the Catalans, and served the coastal needs of the country along with Barcelona, Tarragona and Tortosa. It wasn’t until the 1700s that this region was turned over to the French. However, this region still has close ties to the Catalan culture and people.
We were invited to spend the day in Belesta, France, a wonderful town 20 minutes from Perpignan, to visit Riberach Winery hotel & restaurant. What an amazing day it truly was. While on the drive to Belesta, it is easy to see the influence of Catalunya in the region, as FC Barcelona flags, Catalan flags, and other denotations of Catalunya T
The town of Belesta is twenty minutes from Perpignan, in the foothills and mountains at the base of the Pyrenees. Belesta is a short two hour drive to Andorra, and enjoys a close proximity to many of the great ski slopes of the Pyrenees. Riberach as a property had fallen into desrepair when husband and wife Luc Richard and Karin Puringher found it as the perfect opportunity to build genuine hotel-restaurant-wine cellar in a community where Luc had grown up.
Luc and Karin have kept the spirit of the cooperative alive, but maintaining all of the architectural details, and the original composition of the internal building. The right side of the building, where the part of the vats were located, have been converted into rooms that have maintained the original architectural elements of the vats, while adding luxurious interior design elements to truly be an amazing experience. The centre of the building has been converted into a two-story reception area, with the restaurant occupying the space below where the main work space for the cooperative was located.
The restaurant itself is truly a culinary delight, with a total focus on locally-sourced products from meats, cheeses, and fruits, to vegetables and other products. If it is not from the area, Riberach won’t put it on the menu, which is a testament to their 0 kilometre philosophy. The only exception to this would be a few of the wines in the large and impressive wine cellar.
The current winery is housed in the 60 metre long extension on the “left” side of the building, where fermentation is done in resin tanks, with ageing in a combination of large 600 litre barrels, along with the standard smaller sized barrels, depending on the varietal. The impressive part about the wines of Riberach is their focus on local varieties, centred around their prized Carignan vines, which many date 80-90 years of age, some dating back to the first grafted vines after the phylloxera epidemic. Riberach is one of the few wineries which has managed to preserve the rare Carignan gris, which is a rose-coloured varietal, similar to Garnatxa gris found in the Emporda region. They have grown the varietal through grafting from barely 2 hectares to now close to 15 hectares.
All in all, Riberach is a complete and total rarity. Some resorts of this nature in Catalunya have great wine, great food, with so-so accommodations, or terrible wine with great food and accommodations, or terrible food with great wine and accommodations, or the threesome of terribleness. Riberach is one of the few which is fantastic in all three. Utterly fantastic. Our lunch was an incredible explosion of flavours, complimented by a selection of Riberach wines, including the famous Carignan gris. The wines were a medley of some of the best blendings and single varietals I’ve had in Catalunya. The accommodations? Let’s just say I plan on escaping there in the near future.
If you’re in Barcelona, it’s an easy drive to Riberach, taking the AP-7 into France before diverting onto D117 off of the E9 in France, which is three and a half hours, or taking the C-16 up through the Pyrenees for about a three hour jaunt. The best way to do it, as we did during our visit, is to take the high speed train out of Barcelona, and coordinate arrival with Riberach. They have several options to get you to the hotel from the Perpignan train station. With a 80 minute journey, station to station, and a 2oish minute drive from Perpignan, Riberach makes for a great weekend getaway. Ryanair also flies into Perpignan from several airports around Europe, so if you’re coming from the UK or Germany it’s easy to arrive.
We’re looking forward to spending an extended visit to discover more about their food, their accommodations, plus hopefully an in-depth interview with their winemakers Patrick Rodrigues and Guilhem Soulignac, and their award winning chef, Laurent Lamel. Stay tuned for more of the Riberach story!