Friday April 1
As usual Rives-Blanques conspires to be at its most beautiful just as we are on the way out (though New York’s not a bad destination). Cooling weather has slowed the vines down, and we’re pretty much getting back to ‘normal’ – what ever ‘normal’ is. We leave full of confidence and in good conscience.
Sunday April 3
Wonderful, isn’t it? Spend the day at the MOMA and take a break for lunch at the Bistro Maison Hugo. This is chef Florian Victor Hugo’s new venture, and yes, he really is a direct descendant of Victor Hugo. And a really nice man, too. “When can I get your Trilogie ?” he asks – good to know we have a fan in NY, something to celebrate.
But what we’re actually celebrating is on the other side of the pond. Jamie Goode, the well known British wine-writer, published his selection of “superior fizz” in the Sunday Express magazine. Guess which bubbles were at the top of the French list? Our Blanquette de Limoux – now that’s something to raise a toast to with an American brunch-time Mimosa and Marguerita!
Tuesday April 5
Well, we’ve got our bottles out and are ready to roll. Caryl is at the Maison du Languedoc on 5th Avenue pouring wines for buyers from all over the United States , and Jan is running around Westchester with our importers.
They even go to Larchmont, where I spent four years of my youth. Just last week I wondered if we might have time to go to Larchmont to see my old house. So I googled Rockingstone Avenue, and what was the first thing at the top of the list? Yes, the house of my restless early teens, up for sale. But Rockingstone Ave has no wine shop, so they didn’t pass through.
Wednesday April 6
Here’s another reason why I so much love what I am doing: we took a flight today to Houston, which on closer inspection is a lot further away than one would imagine. About five hours, actually. A young man plonked himself into the empty seat next to us, and after a cursory ‘hi’ plugged himself into his computer – while we, trying to stay on top of things, wrote up a post mortem of our New York visit. About 20 minutes into this five hour trip, our co-traveller rips off his earphones and says, ‘Excuse me, but I couldn’t help overhearing… are you guys in the wine business, by any chance?”
The next five hours flew by, as we talked about wine: how to make it, how to drink it, what it means.
Great trip. We departed and went out separate ways as firm friends, and he will visit us in France.
Isn’t wine wonderful? Nothing like wine to make time fly … (so to speak.)
Thursday 7 April
Another great experience. Here we are in Houston, which we have never visited before, having lunch at a place called Honeymoon, and drinking our own wine – which tastes remarkably at home: infact like everything in Texas, almost bigger and better. Honeymoon is owned by our tennis mates from an early and earlier life, which just goes to show something, but I’m not sure what. Maybe that the world is round? Or perhaps that wine makes it go round?
We spend the rest of the day following our importer in and out of a bewildering number of restaurant doors, talking to chefs, sommeliers, owners. Houston is huge, but it’s in small separate pockets: difficult to get a handle on.
Today is French Country Wine’s Open Door for its customers, and we are pouring our wines. We’re having fun – but most fun of all is when Stephen walks in. Stephen is the fellow who sat next to us on the plane.
Sunday 10 April
And now we are pretty close to heaven, at the absolute highpoint of our career : 36000 feet above the Atlantic, flying back home and being served our very own Occitania, which was selected for KLMs World Business Class. This is amazing. The crew of this Royal airline are truly treating us royally, even the Captain comes back and says how pleased he is to be flying us and our wine. (Not half as pleased as we are, Captain!)
Shortly afterwards on the intercom: “for passengers with a connection to Toulouse, I’m happy to say we’ve made up for lost time”.
Please click on the photograph for a video of Jan walking on air…
Monday 11 April
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, things are going smoothly. The vines have slowed down and are no longer racing ahead. The weather is utterly magnificent. And while we were away, they finished preparing the new chardonnay field, by planting poles that will support the wires that will support the vines – when they start growing.
Tuesday 12 April
Stephen sends us an email with a picture of a Houston restaurant wine list, with Occitania on it.
A second email comes in two seconds later with a picture of a half empty bottle and two glasses filled with Occitania.
Wine makes the world go round.
Monday April 18
Back to earth after our KLM experience, though Ryanair transported us quite correctly albeit un-endearingly to Ireland. We love West Cork with a passion and spend the weekend eating West Cork food, drinking West Cork drink and walking West Cork walks. So we’re bolstered up for today’s Outsider’s tasting in the very insiderish Merrion hotel, where we are assisted by waiters wearing white gloves, and serve our wines under crystal chandeliers.
But a very nice one.
Tuesday 19 April
Problems at home, of the kind one dreads.
Sudden drops in temperature can cause unexpected hailstorms, or an outbreak of frost – a nightmare for vines in this really sensitive and vulnerable period they’re in right now. And it happened today, all over the Aude: plummeting temperatures accompanied by the icy hand of frost. The Chamber of Agriculture is assessing the damage, while trying to contain and limit it. But there is not much anyone can do: vines that have been hit may not recover to produce grapes this year. You can try pruning again, favouring different branches in the hope that they may bear fruit, but as the experts themselves say, “it’s a lottery”.
And it’s a lottery if you’re not hit. As we were not. 20% to 50% of the vines to the left of us, just across the road, suffered badly.
Thursday April 21
Odyssee, our top Chardonnay made in the Limoux way (that is, picked by hand and fermented and aged in oak barrels) romped home today flushed with the excitement of winning a gold medal at the Concours des Grands Vins de France in Mâcon. We’re quite chuffed too, come to think of it.
Saturday April 22
“Putsch!” scream the headlines of our local newspaper. There does indeed seem to have been a blood-bath at Sieur d’Arques, Limoux’s beleaguered wine Cooperative, which has gone through huge ups and downs even in the short 15 years we have been here. The fake Pinot noir scandal, when they were caught selling more Pinot than there are vines to produce that quantity, was one of its lowest lows. But this one looks quite serious too: the Cooperative’s whole (new) management team has been fired by the members. Limoux awaits the next installment with interest. And so do we, actually, though for us, it’s just a case of idle curiosity, not a case of life or death.
And Zurich there we went. Typical Vinifilles, sixteen enthusiastic, energetic female winegrowers drove 9 hours from the Languedoc to a small town called Beromuenster somewhere in the middle of Switzerland, where their bags were unloaded at the houses of various strangers living within the embrace the Romanesque Church, then promptly got back in their cars, with boots full of home made stews, pates, desserts, and so on, to host a press dinner an hour away in Zurich, then drove through the midnight hour back to Beromuenster to find a bed in which to throw their exhausted bodies before returning to Zurich the following morning with boots full of the paraphernalia of a wine tasting, plus food for an extensive and magnificent buffet, to prepare for Switzerland’s first taste of a Vinifilles wine tasting.
And there I rolled up, wheeling a bag full of foie gras, to join the fray, not having any idea at all which bed would be waiting for me where at the end of the day – if at all. (Turned out to be in the old choir house of Beromuenster’s old church, absolutely charming).
Breakfast in the bright Swiss sunshine under my bedroom window, then hey ho away we go, I say good bye and press some bottles on my kind hosts, we pile into various cars and set the GPS for Langenthal, wherever that may be. The countryside is superb, so very Swiss, resplendent with flower meadows, glistening lakes and grazing cows.
And now we find ourselves in the lovely Beeren Hotel of Lanenthal, definitely a step up if not a whole staircase up from the old Cigarette factory we had used in Zurich, here to pour wines for the good citizens of this place for reasons that are not entirely clear to all, or perhaps even any of us.
One of the Vinifilles falls ill, we deposit her in the local hospital. She sends a Whatsap a few hours later towards the end of the wine tasting in this beautifully paneled room: septomaenia. Oh my God. There is a dinner for the clients of the owner of a local wineshop and his partner, Andrea, not known to any of us, but some leave to accompany our stricken sister, some manfully battle on through the client dinner before driving the hour back through the darkened fields, sleeping cows and black lakes, to their beds in Beromuenster before the departure homewards this morning, and I peel off after the first course to take a train (change from platform 9 to 7 at Olton!: last instruction shouted through the window by Andea), and finally find my bed in Basel in what turns out to be the local casino. Everything is neon: the bar, the lights, the walls, the carpet, even the barrel-chested croupiers in sharp suits standing behind the reception desk positively glow. My bedroom glitters threateningly like a nightclub but I am too tired to notice.
The face of an elderly gnome-like man with a big nose and rather reptilian eyes (no offense intended, but how else to describe those salient features?) swims out of my disturbed sleep. He was the one at the tasting in the old Cigarette factory in Zurich, who told me that Chardonnay is rubbish.
“Come now, it all depends on where it comes from and how it’s made” I remonstrate.
“Well, I don’t like where this one comes from or how it’s made”, he says.
Oh OK. But can’t resist saying, “well fortunately Robert Parker disagrees with you, this one has 92 “Parker Points” …
“He must have been drunk.”
He asks to taste the Chenin and declares it “thin”. And then drifts off to the next table saying “I don’t like white wine anyway. Never drink it. Only like red wines … “
I fall back asleep by counting the ups and downs of this mission.
To be continued next month ….