The other day I collected eight wine barrels from a well known Burgundy village called Pommard. They were sealed and yes…sadly...they were empty.
The other day I collected eight wine barrels from a well known Burgundy village called Pommard.
They were sealed and yes…sadly...they were empty.
They had done their duty, which was to impart that slightly smoky woody taste to the wines of my vigneron friend, who has been producing wine here for a quarter of a century. Of course, during the maturation process it is necessary to do several quality checks.
The village of Pommard is a few kilometres south of Beaune and is a tight collection of houses and cellars almost totally dedicated to the art of making fine wines. There is a tabac, a restaurant, a bar and a baker, and of course an impressive church, but the rest of the village consists of stone-built houses jostling each other for space on the surface, while underground there exists a network of cellars where the magical transformations from grape juice to wine takes place.
On all sides of the village are the fields of vines which have been producing grapes since the Roman chariots and wagons plied these slopes.
This is one area in France where the old Roman roads follow the undulations of the terrain in sympathy with best parcels for producing wine. Everywhere else the Roman roads are dead straight, while the French roads follow those seductive curves which must have been designed and built after lunch.
It is difficult to know what a parcel is worth, because they so seldom change hands. Usually change of ownership occurs only at death or marriage; however one transaction recently equated to each of the vines being worth €250. And some of the plants are 100 years old!
My friend tells me, "These vines get more personal attention in their lives than any other type of plant on the planet!"
He should know, because during the year he spends weeks of backbreaking work pruning, tying and securing his plants and then studying them as the flowers turn magically into miniscule bunches of grapes. I imagine that he knows each plant. Then there is the excitement of the Vendange when the grapes are harvested and carried back to the cellars, when the sucricity and acidity of the crop is analysed minutely in order to forecast the quality of that year’s crop.
After fermenting in the vats the fledgling wine is transferred to the barrels to mature.
The barrels cost over €500, so the investment to produce that traditional taste is large, but then that is what quality wine is all about. Anyone can produce alcohol out of fruit juice, but it takes many factors to produce a wine that will bring back memories and traditions of yesteryear.
I have picked grapes during the harvest for several years and I will write about these experiences at some stage, but one of the great treats that we have during the Vendange is the special wines that my friend serves us at lunchtime.
When the picking is going well and he is happy with the team, a 20 year old Pommard Premier Cru will appear at the table, and this is when I am able to enjoy a wine that I could never afford.
It helps me to understand just what quality is all about and why the French are at such pains to ensure that each producer follows the rules and traditions that have been honed and developed over two thousand years.
It is a special experience to work in the fields where people have done the exact same thing for so long. I find a security and a sense of purpose, and all the work is done only to give pleasure to someone who will enjoy the ambiance that wine, above all other spirits and beverages, can bring.
I shall not be using my eight barrels for wine production.
I cut each one open, just a few slats, to reveal inside the heady aroma of oak and crystallised wine.
The tiny crystals are ruby red and glisten in the sunlight for a brief period before they fade and the scent of wine fades.
I will use the barrels to grow my roses and dahlias, which I suppose will have to be red.
I wonder if they will also have a slight scent of wine on their perfume?