July 20, 2017

Europe '17 - Burgundy

After a week split between Paris and London, we returned to Paris to rent a car for a week two adventure south. First stop Burgundy.

On the way, my wife happened to pick Auxerre for a lunch stop. It was close to the autoroute and gave the family our first chance to see smaller town France after days in the big cities. We enjoyed a quick lunch and then I dropped into a local wine shop, saw a bunch of local Irancy wine. We were on Burgundy's doorstep.

The Auxxerios countryside reminded me of home in the Willamette Valley

On the road east to meet up with the autoroute I saw my first vineyards of the trip. The countryside  around Auxerre made me think of Oregon, without the evergreens. But France has considerably rockier soil than home, making me think of Joe Dressner's chiding about the fertile soils of the Willamette Valley. They aren't fertile in the hills where we grow grapes, but that also certainly don't look anything like France.

We re-entered the autoroute toward Braine but turned off early to head directly to Gevrey at the north end of the Côte d'Or. from highway to country road to windy country road twisting though the mountains above the Cote, we noticed preparations underway for the Tour de France stage passing this way in a couple of weeks.

Suddenly we descended in a combe and we saw vines everywhere, to our left high on the slope I was sure to be looking at Clos St jacques and Cazetiers. Then on through the small town and we turned right onto the Route des Grands Crus. We were here.

The Cotes d'Or from the Route des Grands Crus in Gevrey Chambertin

I pulled the car to the side of the road to take in the landscape. It was an emotional sight, this perfect slope, covered in vines, a place I'd studied almost forever in words and maps but was only seeing in person for the first time. I just stared, mouth open, no words.

I noticed so many things. The rocky dirt, the thick vine trunks, the low canopy, meticulously hedged, and that marvelous exposure, the slope glowing in the afternoon sunlight. It's obviously perfect for Pinot Noir.

Soon enough we got back in the car and continued south to Morey and beyond, me trying my best not to swerve off the road as we passed by so many old friends I was only now meeting in person for the first time.

The towns of the Cote du Nuits are just as I'd read - small, sleepy, not so grand compared to the world renown dirt all around.

Gates at north end of Clos Vougeot, with the Chateau in the distance

Soon we came upon the Clos Vougeot, the largest Grand Crus in the Cote du Nuits, and indeed remarkably flat and perhaps unworthy of such status as you proceed south. The northern end however is perfect, and again perfectly exposed on the slope. There's little shade in the finest vineyards of Burgundy.

Through Nuits, then the quarries of Comblancien and on to Aloxe and the great hill of Cotton. It's bigger than I expected, high and essentially a huge flank of vineyards tilting east. If only I had more time to explore up and around to Pernand and Savigny. That will have to wait.

So into Beaune, our terminus for a few nights as we explored the region. More on dinner out in Beaune and a producer visit back in Nuits next time.

July 15, 2017

Europe '17 - Return to the Moon


Day one in Paris, the Champ de Mars

June saw my first visit to Europe since the 1990s, a shamefully long time ago given my profession as a winemaker. I suppose I could say I've been been busy. I'm married with two children, now teenagers, and for many years I was the primary earner for my family. I worked in higher education. I was apprenticing in wine. The time and cost of international travel simply didn't fit.

Or perhaps those are excuses. Whatever the case, my family and I are recently back from a two week survey of France, mostly, with excursions to London and the Piedmont of Italy. What a trip, busy but relaxing, family instead of wine focused as we played tourists most of the time.

Citroen racing through Montmarte

Of course I did manage some winery visits, much sampling of local products as we went, and despite the brief stays in each region we visited, I return full of inspiration. To write, to re-evaluate my approaches in the vines and the cellar, and certainly to return much sooner to my vinous homeland.

Week one was mostly Paris and London, with a day trip to Oxford to tie in the latest family focus these days, college visits. One of those teens is frightening close to college age. Museums, palaces, churches - we saw (and walked!) more than even I expected in that first week.

The Tower of London

Having studied for a year in Europe during college, and having returned a few times after that, it was still surprisingly how quickly I readjusted to the regularities of European travel after 20 years. The familiarity of the coffee, the pastry, the carafe of Rose, the trains, even my contempt when overhearing banal English conversations of other traveling Americans...it was all right there like muscle memory. The smoking too - the tabacs of France survive.

Then there's so much new or new to me. Better restaurants, Uber, hotels with tiny elevators, driving in France, and winery visits.

Actually, on my last trip to France in the '90s I visited Beaune and tasted at a couple of cellars in town, nothing fancy. And I took a day trip from Avignon to Chateauneuf du Pape and managed to discover for myself Domaine du Pegau, a revelation at the time for their red and white wine.

The City of Light

Still, this trip marked the first planned and thought out visits to wineries. In all, I spared the family and managed to visit only three domaines, all in week two when we had rented a car in Paris and made our way through Burgundy, Rhone and Provence, with an overnight sneak to Piedmont that might have been the best stop of all. Each visit was particularly special, quality over quantity of stops, each particularly memorable.

Back in Portland, I'm still reflecting on all I saw, learned, tasted, even read about - at the time and certainly since I returned. There's still so much to understand about it all, I hope the next few posts allow some processing - and sharing - of what happened and what it might all mean.

For now, the recap of week one in brief - carafe upon carafe of Rose. Nameless, faceless, cheap Rose at dinner and sometimes lunch. Ok, not oceans of the stuff but just enough to wash down meals, with no concern for domaine or appellation. Just pale, crisp (usually) and delicious (also usually). And there was one red wine, we did cook in one night in London and I reprised college days with a bottle of cheap Cahors from the Tesco. Express. Nothing special at all, honestly it was sorta spoofy but in the moment is was fine.

Then week two we rented the car and hit the countryside. More next time.