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by Sarah Heath | Apéro pique nique

On one of the few beautiful days we have had this spring (the UK has been tropical in comparison), we were lucky enough to have been invited to an apéro-pique nique at one of the local vineyards. It was a Bank Holiday Monday (Pentecost Monday), the vineyard was about a two-minute drive from our house, we were going with some of our gorgeous neighbours and the sun was shining. Heaven!

Gaillac vineyards


After ten years of living in France we have desensitised ourselves to shops not being open on Jours Feriés and have slipped into what the French do best on such days: eating and drinking with family and friends. On this occasion, we were very well positioned on the drinking front by accepting an invitation to a vineyard! An association of independent wine makers open their vineyards every Pentecost weekend for these apéro-pique niques which have now taken place over several years. The healthy part of the day –  a walk through the vineyards – was dodged by all except two of the fifty-or-so guests!

The Domaine Mas Pignou makes a full variety of wine over 35 hectares including a perlé (the very slightly sparkling wine made only in the Gaillac region) and a sweet wine alongside its reds, whites and rosés, some of which are award winners at wine fairs throughout France.

Mas Pignou, Gaillac

We were welcomed by the owner Bernard Auque, who is the fifth generation of vignerons in the Auque family. A social faux-pas quickly followed as my mental gymnastics failed to kick in – vouvoyer or tutoyer? I got it wrong and asked “comment allez-vous?” rather than “comment vas-tu?” (the more familiar version). Having eaten round the same dinner table and also having had an hour-long conversation on my doorstep with Bernard while in my pyjamas, we are most definitely on ‘tu‘ terms! He took my formality cheerfully on the chin and showed us to our table before leading us to the bar for the apéro – a Marquisette. This delicious cocktail is made from adding some sugar to lemons and limes for 24 hours and then just before being served, pouring in white wine and fizzy water. Really (and too!) refreshing!

Gaillac vineyards

Just before we sat down to eat our lunch, Bernard gave a toast by way of what he calls “la chanson du bénédicité” which was one of his father’s traditions:

Verre en haut, verre en bas – plaignons qui n’en guerre. Verre en haut, verre en bas – plaignons qui n’en a pas                                                                                    Santéeeeeeeee (the last syllable has to be drawn out!)

While sharing our spread – we were a group of 12 – Bernard and his mother served every table with wine of our choosing, rushing off to get a bottle of red from the cellar if we needed a top-up. (Not a single drop was charged for – we were there at his invitation).

After lunch there was a small art exhibition within the wine cellars which were all open for a look around. The children loved seeing the huge tanks filled with all that wine! We saw the machines for bottling and labelling – such a great way to learn all the processes that wine has to go through before hitting the shop shelves.

Mas Pignou, Gaillac


The day sadly ended for us before the music started in the early evening.  But there are plenty of other apéro-concerts lined up throughout the summer on June 28th, July 12th and August 9th in addition to the Festival les Celliers du Jazz (19th-24th July) and the Fête de Vin at the beginning of August. Looks like we’ve got a busy summer lined up!





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