I had landed in France a week before, and for several days I had been simultaneously recovering from jet-lag, and tasting as many wines as I possibly could. I had shaken hands with vignerons, walked through muddy vineyards, sipped gorgeous Chenins and Cabernet Francs, and had happily absorbed the history and the traditions of the area.
It’s always a treat traveling to ‘wine-country’, wherever that might be. For a brief moment, you get a little sample of what exactly it is that makes wine so special. It’s like building a little mental bridge between the table and the vineyard. You make a connection with people whose entire lives have been based around cultivating grapes and tending to their land. You become acquainted with dynasties of wine-makers and centuries of tradition, and you are able to briefly sit down at their table and enjoy all their combined efforts distilled (or rather, fermented) down into a single bottle.
France is fun, because it feels like every vineyard has it’s own story to tell. Taking a walk through the vineyards and the cellar itself are like walking through the studio of a favourite painter. It’s a study in metamorphosis; grapes growing ripe on the vine bask in sunlight, juice ages quietly in barrels, and bottles waiting for shipment rest in cases and on racks. Some tiny family run cellars are simply cut into the rock, with gravel scattered under-foot and algae-like fungus flourishing across the ceiling and over some of the older of the barrels. Modern and elaborate operations are an amazing counterpoint, with glittering stainless steel and elegant architecture.
I was in the Loire, where in many places it feels like you have stepped back in time. Tasting rooms are old troglodyte caves, or converted sixteenth century pigeon-houses, and a member of the same family who has worked there for three hundred years greets you and tells you the stories of his wine. I couldn’t help but be impressed. Here I was, a Canadian, standing right in the middle of an almost magical world, populated by comtes, and comtesses, knights, castles, and medieval warfare. I had a bit of an epiphany; something I had known for a while, but it had finally really hit me.
Every region has its own story to tell, and wine accompanies the development of history. The vine spreads alongside colonization and development, independence and conflict. For me, when I hunt down wine for my cellar, I take a particular pleasure in finding those wines which have an interesting story.
Taste is paramount, but there is nothing like being able to open a bottle of wine and know the man or woman who made it, or know some detail about the history or story of it or the place where it came from. If you’ve walked between the rows of vines, or perhaps sat uncomfortably on a stone bench in a damp and cold cellar and tasted something absolutely extraordinary, then your experience is going to be that much more satisfying.