The Convenanza festival, celebrating its fourth year back at the tender rump of September past, is certainly not your usual music festival.
For starters, it takes place in the most stunning of locations: the imposing keep of the Château Comtal, within the fortified medieval town of Carcassonne, Languedoc, southwestern France.
For three (formerly two) evenings each year, the ancient stone walls reverberate with the sounds of decidedly leftfield musical expositions courtesy of venerable UK DJ/Producer/Tweedy Taste
makertwister Andrew Weatherall.
From outlaw rockabilly and tripped-out kosmiche, through hazy chugging slo-mo disco, to blisteringly lysergic, sub-aquatic techno, musically this micro-festival paints from an extremely expansive palette indeed. There is however a common tonality, a thread of congruity which brings it all together, and that would be the discerning ear of the aforementioned Weatherall.
This musical outsider convenes the weekend’s performances, a combination of live and DJ sets, with a decidedly deft and knowing hand.
The festival attracts an audience that is every bit as esoteric as its line-up, although saying that, the demographic certainly tilts somewhat towards the more mature British acid house veteran. This is no bad thing, with many having followed Weatherall and cohorts’ varied artistic trajectories for the best part of two and half decades. The crowd, on the whole, is a fanatically dedicated and faithful congregation of gnostic, like-minded souls. This makes for some serious bonhomie under the castle’s towering trees as the autumnal sun retreats behind the historied parapets, and the culmination of so many contributing factors begin to kick in.
Forever the perfectionists, festival organisers Bernie Fabre and Benjamin Esteve augment Convenanza’s auditory and visual pleasures with gastronomic offerings that put other festivals distinctly in the shade.
Michelin-starred Chef Jérôme Ryon of the Hotel de la Cité and his team present a menu that leans heavily on the culinary traditions of the region. Looking at his backstory, he’s a Chef with considerable chops, and I’m most impressed when a chef of this calibre can execute in such an environment, as logistically it must be a bit of a challenge.
Fancy a classic Languedoc Cassoulet with your Red Axes live set avec the diaphram-shuddering throb of Hila Ruach’s bass and throaty vocal?
Or perhaps a Toulouse sausage sandwich with tomato confit and olives alongside the neuron-melting South American pagan initiation rituals of Fumaça Preta ? I’ll have the mescaline concasse on the side though, thanks.
Coming right up.
With modest pricing and an incredibly well-managed order/delivery system, many festivals could learn from this model. This was an impressive set-up.
And did I mention the fully stocked Fromagerie? FFS! Honestly, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of whiffy French cheese with Woodleigh Research Facilty‘s electro-pastoral noodlings or Artist Unkown’s dubbed-out Doctor Who theme? (According to my friend’s Shazam app, Artist Unknown were certainly a much-favoured artist at this year’s Convenanza).
What do you think of them (Silver) Apples?
And then there was the wine… let’s get to the wine… as I was seriously blown away with that side of things:
Whilst most music festivals are awash in a sea of flat warm beer, Convenanza proudly wears its regional heart on its sleeve by putting Languedoc wines front and centre. With über Languedoc Producer Gérard Bertrand on board as the festival’s core sponsor, the wine list draws from the plethora of wine styles grown in this expansive region, speaking to the myriad terroirs contained within its borders. This meant that there was an offering of two rosés, three whites, three reds, and a sparkling, with a firm emphasis upon Bertrand’s Organic and Biodynamic bottlings, as well as a couple of wines without any added sulfites, or “natural wines” as many choose to name them.
It’s worth pointing out here that the wine pricing was also extremely fair, something that I feel is an essential factor when making a wine program work in such an environment. The wine’s success over the three nights speaks to both the crowd’s discerning palates and the wonderful accessibility of the vinous offerings available.
The charismatic Gérard Bertrand is viewed as a bit of a living legend around these parts. Serving as the Languedoc’s unofficial wine ambassador, he has most probably done more than anyone to raise the appreciation of the region’s wines on the international stage.
After the death of his father in 1987, Bertrand took over the family business at the tender age of 22. At this time he was playing rugby at the national level, continuing to captain his team Stade Français in Paris from 1992 through 1994. Starting with the family’s small 60-hectare Domaine Villemajou in Corbières, Bertrand grew the business exponentially, and today owns 11 properties all across the vast swathe of land that calls itself Languedoc, with more to be announced in the very near future. The estates stretch all the way from Chateau la Sauvageonne in Montpellier to Laville-Bertrou in La Livinière. Over the years he has also acquired properties in La Clape, Boutenac, and La Soujeole in the Malepère appellation just outside of Carcassonne, home of Convenanza.
With an annual production of some 20 million bottles, 50% of Bertrand’s wines are now exported to over 130 countries worldwide. With this scale of production in mind, I find it admirable that since 2002 some 450 hectares of his 600 hectares of estate vineyards have gone through a conversion from conventional to biodynamic agriculture. What with the region’s strong winds and low humidity, the climate of the Languedoc is particularly suited to organic and biodynamic production, something that Bertrand himself feels very passionately about, pushing his many growers to follow his visionary lead.
Each vintage sees the Bertrand properties dealing with over 35 different grape varietals, and so I was intrigued to discover which grapes were closest to Gérard’s heart. In speaking with Communications Manager Enguerrand Bazin, I was to learn that old vine Carignan was Gérard’s favourite varietal due to his personal connections with that grape on the original family winery in Corbières. I was most happy to hear this as I am particularly excited by Languedoc Carignan myself these days. Interestingly, from a business perspective the most favoured varietals right now would be the Grenache Gris and Noir, due to their inclusion in Bertrand’s rosé wines, and the ever-burgeoning rosé market, both domestically and for export.
Another factor that sets Gérard Bertrand apart is a firm commitment to the support of local Languedoc arts and culture. From the hosting of their own annual jazz festival at the impressive Château l’Hospitalet, to their generous sponsorship of this year’s Convenanza festival, over the decades Bertrand and his wines have become an integral part of the very fabric of the region. Recognising just how much business the Convenanza festival brings to the town of Carcassonne at the tail end of the tourist season, Bertrand felt that it was important to show support by signing up as a core sponsor, and ensuring that festival goers had the opportunity to really taste what the region is capable of. Something that I feel was executed to splendid effect.
Over the course of the festival I spoke to a number of revellers about their enjoyment of Bertrand’s wines:
“One of the things that generally spoils music festivals of any variety is the quality of the wine on offer. I’m not really a wine connoisseur. But my dear wife is – and if she’s not happy with the wine, she’s not happy full stop! At Convenanza this year the wine selection on offer really hit the spot – flawless. So – this was a huge relief – thank you to all who put the time and effort into making the selections – please do the same again next year!” – Richard (Leicester)
“A big thank you to the people behind the scenes at Convenanza ’16 who organised a great selection of wines for us to enjoy! Way way way above the usual offerings available at these gigs. Organic too – there is a difference! And not too expensive either! Someone knows what they are doing – thank you!” – Samantha (London)
“Well… we are in the Languedoc right? What else would we drink but wines from the region? And it happens to be one of our favourite regions too, as the wines are always great value. My boyfriend loves the reds, especially that Cigalus, we have had quite a bit of that, and we hope we can find that when we get back home. I’m really into the rosé… what’s it called again? The Gris Blanc. I could drink that all day… and night! It’s really cool that the wines are all organic too. Never seen anything quite like this at a festival. Cheers to that!” – Antoine (Norfolk)
This year was my second trip to Carcassonne for the Convenanza festival, and it certainly won’t be my last. Upon returning home to Toronto I found myself fondly thinking back to my nights in the Château Comtal: snacking on a simply delicious cheese platter between dancing episodes, sipping on that killer Gérard Bertrand Gris Blanc rosé, playing the role of proverbial raconteur with friends both old and new, and thoroughly enjoying some of the most thrilling and stimulating music out there courtesy of Weatherall et al.
The folks behind Convenanza get things right on so many levels, and in partnering with Gérard Bertrand (a natural fit) they have raised the bar once again.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And that was astonishingly good. Bravo to all involved.