The past ten days I landed in the Northern Rhône and ended up in Copenhagen. There’s more to tell but right now I have a question: Have you ever had that moment when you don’t take a friend’s recommendation about a sweet hotel with a great view of Hermitage, where there was bound to be good wine and food within walking distance and instead decide on a booking.com spot that is cheaper?
I had this moment:
I drive down a road on a starless night to what seems to be at first an abandoned chicken coop. The blue glare from the television lights up a dark living room and I see someone get up. I admit to dread when I hear his crunching on the gravel. Then, he is there, hand behind his back. I seem to remember an Agnes Varda movie where something like this happened, there was a butcher knife involved.
My flee instinct fires up but I didn’t move quickly enough and when he reaches me he assures me I have the right spot. I give in to fate.
This is some sort of hiker hotel, not a chicken coop, and he is very thrilled. He can’t believe it, he says, there are two other Americans staying there. It’s a miracle. My stark room—the Ladybug Room, by the sign on the door—has a door to the communal patio, but no window. Very coop-like.
Starving—I’d not eaten since fromage blanc in the morning and it was past dark—Tournon is too far away. I take his advice, “Sablettes, trés bon.” He directs me and it’s a short drive down another dark long path where I open the car door to a pizza truck, a campground, with a smokey outdoor bar and karaoke about to happen. “No, we only serve campers,” they tell me. But I prevail. They relent. I get the four cheese, it arrives as I watch the local talent croon. Ardêche. #winewritinglife
Harvest 2018. The overarching theme is dry, dry, dry. From the Rhône to Champagne, the soils are parched.
I started south, in the Northern Rhône, with a look at Martin and Éric Texier’s vines in St. Julien en St. Alban, pictured below.
I walked through the artistically hooped vines of Pierre and Jean Gonon in Saint Joseph and slid through the wild vines of Paul Ésteve and Chrystelle Vareille at the far reaches of the same appellation. ((#qvevriworlddomination!)
The vintage report? There, people are relieved but bitching. There was a lot of mildew, the grenache is in bad shape, the syrah looks good, but yields are down. En route to the north, drama hit when I stalled out on a steep incline in Lyon, all of rush hour traffic behind me. Merdre!
After fifteen minutes and a cacophony of horns later my car revved back up. I was much relieved when I landed at the Texiers’. I got to see the Fukuoka vineyard in Charnay all grown up and catch up on gossip.
The weekend was spent in Bouilland with my lovely Becky and Russell Hone. Yes it was a refuge for the spirit. Along the way I saw Fred Cossard’s planted qvevri (#qvevriworlddomination!), stopped in to see Andrew of Le Grappin and visit the first Chantrêves vineyard—aligoté. I also visited a young woman who you will soon know all about. #tease.
I also sorted the Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Damodes vineyard with Claire, hunting, pecking, discarding leaves, bugs, rot and mildew. My fingers read the full clusters under them as if reading braille. Therein lay the story of the vintage. The rains of the spring, the mildew, the burning of the sun and the hydric stress. All in all the grapes look healthy but I would imagine it will not be a no-sulfur year for those who are not dogmatic unless the sorting is super rigorous. There is quantity, but the skins are thickened, the malic acid barely there, the tartaric high and a good potential of alcohol.
When I stepped on my glasses early Sunday morning, I feared my trip was stymied. Superglue took hold, and blessedly I was able to drive to Champagne. First stop, Vouette et Sorbée in the Aube where Bertrand Gautherot and his fellow Aubians were hit hard by mildew and low yield. Then it was off to the Marne where they were in celebration: quality and yield! Passing the refugee-like campgrounds filled with the camping trucks of pickers, I was headed to stay with the lovely Tarlants in Oeuilly. Surprises in store for you (#moreqvevriworlddomination)! And visits with Benôit Marguet and another man daring to be different. #staytuned. The north is thrilled with the harvest. The grapes are plentiful, the acid spot on and the ripeness perfect for no-dosage.
In the morning, the GPS tried to take me the wrong way to CDG, and now I am on the way to Copenhagen.
So there you have it, my letter from the plane. You’ll be seeing the fruits of this visit over the next few months.
Meanwhile, in the current TheFeiringLine is a very special report from Aaron Ayscough on the upward trend of filtration in the world of natural wine. (Shocked? Horrified? Don’t care? Where do you stand)
I'm hunting the Leon Trotskys, the Philip Roths, the Chaucers and the Edith Whartons of the wine world. I want them natural and most of all, I want them to speak the truth even if we argue. With this messiah thing going on, I'm trying to swell the ranks of those who crave the differences in each vintage, celebrate nuance and desire wines that make them think, laugh, and feel. Welcome.