The alarm rings. Why did I think this early-morning winetasting was a good idea? Stagger out of bed and get a big bowl of cafe au lait in me. OK, am semi-functional now.
It is still dark outside, but the air is unseasonably mild, and the sky over the black rounded hump of the Mont Saint Victor is full of stars scattered around a sickle moon. I admire the sky (I am rarely outside at this time in the morning), and wait for Franck who is still rustling around in the kitchen.
Our car wheels crunch on the gravel of Martial’s driveway in Ladoix-Serrigny. While Franck waits for him, I walk over to the boulangerie and pick us up a big bag of fresh croissants and pain au chocolat, just out of the oven. Franck and Martial are waiting for me outside, and then we’re off!
In Beaune, Franck jettisons me out of the car before going to find a parking place so as to save our place in line. There is a group of ten or so Parisians milled around the gate drinking coffee and eating croissants, but in the true french fashion I cut in front of them : you snooze, you lose. I’m second in line, right behind a freindly looking Danish couple.
Franck and Martial join me, and commend my cutting-in prowess. The Parisians start to clue in and line up behind us.
Alex and Jenny, our lovely guests from Tazmania who are staying at Le Relais de Vieux Beaune walk towards us, both clad in warm jackets and berets (pourquoi pas?) . They are suitably impressed with our place in line, and soon after they arrive a burly guard emerges from the cellars, shrugs and says “Sorry, there’s no more wine left,” and then laughs gaily at his razor-sharp wit. After a while he asesses the mob growing behind us and makes an executive decision – a wise one – to open the gate and let us in to the main courtyard, where orderly roped rows are already set up. Franck takes credit for this new organization which is a vast improvement from last year. Appartently he told Marie-Jo (Anne-Louise’s mother, who is also the head of Human Resources for the hospital and hospices) that this was the logical way to do it. Franck commends himself repeatedly.
Despite the gorgeous orange morning light and blue sky above, it is getting a bit chilly standing still in line. Martial pulls out a thermos full of steaming coffee and Franck a bag of plastic glasses and even a little tupperware of sugar cubes – so that’s what he was doing in the kicthen! Franck and Martial apparently cooked up their strategy on the phone the night before. Croissants, pain au chocolat, and hot, delicious coffee are enjoyed all round.
We distribute the tickets, and Franck realizes that we have two too many. We give out tickets to the Danish couple in front of us, who are very pleased and Franck also gives them our website and email addresses, never one to miss and opportunity to network!
Right on schedule the cellar opens for business. Part of me feels rather dissapointed that Alex and Jenny missed out on the chaotic mob scene that was last year, and that I had warned them repeatedly about. This year everything is shockingly well organized and orderly. Down in the beautiful vaulted cellars we buy a box off emblazoned tasting glass that we distribute, and that we’ll use after in our vacation rentals. We also buy a bag of puff pastries (gougeres) because who can winetaste on an (almost) empty stomach?
The wines are very, very young, having been just harvested just two months previously. They are served directly from the oak barrels where they are still being vinified with long glass “pipettes“. The first few reds such as the Pernand Vergelesses and the Aloxe Corton are very tannic and feel like they are scraping our throats on their way down.
As we move through the beautiful vaulted cellars (which date back from the 13th century) we find the reds on the whole rather harsh, although there are some already tasty ones (notably the red Corton Grand Cru – cuvee Charlotte something or other) that really distinguish themselves. The white are still cloudy and effervescent, as they are still in the process of fermenting. The Corton Charlemagne, however, and many others show excellent promise in a year that is reputedly going to be fabulous for whites (indeed, the price of the whites at the auction this year was up 63%, whereas the reds were just up 1% from last year).
Like moles, we stumble up the stairs, blinking in the sunlight. Martial and I emerge first, as Franck and Alex and Jenny are all still chatting to the winemakers below, and we each pick up a free alcohol level test, but neither of us can figure out how to use it, which we finally are forced to conclude is not a Good Sign.
After the rest of the gang emerges, we stroll around the grounds of the marvelous “Hospices” building and admire the stone statues and colourful enamel roof tiles, and then move towards the centre of town, where the party is gathering steam. We watch some people doing a demonstration of barrel making, smell the frog’s legs and escargot’s cooking at the food stands, and taste a free slice of “Tome” cheese from the Jura region.
Then we all part ways to go to our various abodes, but only for a short while, as we will be meeting back at our place at noon to warm up with a “raclette” for lunch.
When we get home Andre has brought back the girls and, bless him, has peeled all the potatoes and put them in the pressure cooker to cook. Franck and I scramble around preparing the plates of “charcuterie” (cold cuts). Martial soon arrives along with his wife Isabelle and their sons Gabin and Athur, laden with gifts, as usual. Cheese directly from the Jura for our raclette, some Comte just for us, and because he had the whim, two Morteau sausages to boot. Alex and Jenny arrive soon afterwards, with three lovely bottles of wine for us. We all settle down to a feast of potatoes, melted cheese, and cold cuts. I had made a salad, but of course forgot it in the kitchen.
Over coffee we all lounge about, feeling satiated and quite content. I realize with dismay that Charlotte has to go to a Birthday party in Beaune that starts at 3:00. Whoops.
Franck finally takes Charlotte to her party, and the guests trickle out after a very delicious and pleasant afternoon. There’s only one problem – I feel like a python who has just eaten a lamb, and starts to wonder belatedly if it was such a good idea , and we have a gala dinner we have to be at in three hours…
Franck and I are collapsed on the couch, wondering how we’ll ever manage to eat again, let alone in one hour.
We arrive at the Naudin-Ferrand wine Domaine in Magny-les-Villers, where our friend Claire and her sisters Anne and Marie have very kindly invited us to a wonderful “Repas de la Paulee” celebrating the Vente des Vins weekend. The cellar is beautifully decorated with flowers and decorations from last years’ Saint Vincent Festival. Most of the guests are loyal clients of theirs from elsewhere in France and Europe, but there are also some other locals – the mayor of Magny, Nicole (who cooks the great lunches as Jacky’s), her husband Joel, and of course the Naudin family.
Anne serves us all mouth-watering gougeres along with a kir. Miraculously, we seem to have room after all! We sit down and the conversation turns to Jacky, who after being ill in the hospital for some time, had finally passed away the week before. Franck told Nicole (Jacky’s sister) how Camille now insists to visit his grave every time we go an say “bonjour” to Pepe Georges at the cemetary on the top of the Mont Saint Victor. I think she will always remember him as the nice man who sold her Chupa Chups lollipops. Joel and Nicole then regaled us of the routines of the regular clients at the bar, my favorite of which was a man (who will remain nameless – this is small village after all!) who comes in every morning at 7:00am, has a coffee, a croissant, and then a glass of white wine, and then strolls up the Mont Saint Victor for his morning constitutional, takes a leak at the 12th Century chapel up there, and only after this edifying morning routine is completed, heads out to start his day.
We sit over coffee, digesting the absolutely fabulous meal (see menu above), and Claire fills up our empty coffee cups with Marc de Bourgogne. And the best part about it is that we only have to get in the car, put it into first, and roll down the hill to get home!