Travel has always been a way for me to shake the proverbial
Etch-A-Sketch and clear the mental clutter. The clarity gained from a change of
scenery, new acquaintances, sites, and smells is among my favorite vantage
points. At a time when I think back over
2014 and ponder the year ahead, I am eternally grateful for the gift of travel.
A few months back I was lucky enough to embark on a journey
to France and observe a beautiful way of life mostly throughout the south, spotlighting
new wines to accompany our bold flavors back at B&H.
My journey began briefly in Paris where I traveled by foot, taking
in familiar and new sites for a day. Getting lost in such an incredible city is hardly a waste
of time as Paris is among one of my all-time favorite international destinations. While I was sad to depart so early, my eyes were set further south to learn about epicurious things outside the metro area.
A quick train ride deposited me outside the ancient
walled town center of Avignon. It is a
quaint city that sits on the left bank of the Rhône River, a popular residence
for popes and one of the few French cities to have preserved its ramparts. Avignon provided me a wonderful transition to
the south and a gateway to my rental car and the Cotes du Rhône valley.
Avignon – post serenade
History and natural beauty make the Southern Rhône one of the
richest regions of France for interests of every kind. Next stop
Gigondas, at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, is a village with fewer
than 1,000 people residing is a must see-do for your wine loving travels. They have dedicated all of their agricultural
efforts to winemaking and it shows. With
just under 8 miles of dedicated vines they produce roughly 5 million cases of
wine a year.
A few notable producers included:
The history dates back to Pierre de Beaucastel in the mid
1500’s with the purchase of a barn and some land. A hundred years or so later
one of Pierre’s descendants converted to Catholicism and was appointed as “Capitaine
de la ville de Courthezon” by Louis XIV. Fast forward to the start of the 20th
century when the land was acquired by Pierre Tramier who then turned over
production to his son-in-law Pierre Perrin. (If you haven’t noticed, Pierre is
a popular French form of the name Peter and means “rock” or “stone”.) Today the Perrin family is continuing the
legacy and is following in the rich traditions set before them. Their wines are highly regarded and are a
worthy addition to your wine cellar.
Domaine des Bosquets is owned by the Brechet family, who
also owns Chateau de Vaudieu. The winery was bought in 1962 by
the legendary Gabriel Meffre. It's his grandchildren, the brothers Laurent and
Julien Brechet, who run the two domains today. Julien is a strong advocate for the next
generation in the area and deeply involved in the young winemakers’ association
while brimming with a youthful energy.
He appreciates the friendly competition with his brother as they share
quite the wine heritage.
Domaine Chamfort is located at the foot of the Sablet
Montmirail. It stretches over twenty one hectares and is spread over three
towns. In March 2010, Vasco Perdigao (pictured above) and his wine Sonia took
over the vineyard and decided to enroll it in sustainable viticulture by
minimizing the use of non-natural products in the vineyard and to better
control the future transition to organic agriculture.
One glimpse of Serge Ferigoule's moustache might be enough to fall in love with him and the wines, although they do a fine job themselves. In the mid-70's he left winemaking school and went to work for Monsieur Ricard's family. Without anyone in his family to succeed him, Richard decided to partner with Serge in 1982. After Monsieur Ricard's retirement in 1990, Serge launched Le Sang des Cailloux. Vacqueryas had just been awarded an A.O.C that same year helping his wines to become as celebrated as they deserve.
The Bruniers' story dates back to the late 1800's with Hippolyte Brunier, a modest farmer who lived off the land. His small vineyard was at one of the highest points in between Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Bedarrides, a stony plateau called "La Crau." The elevation of this terrain had prompted the construction of a communication tower in the late 18th century to transmit telegraph messages between Marseilles and Paris.
One of the most
memorable dinners on this portion of the trip was thanks to L’Oustalet
A multi-course meal dedicated to the
bounty of the Mediterranean.
While at dinner I was seated in between a French couple to my right and a small group of Americans to my left. Dining alone in France is quite common and despite the intimate setting, it was delightful to relish in the solitude. It is a different sort of dining experience when you eat alone. I focused my attention to savoring each morsel and taking my time. It was a great lesson in being present and not needing my phone or other gadget to fill the void.
As the four Americans were wrapping up, the opportunity presented itself to engage slightly before they slipped out. We exchanged small talk of "how was your meal, where are you from", etc. When I replied that I was visiting from Seattle, Washington, one of the women said, "Well it just so happens that next week I am meeting my friend Jeffery Bergman from Seattle." I had a split second thought... what are the chances that we both know a Jeffery Bergman from Seattle and could it be the same person? I kindly replied, with a bit of hesitation in my voice... "It's not the same Jeffery Bergman married to Katherine and works with gourmet food is it?" She looked at me stunned and voices hit a pitch of of excitement that made most of the other patrons look our way. "Of course it is." I looked on in disbelief and kindly requested her name. Little did I know that I was meeting such culinary royalty and the likes of Patricia Wells
. She has several other ties to the Pacific Northwest and we marveled at the shared contacts between us. What if I had brought my kindle to read during my solo dinner and didn't engage? I felt so lucky to feel the world shrink around me.
My final days were spent in a small beach town called Sanary-sur-Mer outside of Bandol on the Mediterranean coast. Rumor has it that it's one of the sunniest places in France, with an average of only 61 days of rain a year.
Winery highlights included:
This tranquil estate has been in the hands of the Bunan
family for three generations and is surrounded by incredible olive and cypress trees
with grapes growing on steep terraces facing the Mediterranean. Quite a site! They have farmed organically
since 2008 and have focused their attention on the impressive Mourvèdre grape while
incorporating Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah into the mix as well. This region in particular is known for producing
hugely powerful reds and sultry rosé wines.
much as you like about the microclimate of a wine region; it is only when you
feel it that you truly comprehend. The panoramic view of the entire Bandol
amphitheater with its dramatic limestone outcrops is complemented by a
cloudless sky, yet proprietor Eric de St. Victor informs me that beyond the
protective Sainte-Baume mountains, it has been raining all week. No wonder
Bandol enjoys 300 days of sunshine each year, no wonder it exists as a separate
AOC from Provence, and no wonder its wines are hailed as the apogee of
Comte Henri de Saint-Victor and family have been producing wines
perched atop La Colline du Télégraphe in the northernmost part of the
appellation, the château commands sweeping vistas of the amphitheater of vines
known as the Théatre d’Epidaure, and beyond, the Mediterranean Sea.
The restanques, or terraces were carved into the
hill by the Saint-Victor clan in an effort to minimize erosion and maximize
water absorption, which is of the utmost importance in a hot, dry terroir such
as this one.
Domaines Ott was founded in 1912 by Marcel Ott, an
agricultural engineer from Alsace who dreamed of establishing a great wine
estate near the Mediterranean. Today, the wineries are owned and managed by
Champagne Louis Roederer. These wines are made at three distinctively different
estates in the Bandol and Côtes de Provence appellations: Château Romassan,
Clos Mireille and Château de Selle.
The south of France has a natural intoxication about it. From the stunning landscape to the beautiful people that inhabit it. From the coastal influences on food to their world class wines and beyond, it is an area I would go back again tomorrow to dig deeper and learn more. If it isn't already on your travel to-do list, you won't be disappointed.
I would like to share a passage I found just before departing for this trip by Rick Steves. This could easily be expanded beyond your passport and into our daily lives.
"Connecting with people carbonates an experience. Extroverts have more fun. If your trip is low on magic moments, kick yourself and make things happen. If you don't enjoy a place, maybe you don't know enough about it. Seek the truth. Give a culture the benefit of your open mind. See things as different, but not better or worse. Any culture has plenty to share. Of course, travel, like the world, is a series of hills and valleys. Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. If something's not to your liking, change your liking. Travel can make you a happier American, as well a citizen of the world. Our Earth is home to seven billion equally precious people...
Thoughtful travel engages us with the world. In tough economic times, it reminds us what is truly important. By broadening perspectives, travel teaches new ways to measure quality of life. Globetrotting destroys ethnocentricity, helping us understand and appreciate other cultures. Rather than fear the diversity on this planet, celebrate it. Among your most prized souvenirs will be the strands of different cultures you choose to knit into your own character."
May 2015 have adventures near and far!