French Lessons

Immersion in the culture of the Languedoc region of France endures beyond a recent canal cruise.

/Europodyss¿e/ is one of hundreds of colorful, portly barges that transport guests on leisurely cruises along the Canal Du Midi, France.

Europodyss¿e is one of hundreds of colorful, portly barges that transport guests on leisurely cruises along the Canal Du Midi, France.Elaine Lembo

It's over. I'm standing at the offices of the Le Boat (www.leboat.com) base in Castelnaudary, France. Checklists are filled in; the bill is paid. All that's left of an adventure that started in Paris and ends at the train station in Toulouse are great memories.

Well, memories and my nagging desire to find a way to keep alive both the experience of my bareboat-charter barge trip on the Canal du Midi as well as the rich flavors and sights from the southern French countryside alive.

In a corner of the Le Boat offices I spy a rack bursting with flyers and glossy booklets from the local department of tourism and inns, vineyards, and cafes, all singing the praises of the region. "Visit a French Vineyard with Native English Speakers" gets my attention, and I grab it.

Good thing I kept that flyer, as months after the trip, oenophiles among the worldwide sailing fleet posed a question for me: When is the best time to take a canal charter if you want your visit to coincide with the peak wine harvest?

For that answer, I consulted with Ryan O'Connell, whose family owns and operates Domaine O'Vineyards (www.ovineyards.com), a few kilometers from Carcassone, a city with medieval origins.

"There's no wrong time to taste good red wine," Ryan assured me in an e-mail, adding that many visitors prefer to come during the peak harvest, from mid-September through October, and their options then range from rose to deep red and white.

The O'Connell saga, in the league of Peter Mayle's well known memoirs, tells the ongoing online tale of an English-speaking family who, knowing nothing about viticulture, proceed to buy and run-what else?-a vineyard.

I've been hooked on Ryan's blog since he told me about it, all the while scheming my return to the best that the Canal du Midi and France and Le Boat have to offer. When I'm not dusting off the French dictionary and grammar books, I take a fun break with it. It's called "Love That Languedoc" (www.love-that-languedoc.com).