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Our Story

Chateau Hotel & private rental villas with spa and restaurants in Narbonne, France

The restoration and operation of châteaux, wine estates and other character buildings as exceptional destinations in France, retaining and enhancing their essential purpose and character, integrated with and respectful of the local environment – natural, social, cultural and economic.

Our story

Our story
Karl O'Hanlon and Anita Forte founded Domaine & Demeure in 2008 to realize a vision of transforming sleeping giant wine estates into stylish, authentic places of comfort and relaxation where guests immediately felt at home.

Château Les Carrasses opened its doors in 2011 and was an instant hit for it's blend of chic French style and laid-back private-club informality. Les Carrasses was soon a best-kept secret for discerning travelers in search of sophisticated yet authentic places of comfort to relax and decompress.

Neighbours with the Bonfils family for many years, time made it clear to Laurent and Karl that a partnership between the two families made pefect sense - marrying generations of winemaking know how with hospitality expertise to bring a shared vision of sustainable wine tourism to life. This led in 2012 to Vignobles Bonfils taking a major shareholding in Domaine & Demeure, a partnership which has flourished in the In the intervening years.

Château St Pierre de Serjac followed in 2016 following several years of transformation.  While a different scale than it's older sibling the estate shared the 'no compromise required' formula and once again the blend of winery, hotel, self catering accomodation and private club again soon attracted a loyal following both at home in France and abroad..

2021 will see the opening of Château Capitoul, acquired by Bonfils in 2011, bringing the portfolio of estates to three.

History of the estate

History of the estate
Introduced by the Greeks in the 5th Century BC winemaking in the Languedoc was further developed by the Romans who established Narbonne in 118BC. Located at a strategic intersection of the Via Acquitania route to the Atlantic and the Via Domitia connecting Italy to Spain, Colonia Narbo Martius (Narbonne) soon became the prosperous capital of Roman Gaul from where wine and honey and many other products were shipped across the Roman Empire.

At this time La Clape was a peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean dotted with small lakes thus earning its ancient name Insula Lacquis – the Peninsula of the Lakes.  Surrounding these lakes were vineyards, many owned by victorious legionnaires upon whom Caesar had bestowed lands on the peninsula suitable for cultivating vines.  It is thought Capitoul was likely one of these early bequests, though the first known citation of the estate as a producer of wine is from a Latin parchment dated 26th May, 1324.

Throughout the first millennium Narbonne remained an important city, a seat of agriculture and learning and a melting pot of cultures from across the Mediterranean and beyond.  The city and surrounds went into decline in the 14th Century, largely but not exclusively due to the silting up of the Graus (Inlets) which provided access from the sea to the city.

During this period it was the monasteries and other religious orders which keep the winemaking tradition alive – as much a factor of economic power as it was of Eucharistic necessity. Indeed it was in a Dominican monastery in Limoux around 1530 that sparkling wine was invented, a technique transplanted to the Champagne region a century later by a monk named Dom Perignon.
By the 15th Century Capitoul was also owned by religious - the canons of the Cathedral of St Just (The Cathedral visible from the Western windows of the Château).  It is probably around this time the estate was christened with a derivative of its current name, derived from the Latin Chapitre, Capitulaire, Capitulum.

Gradually however, wine production in the region reduced significantly, becoming over time a locally oriented activity with little export and even less vitality. Little is known about Capitoul during this period, though the estate continues to appear on maps throughout the middle ages and into the 17th and 18th centuries.
Fortunes changed in the second half of the 19th century when the period known as the Eldorado du Vin began. With a huge spike in demand driven by industrialization and the need to hydrate factory workers with a daily ration of sterile low alcohol wine a reinvigorated wine market emerged.

In 1867 European vines were attacked by phylloxera, an aphid which decimated vine roots, causing production to collapse right across Europe. While the Languedoc was badly hit, paradoxically the infestation set the conditions for the acceleration of the market: With sandy soils capable of repelling the mite, and the discovery that the grafting of American root stock onto French vines circumvented the problem, production restarted briskly and the Languedoc found itself with perfect market conditions: a spike in demand and a dearth of supply. With the opening of the railway line from Béziers to Paris reducing transport time from four days to one, a fully-fledged boom took hold as vast wine fortunes were made, centered on Béziers which by the turn of the century was the wealthiest city in France.

In 1898 the Riviere family, then owners of Capitoul and beneficiaries of a significant wine fortune created during the boom period commissioned the restoration and transformation of the estate, works which took place from 1898-190 creating in the process the buildings that stand today. Capitoul soon re-emerged as one of the most important estates in the region.

The turn of the century proved to be the highpoint however, with overproduction and cheap imports of Algerian wine soon caused prices to collapse. A clean water supply, two world wars, changing tastes and the emergence of New World wines brought waves of competitive pressure to bear on the industry. Capitoul, like many others, gradually declined into stately moribundity, continuing to produce as it always had, but selling into a mostly indifferent market which oversaw its gradual decline.

In 1962 the estate was purchased by Fernand Aupecle as part of a portfolio of Southern estates assembled upon his return from Algeria in 1962. The estate remained in his family until 2011 when, convinced by its potential as a winery and wine tourism destination, it was purchased by the Bonfils family. The initial phase of the restoration was primarily focussed on the vineyards and winery, with the replantation of the vines and the enlargement of the estate and the overhaul of the range. In parallel a long process to secure permission to create a premium wine tourism destination was pursued as was the acquisition of a shareholding in Domaine & Demeure, specialists in the restoration and operation of wine estates as exceptional tourism destinations.

With this partnership in place and the planning permissions secured, works began in 2018, heralding the renaissance of this venerable estate and securing its viability for generations to come.

Our concept

Our concept
When we bought Château Les Carrasses in 2008 the estate had been abandoned for nearly 20 years. Our idea was to turn it into à la carte destination: a place that did not demand a compromise from guests, who could enjoy the experiece that suited them rather than have it imposed in a package.

So like the best French wines we wanted to create an assemblage of the best elements of other offers : The facilities and style of a quality hotel, the privacy and practicality of a private villa, the charm and authenticity of a working wine estate and the laid back ambience and service of a private club.

The idea was not necessarily have every aspect of each element, rather to try to have all the best bits while also ensuring the estate came together as a cohesive whole.

Three estates later this commitment to a 'no comprimises required' experience is in our DNA, and so while each estate has it's own look, feel and ambience, each one puts our guests - rather than our business model - at the heart of our offer.

Social impact

Social impact
It's always been really important to us that the estates be an integral part of the local community, making a strong positive contribution to local life.

Most importantly we stay open all year and prioritize the employment of local people. This will sometimes create some challenges – language skills may not be perfect for example - but we think this is a price worth paying. Not only do we tap into a wealth of local knowledge about the estates, their history and their surrounding environment, but good full time jobs enrich the local economy, enabling young locals to live and raise families in their home villages.

We are also very careful to ensure that the estates feel open and welcoming to locals as well as residential guests. We are convinced that having a great mix of locals, out-of-area French and international guests is the key to creating a great experience for everyone who visits us.

This philosophy creates a lot of local goodwill and anchors the estates into the community, something which is felt by our guests as they interact with local people both on the estates and in the surrounding area during their stay.

We will be focussing more and more on on our social impact over the coming years - expanding our programme beyond employment and reactive sponsorship to a much wider range of inititives both within and outside of the estates.

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