January 2016: New Year, New Vintage …

The sun sets on another year at Rives-Blanques. We wake up to a new year and a soft, unpersuasive drizzle promising rain, but not quite. Rain is what we need … but not too much, please, not like what they’re getting on the other side of La Manche. Though a bit more than what we’ve got would be good. And cold weather too, please. All we want is winter as winter should be. We take a post-breakfast walk to our mauzac field, and see that the fig tree there is thinking about budding. Strawberry farmers are calling people in to cut off shoots off plants that shouldn’t be shooting anything at this time of year. The old farmers around us are all shaking their heads: we’ll pay for this, they say. When the cold weather comes, we’ll pay. So with that gloomy thought in mind, we kick off millésime 2016: yet another vintage that promises to be totally unlike any other.

Sunday 3 January 2016

carnival_6The world’s oldest, longest and longest-running carnival starts in Limoux today. Traditionally, it starts with the carnivaleers going to the Mairie and claiming the keys to the city – and rightly so: Carnival is King in Limoux, and it has ruled ever since the 1500’s, to our certain knowledge and that that goes beyond living memory. And not only does Limoux’s Carnival get the first prize for longevity, but it also gets it for grim determination – its frenetic pace continues relentlessly from now right up to the Sunday before Palm Sunday, come rain or shine. Not even Rio can compete with that …

The breaking news today is that today is cancelled. Yes, for the first time ever, the Sous-Préfect will not be handing over the keys of the town to its revellers. In an unconvinced announcement, an explanation is made that the omnipresence of internet and its attendant social media mean that news of any incident in any small town like Limoux can spread around the world like wildfire. And as we are in a State of Emergency, and don’t want to be the stuff of headlines, the opening of Carnival is …. cancelled. Which is like the end of the world.

No.  Which is the end of the world.

But whew! Carnival itself is not. That will continue as always, and as it always has done, come rain or shine. Starting from next week, without an official start.

Tuesday January 5

CIMG0944Caught in a Catch 22 situation, just five days after planting rights in France were forcibly liberalised to a degree, by the European Union. The agency responsible for plantation rights and that sort of thing, sent an expert at the end of last year to measure out a field of chardonnay, called Le Point Jardin, which we will be taking out this year after the harvest and eventually replanting. There was some confusion about the original measurements, and he came to sort it out. Sort it out he did, effortlessly, with the latest hi-tech paraphernalia. And in the nicest possible way.

Today Jan goes to the Customs office, which has a heavy and important hand in the procedure of planting and numbers of vines, and so on. They have the old, wrong, measurements of this particular field in their files. Since it’s only a difference of 3 ars – for that read 10m2 – it should be simple to put things right.

The functionary concerned digs into her filing cabinet, where pre-1975 files are still housed, and pulls out a dusty sheet of brown paper with surprising but damning information hand-written across its ruled lines: “97 ars of chenin blanc planted, it says”, she says.

“Well for a start, it’s not chenin, it’s chardonnay” Jan says. “We’ve been declaring chardonnay for over 15 years,” he adds. “It’s always been chardonnay, and you have always kept records to that effect”.

She looks at him scanty-eyed.

“It says here chenin blanc” she repeats, waving the piece of paper at him. “97 ars of chenin blanc.”

The person who planted that field almost fifty years ago is safely beyond the reach of the long arm of Customs, and no longer alive to recount for what nefarious reason he called his chardonnay chenin blanc.

“I’ll have to check with my superior” she says. Who, amazingly, is called Monsieur Vigne. This seems hugely encouraging to us.

Trouble is, we’re scheduled to pull the vines out at the end of the year, and replant the field. Which we cannot do unless they accept that we have 3 more ars than they have in their books, and that those ars are home to chardonnay and not chenin blanc. All of which has to be confirmed by next week, otherwise we won’t be able to do anything with that chardonnay. Or should we say chenin blanc – and be done with?

Wednesday January 6

Winter’s come. Rain. Cold. We’re all complaining.

Monday January 18


Wednesday January 20

Well, that was winter, that was.

Thursday January 21

RoadHome2It is so beautiful there are simply no words for it. We’ve got it all in bucketloads: snowcovered mountains glistening in morning alpenglow, sunshine singing hallelujahs over the vines from the cleanest, clearest, most innocent blue sky, soft opiate shades of mauve and tenderest purple poured in painterly strokes over our horizon, and then yes, a full, brilliant and bright white-light moon.

What a wonderful road home!

And then Eric reports he has seen one vine with new leaves. “Jamais dans ma vie” he says, never, ever has he seen this in January.

It’s only one out of nearly 100,000 vines, but still …

Sunday January 24

JA&CStephen Hawking told me that Space Time is smooth and nearly flat.  (On the radio, that is.)  « Smooth and nearly flat » sounds like the right sort of time to me. We are a long way from Space Time.

In fact, we are at a very cool place called La Panacée in downtown Montpellier, with a bunch of self-styled ‘maverick’ winemakers from the region, called The Outsiders, doing a mother-and-son act, pouring wine for the professionals who are here warming up for tomorrow’s marathon at Millésime Bio, the world’s biggest organic wine fair.

We’ll be back at La Panacée in less than a month, this time time a father-and-son act, with the very same group of so-called maverick Outsiders, pouring wines on the eve of Vinisud, the big Mediterranean professional wine fair.

Mother and daughter will be doing ditto at the Vinifilles tasting down the road, with the region’s female winegrowers.  Some of whom are quite maverick too, come to think of it.

Then there’s Vinisud itself: a three-day bonanza.

But between the two, there’s the Rendez-Vous des Vins de France in Switzerland.

And then after Vinisud, there’s ProWein in Dusseldorf, the uber-big wine fair of all times.

Then the Sud de France tasting in New York in early April…

Then the maverick Outsiders yet again,  meeting their match in Dublin.

Then back to Switzerland with the Vinifilles ….

Then Chicago …

Now I hear Stephen Hawking talking about « a point of infinite density. »  I haven’t a clue what he means, but it feels as if that is exactly where we are.  Infinite density.  Right at the very heart of it.

…/t0 be continued.