After the wine-tasting marathon week, Barbara and I flew to Bordeaux to recover. Mmm, yes. Doesn't sound sensible, does it? But there were no big tastings. The trip was more vineyards than cellars.
Very wet; Bordeaux. Vineyards seriously underwater in what I like to call the Dordogne-side swamplands of Saint Emilion; Vignonet, St. Sulphice etc which should never in a million years have been included in an AOC of limestone hills.
Rain stops work in vineyards here. It’s the clay. Very adhesive clay. Your tractor sinks up to the axles and your wellies get sucked off as you try to escape. But my Scottish Presbyterian wife will have no truck with this. Where she comes from if you stopped when the ground got boggy you'd never start. She maintains that here it’s just an excuse to stay home and eat lots. There is some truth in that.
We wander the deserted vineyards. And the sun comes out. Little clusters of translucent leaves seem to sit on top of each gnarly old vine. As the evening sun approaches the horizon its rays shine through the new growth and give the impression the place is decorated with millions of little green lamps.
I love this time of year. There's a riot of wild flowers in the vineyard. More than ever these days. There's been a big campaign of dishing out free seeds and our neighbour, the ever-energetic Jean-Marie has been a particularly enthusiastic scatterer. It'll be good for the insects and some of them will help us keep our vines healthy.
We just acquired a new château - well, two, really - a BOGOF? - we bought the pretty little Château du Bois only to find it bundled in with the Basque-style Château Colombe next door. Both sit smack in the middle of our bedroom vista. We've gazed upon them both for years.
This purchase has extended our vineyard boundary walk considerably. Another 22 hectares. So we take a picnic and at halfway, stop for a rest. Open up the dusty old du Bois house. No-one's lived here for years. They've left plenty furniture. So we sit on some by the open doors and discuss what we might do with the place.
We have some cold magret but didn't bring any red wine. Just a celebratory half of fizz. But I remember seeing some old bottles in the Caveau Privé. So find the key, fumble in the dark and … sure enough – and I'm not making this up – there's a couple dozen bottles been left behind. (They were a lovely family we bought from. This must be a farewell gift).
Gingerly I take the cobweb-encrusted label-less bottle back to Barbara and sloooowly raise it vertical. Very careful with the corkscrew – never be without one – and … it breaks. But not unrecoverably. The date on the cork is 1975. The year we were married. And the wine – in two little old glasses we found – is … Lovely! It reminds me with its flavours of old leather, mushroom and wood smoke of the old bottles Monsieur Cassin would open for special occasions. That was in the Sixties. And he would open bottles from the Twenties. Seemed SO old! Liquid history.
Now, in the 'Tens', a bottle from the Seventies is just as old! And what we are tasting is not the skill of a clever Jean-Marc or Hoddy, but the plain unvarnished taste of the patch of earth – limestone and clay – that is our dear village of Ste Colombe.
I love it so.
We only really wanted the du Bois vineyards – a lovely south-west facing slope, terraced in parts but overgrown and a bit unloved since the old man died about ten years ago. The lower vineyards; judged 'saveable' have now been pruned hard by Henry's team, given some manure and are looking OK. The vineyards at the top are halfway through being grubbed-up. Rain has stopped play though.
Just in time, I hope to save a mysterious clump of brambles in the middle of the southern vineyard. The bulldozer would very likely have flattened it. But peering in we see cast iron railings, a carved headstone? and reflections from water about a metre down. It’s probably a tomb. Vignerons used to like being buried in their vines. And many were. So, of course, this reduced the vineyard area and complicated things. So 'they' banned the practice. However, looks like we've got one. Will have to do some research.