Paris, Alsace and Provence
It's mid-October 2012 and the last box of fresh
grapes has left the building at Preston Hardware. Juice pails from
Niagara and California have been distributed and there is a hiatus until
the third week of November when the frozen Spanish must appears. At
this time, it's back to the Hardware business transitioning into winter
mode and Sam Giannetti gets his warehouse back.
For a person only engaged in the
grape-juice-wine-making aspect of this business, it is an opportunity to
refresh and revisit the Old World culture of grape growing and wine
making. In Western Europe the warm fall weather tends to linger ,
especially in the south. Some grapes usually are still hanging but the
best part is that the tourists have gone home. Except in Paris, of
course, where they never go home at anytime of the year.
So.... when the frost sets its sights on the
pumpkins in Ottawa, it's off to France to retrace some previously
enjoyed tracks. What follows is a few thoughts and impressions of
A Vineyard in Paris-Montmartre
most visitors, Montmartre means the Basilica de
Sacre Coeur and its crowded Place de Tertre, full
of artists, hustlers, tourist shops and restaurants. At the bottom of
the south side of the hill or “butte” lies Pigalle with
its spicy mix of clubs, sex shops and cast of street characters. Think
Moulin Rouge and Toulouse Lautrec as you
walk through this adult playground.
The contrast to this neighbourhood lies to the
northwest of Place de Tertre where the last vineyard in
Paris is located. During the middle ages this area was covered in vines
but over time housing development has taken over and only the 2000 vine
“Le Clos” vineyard remains.
There are 27 varieties planted here with about 75%
Gamay in the mix of which
Pinot Noir is the next most
represented. To my eye, there are also French Hybrids in the vineyard,
which produces about 1000 bottles a year. The wine produced is an early
drinking red like Beaujolais deemed
unremarkable by those in the know, however, I have never tasted the
Every October the bottles from the previous vintage
are auctioned off at a wine festival that celebrates this vineyard
icon. The resulting higher than market prices sponsor good social works
in the community. It is in the spirit of historical significance and
good causes that people overpay for the privilege of consuming a bottle.
The vineyard can be accessed through the
Musee de Montmartre which itself is worth a visit.
and gardens give the visitor a good appreciation of life over the years
in this historical neighbourhood.
I hang my hat in Montmartre in an
apartment near the rue d' Abbesses – a lively street devoted to eating
and drinking and all the other necessities of life. This area is on the
south flank of the hill which during October and November, hold the
warmth better than other parts of the City.
The one wine region in France that labels its wine
by the varietal is also one of the most scenic and varied. The
Vosges Mountains which offer a high moisture barrier to the west
trends down to foothills whose slopes contain some of the world's great
white wines, running right up to Grand Cru status. Medieval castles
and villages dot the area that is easily accessed by car. The
Wine Route, connects the various villages whose reason d étre
is the grape. The signage is not the greatest and you will miss turns
following this route, but the alternatives are just as scenic in most
cases. A network of hiking trails runs through the vineyards and up
into the higher reaches of the mountains, where many interesting
castles are situated. Views are everywhere.
The hills descend to a semi-industrial plain
leading to the Rhine River. Across the river is Germany
and around a ninety degree bend the Rhine turns eastward upstream to
Pinot Gris, Muscat and Pinot Blanc
dominate here. Pinot Noir is the
only red of major significance. The wines from this region seem to be
getting fatter over the years as improved viticulture and warmer
conditions work their magic. Pinot Gris
in particular seems to be made more in a off-dry style with a mouth
coating richness not experienced in years past.
The wines with their varied flavourful
characteristics do match the equally tasteful local cuisine. With food
I generally opt for Riesling and in some cases
Pinot Blanc which I think reaches its zenith here. There are
also serious producers of Pinot Noir
in this region especially around the town of St. Hippolyte.
Riquewihr is central and a very
interesting place to stay. Zellenberg is a hill town
nearby that has a hiking trail circling the top of the village while you
gaze upon kilometres of vineyards from all directions. Small working
wineries are everywhere. Drop in and you will probably be greeted by
Kayserberg, Ribeauville (touristy but
walkable) and Colmar are all worth a visit.
Strasbourg, the seat of the European
parliament and the centre of the region is only a 3 hour high speed
train ride from Paris. This is one of the
most classic cities in Europe in an area that has seen settlement since
Wines from Alsace in Canada are well represented in
the $15 to $20 category, which give the consumer a good appreciation of
what the region can do at a reasonable price.
The 2012 vintage had a moist cool spring that
delayed flowering and reduced yields 15-20%.. The second half of the
growing season had a lot of sunshine that turned the growing season
around somewhat. My unscientific personal sampling methods indicated
that there were not high sugars but that balance may be achieved. We
will have to start checking out the results in 2014.
Provence --- The Luberon
Since Peter Mayle published his book
“A Year in Provence” in 1989, this area inland from
the Mediterranean has become a focal point for cold climate tourists the
world over. Many vacation properties have been bought and renovated by
outsiders who mostly only stay during the warmer months of April to
From mid-October on, the place is yours, although
there is a smaller stream of savvy visitors that realize the potential
of a less crowded picturesque and easy living destination.
It is relatively easy to rent one of these houses
in the off season as many are on the market with their seasonally
The Golden Triangle towns of Bonnieux, Gordes,
Gault, Lacoste, Menerbes, Oppede and
Roussillon dominate with their
hilltop locations while carpeting the valleys are vineyards, olive
groves and fields of lavender that lead up to forest covered
Distances are short - Avignon and Chateauneuf du
Pape are only about an hour away.
There are about 500 growers and wineries which
provide convenient local choice. Grenache Noir and
Syrah dominate the
reds and roses; Cinsault,, Mourvedre
and Carignaine lend a supporting
role. Clairette Blanhe, Grenache Blanc,
Marsanne and Rousanne are
the legistlated choices for white wines.
Vermintino is also showing up here as it seems to be the old
new thing in a lot of wine producing areas.
There is a lot of wine sold in the $5 to $10
bracket and it is good although in most cases it is best enjoyed young.
If you want something more expensive head north and you can easily pay
$40 and up for the same varietal blends.
Villagers bring their own containers and fill them
up for as little as $1.00 per litre at wineries and wine shops. You can
do the same ( at a higher price) for olive oil .
Local markets abound and the roads are good. There
are many excellent restaurants.
We bought truffles at our village market to try
our hand at cooking with this delicacy. You can’t have a heavy hand
with this product (black gold) but sometimes the most simple of
combinations work out best. It was breakfast with scrambled eggs and
few shaving of truffle that did it for me. Wine?
Toujours... a sparkler!