Birthday at the Bell, Tanworth in Arden, UK
After France I went over to England to hold my birthday party central to those I wanted to come: sons Andrew and Rob from Madrid and Singapore, sister Lib from Liverpool, brother Pete from Cornwall, French brothers Alain (le Havre) and Perli (Montpellier). We held it in the Bell Inn in Tanworth, a small village south of Birmingham where Mike, my old friend a partner geography student at Oriel, Oxford, way back in 1962, now lives. I sent my Sav Blanc across, and it was put to cool the day before, to be served with a huge delicious paella.
The Jura – Vin de Paille
In the Jura my hosts, Jean-Marie and Christiane, took me to the vineyard owned by Christiane’s cousin, Francois Mossu, at his Chateau Chalon vineyard. Francois has won the prize for the best Vin de Paille in the Jura for several years. It is quite different to a table wine, with a taste slightly like Amontillado sherry, but unlike sherry, there is no added alcohol and the sweetness is imparted with a very complicated winemaking process. In the winery there are a huge set of flat baskets, like flat lobster pots about 1.5m x 3m. After harvest the bunches of grapes are laid one layer at a time in these baskets, which are then stacked one on the other and placed in an airy loft. To increase the airflow, and stop any rot, there are also large electric fans at each end of the loft, and the grapes are left through the winter to slowly shrink and sweeten. They are then pressed in about February.
Francois also makes another Jura speciality, Vin Jaune (Yellow wine) which is made in a similar way to dessert wines- leaving the grapes on the vine to sweeten. But then the crushed grapes are left on their skins in an open vat to ferment and a very thin natural skin develops on top, to protect the wine from bacteria.
While I was visiting Francois, he was being visited by Bruno Baylet of the Entre deux Mers region in Bordeaux, whose vineyard is called Domaine de l’Hoste Blanc. So there was a photo op for an Orange vigneron surrounded by vignerons from Jura and Bordeaux! How pretentious can you get!
Chateauneuf du Pape
Heading north from Montpellier, in the Rhone valley, I dropped in to Chateauneuf du Pape, which is just a small village, whose main street is lined with cellar doors. The wine is perhaps the closest I tasted in France to the Shiraz we make here in Orange.