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A few friends, a good meal, a glass of wine -- what could be a more simple pleasure? Why then does the subject of wine -- and particularly writing about wine -- often seem so darn complicated, so needlessly technical or frustratingly pretentious? In this book I wanted to tell a different story about wine, share my experience of two years spent among French winemakers and vineyards -- two years in which I discovered that the story of wine from vine to glass is as much the story of the people who make it, their ...
A few friends, a good meal, a glass of wine -- what could be a more simple pleasure? Why then does the subject of wine -- and particularly writing about wine -- often seem so darn complicated, so needlessly technical or frustratingly pretentious? In this book I wanted to tell a different story about wine, share my experience of two years spent among French winemakers and vineyards -- two years in which I discovered that the story of wine from vine to glass is as much the story of the people who make it, their history and traditions, their intimacy with the land, as it is a tale of yeast, grape, and barrel. Happily, it is also, in the small family vineyards where much French wine is made, a very warm, very human story.
The families of the book all work in southwest France growing malbec grapes, from which they have been making very good, very different wines for more than a hundred years. I followed them through the seasons, sharing the hopes of spring, the anguish of a summer drought and heat wave, the mad rush of the fall harvest, and then into the wine barns heady with the smells of fermentation. I learned about oak from a Bordeaux barrel maker, got advice on wine and food from the sommelier of a one-star restaurant, heard a dozen winemakers' notions of that maddeningly imprecise French concept of terroir.
What I discovered above all else was the winemakers' uncomplicated passion, their genuine enthusiasm for their craft, their desire that others understand their world and its meaning beyond the liquid in the glass. It is this passion that first drew me to this place and these people, and I hope you will come to feel it, too.
|1||Yves and Martine Jouffreau at Clos de Gamot||1|
|2||Young man in a hurry : Philippe Bernede at Clos la Coutale||19|
|3||Man in the middle : Jean-Luc Blades at Clos Triguedina||38|
|4||A short history of Vin de Cahors||56|
|5||It's the terroir, stupid!||78|
|6||The long, hot summer||89|
|8||Vinification 2002 : making the wine||141|
|9||Vines in winter||170|
|10||A visit to the cooper||191|
|11||Wine at the restaurant table : a few hours with Laurent Marre at Le Balandre||216|
|12||Yves' folly : up on the mountain at Clos St. Jean||242|
|13||Where to taste in Cahors||257|
When you drive up to Clos de Gamot, a vineyard owned by Yves and Martine Jouffreau-Hermann (referred to from here on as the Jouffreaus) in the Lot River valley in southwest France, there is no allée of hundred-year-old plane trees, no expanse of coiffed lawn rolling up to an old stone château whose leaded glass windows and lichened roof slates whisper of great age and past nobility. The only thing that runs up to the vast, unpretentious collection of buildings is row upon row of vines. As far as the eye can see in every direction, the vines run away from you, a sea of ordered green stretching across the broad valley to the rising limestone escarpment beyond the Lot River on the north and to another range of low hills several miles to the south. Thirty-two acres of this sea make up Clos de Gamot. It is one of the oldest and most reputable of the 500-odd players in the appellation called vin de Cahors, maker of wines served both at the White House and at the Elysées Palace, and I had expected something much more impressive. I had heard so much about this family and its wine, had read so much about the role that Martine's father, Jean Jouffreau, had played over his more than sixty-year career in resurrecting Cahors from a mediocre table wine to appellation status, that my mind had conjured up a grand château, or at least a large manor house.
Instead, a low hedge of neatly trimmed greenery marks the driveway leading back to a large parking lot, also surrounded by vines, with staked rosebushes blooming profusely red at the end of each row. Although they are here to add a touch of beauty, a welcome splash of color to relieve the unbroken green and brown of the vines, the roses have a purpose. Susceptible to the same plant and insect ravages as grapevines, such plantings are the vineyard equivalent of the canary in the coal mine, though today much more sophisticated methods exist to detect trouble. Still, while Clos de Gamot is neat and orderly, the roses are about the only bow to aesthetics in a place otherwise presenting a more sober, workmanlike demeanor to the world.
On the right long, low stuccoed buildings house offices; farther back, you see the first of several chais, the cavernous barns where the grapes are fermented into wine before being aged in huge wooden tuns. These buildings are also of putty-tinted stucco under putty-colored sheet-metal roofs, well maintained and simple in appearance. To the left a large, traditional two-story farmhouse rises, Martine's childhood home, its stone walls painted a dull gray, the dressed stones of doorways and windows marked out in a red once the color of the local wine, now faded to a mellow ochre. "Dégustation," wine tasting, reads a sign affixed to the corner of the building, pointing the way to a small outbuilding tucked behind the house.
While the materials may be more utilitarian than luxurious, the entire place is clean and tidy, with bright pots of flowers here and there and not a scrap of trash or a single weed in evidence. Still, it is a far cry from the imposing châteaux of other wineries in the top ranks hereabouts, and thus the last place I would have expected to find a subterranean picture gallery, a museum in miniature enshrining the history and tradition of a single family.
It was the last week of July in the year 2002, a very hot, cloudless day, and I was looking forward to finally spending an uninterrupted couple of hours with the Jouffreaus when we could at last talk at length about their wine and their lives. My family and I had spent thirteen months in 20002001 in this region, living just over the ridge, where I had written a book (From Here, You Can't See Paris) about a very small village, Les Arques, and its restaurant. I had met Yves and Martine in passing, at tastings and once during the harvest at their second property, Château de Cayrou. When I had expressed interest in perhaps writing about their vineyard and winery some day, they had suggested I start with a visit. That had been almost a year ago.
It was Martine who met me, with a big smile and a hearty handshake, at the door of the office. Martine Jouffreau is, like her husband, short and stocky -- and she is like him, too, in the way she stands, firmly rooted and upright, coming across very much as someone of the earth. There the resemblance ends. After her dazzling white smile, which crosses her wide features often, you notice her long raven-black hair and very smooth, pale skin. She speaks softly, too, and with a gentle formality that to me, at that early point in our acquaintance, signaled a distance, a sense of caution, the reasons for which it would take me some time to learn. All together she reminded me, at first, of a doe, so quiet and watchful, those almond-shaped brown eyes wide open and alert to any danger to her own.
After a bit of small talk, she suggested we begin with a visit to the "picture gallery" as she called it, and then finish with a wine tasting. I sighed inwardly, fully expecting a ghastly collection of artifacts, dioramas, and amateur hour at the easel, all contributing to that quaint and picturesque vision of nineteenth-century bucolic vineyard life that I already knew had almost nothing to do with reality. In other words, I feared it was the first step on the package tour ...Families of the Vine