Category Archives: Cool Characters

It’s Derby Time in Kentucky!

It’s officially Derby season (or has been for more than a week now) in Louisville. Here are some pictures of people “keeping Louisville weird” at the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair last Sunday.

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Filed under Art, Cool Characters, Culture, Home, Kentucky, Photography

“Only imbeciles don’t change their minds!” A conversation with winemaker Jean-Michel Drouin

{Domaine des Gerbeaux}

For my upcoming E-Romantic Hotels article, I spoke with southern Burgundy wine producer Jean-Michel Drouin, owner of Domaine des Gerbeaux. Not knowing much about Pouilly-Fuissé — an appellation with varying micro-climates that produce many unique terroirs — I got a real introductory course in the short conversation I had with Monsieur Drouin. I’m including some of my favorite excerpts from our conversation below. Read on to learn Drouin’s perspective on traditional farming versus organic labeling, a winemaker’s love for his vines (“the simple act of taking a few days’ vacation stresses me out!”), and the growing need for [real] truth in advertising.

A little background…

The estate was created in 1896 by my great grandfather, Jacques Charvet, a great lover of the vineyards. (My name is “Drouin” because my grandfather had two daughters; that’s why I don’t go by Charvet.) I know that when my great grandfather’s son in law wanted to buy a horse to work the vines, Charvet wanted to disown him! He didn’t want him to work the vines anymore because he thought a horse would ruin them, although these days we all use tractors anyway, but he worked the soil by hand. He turned up the earth with a wicker basket on his back. He was very close to nature. That was his philosophy.

After my grandfather and my father, I took over the domain. Of course, we have made mistakes, like everyone. We used herbicides twenty years ago; we also added supplementary yeast to our wines during fermentation. But only imbeciles don’t change their minds, so one day I decided to change the production methods back. Now we work our vines using only the natural yeasts from the grapes…and I am passionate about what I do…

We have 13 hectares, and on those 13 hectares we have 60 parcels of vines, the largest of which is 80 ares (just shy of two acres). We produce everything separately…I make different combinations, for example, a Pouilly-Fuissé with a terroir from Solutré (because only the grapes from the old vines of Solutré are used). I also make a Pouilly-Fuissé that’s called L’intimité du Chardonnay (I christened it such). It is a Pouilly that has never seen oak, and is comprised of grapes from two harvests from the same year. (During the first harvest we leave a few grapes and then come back 15 days later, in order to have a higher concentration of juice in this wine.)

True Love

In addition to the natural yeasts, we pay attention to press the grapes gently, so as to extract only the best juice. We harvest by hand, and bottle with minimal filtration. With the help of a lunar calendar I choose the best day to harvest and to bottle. I know each square meter of every one of my vineyards; nothing is secret to me.

The “organic” problem:

Many vintners do not tell the truth. The label “organic” or “biodynamic” is new, but my great grandfather worked his vines naturally. He didn’t talk about organic farming. He wouldn’t even know what the word biodynamic means. It’s a word that was created to separate certain wines from the others, and certain winemakers from their peers. Maybe it was the easy solution to say, “I’m organic, I let nature take its course.” But I think that letting nature take its course to the extreme is not the best way either. We are making all this commotion about organics because it’s the trendy thing to do right now. We like to distinguish ourselves from others.

There are some natural winemakers who work their vines with a horse for the photos that the journalists take when they come to their domains. But after that, they work completely differently. Maybe they even buy grapes, or juice, from other places in order to keep their volume up. Often those who are organic, who let nature take its course, can’t produce enough wine. Financially, they struggle, so they must buy other wine on the side. They then tell stories to the journalists – and everyone – and that is something we should be aware of.

As for me, I am telling you that I am honest. I work my vines as I told you: natural yeasts, hand selection, etc. But I don’t call myself organic. I use the moon, but I never call myself biodynamic. My philosophy: I am for the truth, for the real work of the winemakers. I work a bit like our grandfathers worked, but, honestly, I use modern tools – we are no longer in the age of slave labor! – I use little tractors, but I pay attention not to harm the vines.

I am not biodynamic, but I am above all not a liar. I don’t even like the word biodynamic. I like the phrase “purity of work.” I like the word “real.”

Photo Credits: Bourgeois Family Selections

Marie-Amelie’s translation:

‘’Il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis !’’ – Conversation avec le vigneron Jean-Michel Drouin

Pour mon prochain article sur E-Romantic Hotels, j’ai discuté avec un producteur du sud de la Bourgogne, Jean-Michel Drouin, propriétaire du Domaine des Gerbeaux. Ne connaissant que très peu de choses sur le Pouilly-Fuissé – une appellation comprenant divers microclimats produisant autant de terroirs uniques – j’ai eu droit à un vrai cours d’initiation durant ma courte discussion avec Monsieur Drouin. Voici quelques uns de mes extraits préférés de notre conversation. Lisez pour connaître le point de vue des Drouin sur l’agriculture traditionnelle face au label bio, l’amour d’un vigneron pour ses vignes (‘’le seul fait de prendre quelques jours de vacances me stresse !’’), et le besoin grandissant de [vraie] vérité dans la publicité.

Un peu d’histoire …

Le domaine a été créé en 1896 par mon arrière-grand-père, Jacques Charvet, grand amoureux des vignes. (Mon nom est Drouin parce que mon grand-père a eu deux filles, et donc je ne perpétue pas le nom Charvet). Je sais que lorsque le gendre de mon arrière-grand-père a voulu acheter un cheval pour travailler les vignes, Charvet a voulu le deshériter ! il ne voulait plus qu’il travaille les vignes parce qu’il pensait qu’un cheval allait les endommager, même si de toute façon de nos jours nous utilisons tous des tracteurs, mais lui travaillait le sol à la main. Il retournait la terre avec un panier en osier sur le dos. Il était très proche de la nature. C’était sa philosophie.

J’ai repris le domaine à la suite de mon père et mon grand-père. Bien sûr, nous avons fait des erreurs, comme tout le monde. Nous avons utilisé des désherbants il y a 20 ans, nous avons aussi ajouté des levures à nos vins pendant la fermentation. Mais il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis, donc un jour, j’ai décidé de revenir aux anciennes méthodes de production. Maintenant nous travaillons nos vins en utilisant seulement les ferments naturels du raisin…et je suis passionné par ce que je fais…

Nous possèdons 13 hectares, et sur ces 13 hectares, nous avons 60 parcelles de vignes, la plus grande faisant 18 ares (on est loin des deux hectares). Nous exploitons tout séparément … je fais des combinaisons différentes, par exemple, un Pouilly-Fuissé avec le terroir de Solutré (parce que nous utilisons seulement le raisin des vieilles vignes de Solutré). Je fais aussi un Pouilly-Fuissé appelé L’intimité du Chardonnay (c’est moi qui l’ai baptisé ainsi). C’est un Pouilly n’ayant jamais été en contact avec du chêne, et composé de raisins de deux récoltes de la même année. (Pendant la première récolte, nous laissons quelques grappes et revenons 15 jours après, pour avoir une plus grande concentration de jus dans ce vin.)

Un Amour Vrai

En plus des ferments naturels, nous faisons très attention à presser le raisin doucement, afin d’obtenir seulement le meilleur jus. Nous vendangeons à la main, et mettons en bouteilles avec un minimum de filtration. Je choisis les meilleurs jours pour les vendanges et la mise en bouteille à l’aide du calendrier lunaire. Je connais chaque mètre carré de chacune de mes vignes ; elles n’ont aucun secret pour moi.

La question ‘’bio’’ :

De nombreux viticulteurs ne disent pas la vérité. Le label ‘’bio’’ ou ‘’biodynamique’’ est nouveau, mais mon arrière-grand-père travaillait ses vignes naturellement. Il ne parlait pas d’agriculture biologique. Il ne connaissait même pas le sens du mot biodynamique. C’est un mot qui a été créé pour séparer certains vins d’autres, et certains vignerons de leurs pairs. C’était peu être la solution de facilité pour dire ‘’je suis bio, je laisse la nature faire son travail’’. Mais je pense que laisser faire la nature à l’extrême n’est pas non plus la bonne méthode. Nous faisons tout ce tumulte autour du bio parce que c’est la tendance en ce moment. Nous aimons nous distinguer des autres.

Certains vignerons naturels travaillent leurs vignes avec des chevaux pour les photos que les journalistes viennent prendre dans leurs domaines. Mais après cela, ils travaillent complètement différemment. Peut être même qu’ils achètent du raisin, ou du jus, à d’autres afin de maintenir leur volume. Souvent, ceux qui sont bio, qui laissent la nature faire son travail, ne peuvent pas produire suffisamment de vin. Financièrement, ils luttent, ils doivent donc acheter d’autres vins à côté. Ensuite ils racontent des histoires aux journalistes – et à tout le monde – et nous devons avoir conscience de cela.

En ce qui me concerne, je vous dis que je suis honnête. Je travaille mes vignes comme je vous l’ai dit : ferments naturels, sélection manuelle, etc. Mais je ne me considère pas bio. J’utilise la lune, mais je ne m’appelle jamais biodynamique. Ma philosophie : je suis pour la vérité, pour le vrai travail des vignerons. Je travaille un peu comme le faisaient nos grands-parents, mais honnêtement, j’utilise des outils modernes – nous ne sommes plus à l’époque de l’esclavage ! – j’utilise des petits tracteurs, mais je fais attention à ne pas endommager les vignes.

Je ne suis pas biodynamique, mais surtout, je ne suis pas un menteur. Je n’aime pas vraiment le mot biodynamique. J’aime la phrase ‘’pureté du travail’’. J’aime le mot ‘’vrai’’.

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Big horses, cautious toes, and what it means to be à cheval

A cheval. On horseback.

On the edge of the pasture, saddle in one hand and frayed cotton rope attached to horse in the other, I position myself to hoist the former onto the latter’s back. My feet are planted deliberately between the front and back hooves of the giant draft so that, in plunking the saddle down I resemble a yogi stretching from the core, reaching toward the horizon as I leave my lower half firmly planted out of harm’s way.

I’ve been stepped on before, but not by the likes of these horses, who not only might unintentionally do serious damage, but could also be quite long in budging a gigantic hoof if ever one were to break out in hysterics under the pressure of a ton of horseflesh. It’s a double-edged sword with Satine’s breed: more docile and gentle than the lightest and flightiest Thoroughbred, these horses are incredibly massive and powerful. I have one toenail that grows oddly because of a run in (or run-over?) with a Thoroughbred. If the same happened with Satine, I might not have a toe at all.

So, I mind my distance. As I struggle to tighten the girth around a very stout belly, I point my toes inward, transforming from yogi to duck.

“You okay over there?” Mélie shouts from the shoulder of her other horse, Utique. “She giving you a hard time with the girth?”

I smack Satine lightly on the belly. “Suck it in, girl,” I say. Then, to Mélie: “I’ve got it!”

With the same attention to my feet, and hers, I lift the bit to Satine’s mouth. Then, all straps buckled, I lead her to the opening in the barbed wire fence, resisting the urge to announce that such a barrier would never effectively retain a Thoroughbred. In the middle of a one lane country road I swing my leg over Satine’s back and heave a sigh of relief. It’s safer up here than on the ground with all those car tire feet.

A cheval. On horseback. I was born here, and now that I am in the irons again I feel secure. I reach forward and stroke the caramel coat under Satine’s mane as she marches slowly and methodically along the road. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. Mélie instructs from the back of Utique.

“We’ll turn left onto the trail up ahead. Satine knows the way.”

And so does Satine’s foal, Baya, who intermittently trots along behind or canters ahead beside the road. This is the Franche-Comté region of France, where people drive their cars with the knowledge that they share the road with animals – mostly cows, but sometimes horses. Mélie is not concerned. When a little beat up Renault rounds a corner, she marches Utique out into the middle of the road and holds her hand up, signaling to be aware of the little one. The car scoots cautiously past a very nonchalant Baya.

Into the woods, what looks like an old logger’s trail opens up before us and I turn in my saddle to tell Mélie how much it reminds me of home.

“It’s just like this behind my house,” I say. “The tunnel of trees, deer trails, and moist, hilly terrain. I could be out here with my dad right now, but it’s you behind me instead!”

We talk about pony club and trail riding and the psychology of little girls and their horses. The reins are loose as I look over my shoulder at Mélie, who nudges Utique to catch up with Satine’s longer stride.

When we emerge from the woods, we’ll find the winding road that leads to Mélie’s village.  Approaching their big farm house – one that in another age contained the cows under the same roof as the owners – we will be greeted by her children’s voices. “Satine, Utique, Baya!” they’ll sing, exiting the house at a run. The horses won’t be fazed by the serenade, nor will they balk when the kids run right up beside them, reaching to stroke their soft muzzles and grasp their cream colored manes.

A cheval. As I sit at my computer, thousands of miles from Satine, Utique, and Baya, I look out my window and see two sleek bay Thoroughbreds in the pasture below.

In France, you can be à cheval when your feet are literally in the stirrups and you are “on horse.” You might also be à cheval sur les principes, which means you are a stickler for principles. But, most fittingly for me, you can be à cheval entre hier et demain, with one foot caught in the stirrup of yesterday and the other in that of tomorrow.

Today that’s where I am. Looking back, looking forward, looking to France.

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Do you like your coffee French?

Voila another video from Cyprien, who, I gotta tell ya, is impressively making a real name for himself with his video blog. This month he and a few of his equally successful “vlogger” friends put on a live show at the largest cinema, theater, and music complex in Paris and it sold out just days after they announced the Janauary 12 date. He’s famous and he’s never paid a centime to market himself. Pretty cool times we’re living in.

I’m posting this latest installment because coffee, a drink that has always had cultural significance, has taken on new meaning in France. In the last few years especially there has been quite a bit of buzz (pun intended) caused by 21st century home espresso machines, especially the Nespresso model, which has been everlastingly linked to the sexy, smooth talking American actor George Clooney.

(You’ll hear Cyprien give his best shot at Clooney’s salesmanship 29 seconds into the video, with the very sexy blare of the machine in the foreground.)

As Cyprien says, “I was obligated to buy a coffee machine, in order to be classy. You can’t be classy with soluble coffee, for example.”

Soluble, or dissolvable, coffee is a French cultural enigma. I just don’t think they could market that kind of thing in America. But it’s really popular in France, and it’s much faster than a coffee maker, and I have to admit that I used to drink it every morning in my little studio in Dijon. It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not classy. Not like Nespresso.

Cyprien pokes fun at the marketing strategy behind the “capsules” you can buy to make different kinds of espresso. They all have names you can’t remember, which means they all end up being referenced by color. “It’s a brown capsule,” he says, after reading the name “Livanto.”

“And they all have more or less the same taste,” he adds. “At a certain point you have to be honest.” He reads some of the distinguishing characteristics, like “complex and balanced” and — his favorite — “mild and liquid.”

“A liquid coffee,” he says. “They take us for idiots, huh?”

(Of course, the word “moelleux” can also mean smooth, which is surely  Nespresso’s intent, but the potential misreading is funny nonetheless.)

“Coffee connoisseurs” don’t make it out of Cyprien’s video un-poked either. It’s easy to feign recognition of the “complex and balanced” aspects of an espresso, but only if you know what specific characteristics go with the names of the capsules. (He serves a shot of Coca Cola to call the imaginary connoisseur’s bluff.)

The real test, though, is whether someone can drink his coffee without sugar. “I drink it without sugar,” Cyprien’s character says. But what he’s thinking as he takes a sip is, “it’s bitter, it’s disgusting, it’s bitter, it needs sugar, it’s bitter.”

Love it!

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE: Continue reading

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Running is good for the soul, and friendship

Yesterday I couldn’t help but laugh every time a car passed me on my short little three mile run. Armed with multiple layers and ski gloves, I had pulled the drawstrings of my sweatshirt around my chin so tightly that only my eyes and nose managed to peek out from the tight hole. Yes, I would be back in 28 minutes, and yes, this was Kentucky, where it never gets cold enough to warrant such ridiculousness. I’ll blame it on my West Coast roots.

All this to say that while I was running my measly three miles I remembered that one year ago at this time, I was training for a semi-marathon and running ten to twelve miles on a regular basis.

My friend Val, who was studying abroad in France while I was doing my teaching assistantship, and I had decided to train together to combat the effects of all the delicious French food we had become so used to eating. We were both runners, but had never done long distances. When we found out about the Nuits Saint Georges semi-marathon, however, our interest was piqued.

13.1 miles through the gorgeous vineyards of Burgundy seemed appealing, but neither of us could deny the real draw: talk of “wine tastings” along the way. At first we thought it must be an oral legend, a bit of Burgundian mythology that had spread over the years. We imagined a few runners nearing the end of their course and being rejuvenated by a winemaker with a beret and a sparkle in his eye. Years passed and word traveled; runners began knocking on the winemaker’s door for a little kick when their fuel ran low.

These are the kinds of things we hypothesized during long runs anyway. Laughing, and sometimes grunting, Val and I got to know each other over the miles. She was the faster runner, but I brought a strong dose of competition, so most of the time we stayed neck and neck. Once on our third tour of the Parc de la Colombière in Dijon, having just beaten our two previous 400m interval times, I pleaded for mercy, saying we should be careful not to injure ourselves beating the time on our third effort.

“We’re already going faster than planned for today,” I reminded her between gasps on the rest interval. “Let’s try to relax a little.”

Nearing the starting point, Val fingered her watch. I sucked in one last deep breath.

I don’t remember much but pain and the desire for oxygen when the timer was ticking. The big, shady chestnut trees that seemed so pleasantly encompassing on regular runs became a blurred tunnel as we whizzed by. I detested their solidity and I yearned for their stillness.

We beat our time again. Continue reading

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Guest Post: Je voudrais du Vouvray: an encounter with Philippe Foreau

I was delighted and flattered by the response to last week’s article about our holiday celebration and the wine we shared. One comment in particular could not be ignored:

Emily, that’s perfect! I have always found that it’s the interesting tidbits, like “lip stinger” or the detail of your driving time, that people remember the most when trying to recall a wine. When you can put the wines together with interesting food for friends and family, then people have a story to share days, weeks, and months later. At some future dinner, your friend will be pouring a Vouvray for someone and the wine will transport her back (like the food critic tasting ratatouille) and she will tell them about YOUR dinner. When I drink Vouvray, I am always reminded of meeting Phillipe Foreau and, if the audience allows, I tell of my stumbling attempt to ask for a ‘degustation’. -Dave

I don’t know about you, but that last sentence made me want to hear about longtime reader Dave Navarre’s meeting with the Monsieur Philippe Foreau. The Loire Valley winemaker is reputed for the great care he takes in producing fine Vouvray wines, using as little interference with the natural process as possible.

I asked Dave if he would mind sharing his story with this audience and he enthusiastically accepted. (Thanks, Dave!) Cheers!

One of the first trips my wife and I took when we were dating was to the Sonoma Valley, so wine tourism has always been at the top of our lists. She was able to go to France in 2005, but since it was on business, without me. So, we decided to go to France for our honeymoon.

I plotted our trip, and as a lover of history, included Normandy and the Loire Valley. Since it was my first experience, I chose the wrong order for the trip, finishing in the wine region instead of starting there. Now we start our trips in a wine region and enjoy the fruits of that labor in Normandy.

We discussed our trip in advance with a friend in the wine business, and knew that we wanted to meet with and taste the wines of Philippe Foreau. Having only experienced wine-tasting in the US, we went without prior introductions or appointments.

As we pulled into the beautiful commune of Vouvray, we squinted at the signs indicating the locations of the various vignerons. As we snaked through the twisty lanes of the small town, we could find no mention of Clos Naudin or of Philippe Foreau. Nearly dejected, our hearts leapt when we found the tourist office. Malheureusement, the tourist office is closed for 2 hours in the middle of the day. So, my lovely bride and I decided to break out our baguettes, pâté and wine for a picnic lunch in the back of the hatchback. It was a rainy day in Vouvray and the garbage men were collecting. We were thrilled to realize that even the garbage men in France dress stylishly!

After the tourist office re-opened, we drove off, directions clutched in my hands. As we pulled up to the address, I couldn’t believe my eyes. On one side of the road was a nice little house, with the correct number, and on the other was what seemed like a nondescript little warehouse. Assuredly, the maker of the best wines in Vouvray couldn’t live or work in such a simple setting.

Nonetheless, we got out of the car and wandered over. Looking inside, we could tell that it must be the right place, but no one seemed to be there. After a plaintive bonjour, and no sign of any stirring, we again lost hope. No sooner had we put our seat belts back on in the rental car than a Frenchman emerged from the doorway. I stepped out of the car and tried my tourist French. Je voudrais une degustation. Monsieur Foreau asked a question. I had no idea what he said and only replied Je ne comprends pas. He turned and my heart sank as he walked across the road to house. We’d come so far, and on our honeymoon; we’d found the great winemaker and now we would go away because I could not speak French. Then, he looked over his shoulder and waved for us to follow.

He took us inside and his assistant explained that Monsieur Foreau was very busy, but if we were interested in buying some wines, he would allow her to have us taste them. This must have been what he asked me. We were again at a loss. We would be getting on a train for Paris and flying home soon. She asked, “Not even one bottle?” Of course, we would buy one! So, the great man headed into the interior of the house, his assistant poured us tastes of several of his wines and we purchased a bottle.

We marveled, as we sat on our hotel room’s balcony in Paris enjoying his handiwork, that a man so accomplished, whose reputation was intimidating and whose wines were so elegant and expressive was still a simple, nondescript Frenchman in a small town.

Photo Credits: Photo 1: Pinterest; Photo 3: Google

To read the French translation: Continue reading

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Charles Joguet Chinon Franc de Pied: an adventure

I have to admit, as Monsieur Jacquey closed the iron gate behind me and motioned toward his secluded front door, I looked over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t locking the latch.

“Le Nez de Saint Pierre,” he called himself.  St. Peter’s nose.  He was nice enough, although he blinked a little too curiously at me through his yellow tinted glasses. “I didn’t expect a young lady,” he said. I gripped my cell phone and followed him up a path to his “office.”

Monsieur Jacquey sells wine from his own collection, right out of his home, which is why I was a little wary. But he’s the only one in Dijon who had the wine I was looking for — a 2005 Charles Joguet Chinon Cabernet Franc — so, after supplying Nico with the name, address, and phone number,  I had rung the “nose’s” doorbell and hoped for the best.

His office was a converted patio adjacent to the kitchen. It had its own entrance, marked by an oak barrel. Inside, papers and books covered a giant desk, which was lit only by a computer screen. I took a seat opposite Monsieur Jacquey and he poured me a taste of a 2006 Braucol from Gaillac, a town “not far from Toulouse,” he said. Ever vigilant, I took a calculated sip.

“How does a young woman like you become interested in wine?” he asked, an eyebrow arched over one oval lens.

Was that a trick question?

“I came to France,” I said.

“Thought I heard an accent.”

Yes. Yes you did, I thought. But I said, “Yes, and I still have trouble finding my words.”

He excused himself for seeming nosy (“Forgive me for sounding indiscreet”) and went right ahead with his questions. “Did you come to France for love? Do you live here in Dijon? What are your plans?” etc. I did my best to answer politely, and discreetly, then, glancing at my watch, I searched for the infamous bottle.

“Oh, one moment,” he said, taking the hint. Scrounging around behind a cotton curtain, he emerged with a dark bottle, almost black. I smiled when I recognized the familiar label, adorned with beloved French humorist Francois Rabelais’ portrait. (“Drink constantly,” he said once. “You will never die.”)

Jacquey placed the bottle between us. On the label, the name of the vineyard forfeits the spotlight to a vibrant red diagonal band announcing “Cabernet Franc de Pied.”  My host underlined it with his finger. “This is a special wine,” he said.

“Cabernet Franc is the grape of Chinon. When the phylloxera came in the 1800’s, it wiped out most of the vineyards in France, Chinon included.” He tipped his chin. “The insect came from America, but then so did the cure. American vines were immune to the phylloxera, so after a while, when all other remedies failed, someone thought to plant American roots and to graft French vines onto them, to save French wine. According to purists, something was irreparably lost, even though the rootstock doesn’t interfere with the development of the wine grape.”

Oh, the joys of French-American sibling rivalry.

“Well,” he continued, arching an eyebrow. “Some of the vines were saved. And that’s why they’re called franc de pied. They’re 100% French, and proud of it. Like I said, this wine’s special.”

After paying for the wine and thanking Monsieur Jacquey, I practically skipped away with my new bottle. When would I taste it, and with whom? Would I lay it down for a while, or decant it and taste it now? With what meal would I pair it? These questions brought a smile to my face as I made my way back toward centre ville.

For the answers, tune in to tomorrow’s post!

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