Every month, we introduce you to an interesting woman living in Languedoc. Curious as we are, we like to find out why she lives in this beautiful region, what she does for a living and some of her Languedoc favourites. This month we would like you to meet Nan-Ping Gao as Ramoneta of the Month. She is the general manager of Château La Bastide in the Aude department. Meeting her was such a joy, and I hope her fascinating story will inspire you as well!
Already from a young age, I loved French literature. To fully understand it, I wanted to learn the language. In the end, I became a French teacher in my hometown Chengdu, China. By coincidence of life, Chengdu was a twin-city with Montpellier. And when my husband was offered a doctorate in this very French city in 1983, I followed him in 1986 to continue my studies. It was quite a culture shock moving from China to France. Sometimes it was even surrealistic, and every day I discovered new things. I remember travelling by train from Paris to Montpellier, seeing nothing but vineyards. I thought the French only ate grapes and drank wine, so many vines!
Settling in Languedoc
My husband and I started to build our life in Montpellier. Besides literature, I also have a passion for food. That’s how we created our first business in France: a Chinese restaurant and catering service. We brought the Chengdu kitchen to the South of France, and people loved it! On the side, I also worked as a translator, started Chinese language workshops and became the president of the Montpellier Eurasia Association to promote Chinese culture in France.
Fifteen years and two children later, my husband and I were asked to start up a big machinery factory back in China. We accepted this challenge but returned to France after a few years. In 2008, we created a consulting firm to advise French companies how to work better with and invest in China- and vice versa. Little by little, I entered into the world of wine. And as I was determined to promote Languedoc wine, this is how we found an investor for Château la Bastide. However, they couldn’t manage such a big wine estate and therefore asked my husband and me to become the general managers. I started in January 2015 and my husband followed in June 2019.
Château La Bastide
Becoming a winemaker has been a radical change on my path of life. But I believe that you should embrace life as it comes. Over seven years, my husband and I have transformed Château La Bastide into the quality wine estate it is today. When we arrived, nobody had heard of the wines, not even the locals. But nowadays, 40 % of our wines stay in France, while the other 60 % is exported.
The estate includes 180 hectares of land, of which 60 hectares are vines. With our international team, we produce a range of 14 wines, with eight wines under 10 euros. When you see the numerous prizes we have won, and still win, you can tell that we have managed to produce high-quality wines. They even find their way to numerous Michelin starred restaurants in France and outside!
Living in the South of France
I love living in the South of France, where the pace of life is much calmer than in China. The Languedoc region still has rough edges, and you live with nature. Living here is all about the real life. For my work, I travel quite a lot. However, every time I come back and see the garrigue landscape, I feel at home again. When my husband and I moved to France over thirty years ago, we left our roots in China. But now, we have grown our own roots in France with our children and grandchildren. Together with our dear friends, I feel like I’m living a very rich life.
When I had just moved to France, I listened to the radio a lot. And I still do, as I learn a lot about the language and what’s going on. Of course, it helped that I already spoke the language when I came here. But it also helped that I have a curious mind. That’s why I always ask questions or start a conversation. I have found the French to be very patient if you ask the right questions. Also, I think it’s essential to have an open mind and not stay in the same community. I try to bring the best from China to France, and I adopt the best French qualities.
We are very well integrated in French society, and, as of 1993, we took French citizenship and don’t have our Chinese passports anymore. In 2006, the city of Montpellier even awarded me the honor of ‘Citoyenne d’Honneur’, and both my husband and I received the medal of merit by the Région Languedoc-Roussillon (now Occitanie). More recently, I was inducted (‘intronisée’) into the Confrérie de l’Illustre Cour des Seigneurs de la Corbière and the both of us into the Confrérie de la Septimanie des Vins de Narbonne. Also, I am a member of the Conseil d’Administration du Syndicat des AOC Corbières and the Association Parole des Femmes Aude. As you can see, it is very important to me to take part in local society and local culture.
Best Languedoc wine
My wines are my babies. However, I do have a slight preference for our Exubérance red wine. When I first tasted this wine, I absolutely adored it. However, the vines weren’t in a good state, and I gave myself a year to save them. And I succeeded! It’s made of two grape varieties that grow on one plot: 50% Grenache and 50% Mourvèdre. In China, we are always looking for the middle way, yin and yang. And as the grape varieties for Exubérance have always grown on the same land, inseparable like twins, this wine is perfectly in balance.
It’s difficult to name a favourite restaurant, as my curious nature wants to discover new ones. When I go out for dinner, I prefer going to a restaurant that serves traditional French and honest food. Since I’m a winemaker, I also like to discover new wines and compare them with our own range.
Perfect day out in Languedoc
As I love history, I would go to one of those small villages scattered around the region. My tip is to stay the night in a charming accommodation and- if possible- visit a local museum. It will offer a different point of view, which I find very interesting. Also, I like to discover the small producers and winemakers and have a little chat with them. It’s all about exploring diversity, and I love my Languedoc and my way of living here!