Wine and The Winemaker

I’m not what you would call a religious man.  I haven’t been to church since I was last coerced into a Mothering Sunday visit, and I have some pretty strong feelings on religions and their ability to either control or provide an excuse for their followers’ behaviour.  But I have met God a couple of times.

In our supermarket world, we have become increasingly distanced from nature, and from providence.  Our meat comes plastic wrapped, displayed in such a way that homogeneity of appearance, not nutritional quality or taste, is the key aim of the producer.  Children (I hope) know that beef comes from cows because they are told so by (I hope) their parents or their teachers.  I think that we have lost the connection between the field and our food.  This may be part of the reason for our increasingly secular society, but that’s another debate entirely.

I first met God in Burgundy.  At  the Chateau de Vosne-Romanee.  I was with colleagues, and our host was Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, whose family once owned some very significant parcels of  Vosne-Romanee’s best vineyards.  French law, responsible for much of Burgundy’s fragmentation, saw much of the vineyards being sold off in the 1930s; those retained by the family were leased out.  Louis–Michel took back a parcel of vines in 2000 and, in 2002, took back the diamond of his family’s former holdings: La Romanee.

He had a stroke of luck with his first vintage of La Romanee – 2002.  Whilst this was a tricky year for the Bordelais (though I like the linear style of many 02 clarets), and the Rhone had a disastrous vintage, with many vineyards in the South literally underwater, 2002 was a great success inburgundy for both red and white.  We were here to taste Louis-Michel’s 2002s.

We started with the Colombiere and then moved on to the Clos du Chateau.  This vineyard is best described as the Chateau’s back garden, and this was the first Burgundy that has ever seduced me from the barrel.  I’ve still a couple of bottles left (I was too skint to buy on release but bought a case when finances allowed a year or so later).  We then moved up to Les Chaumes and Aux Reignots, both premiers crus, until we finally reached La Romanee.  The summit.  Louis-Michel was experimenting with his barrels, seeing which type of oak would best suit the wine, so we tasted samples from the two different lots.

By this time it had become clear that he had also had rather a good lunch, and the beauty of what we were tasting was amplified.  We had stopped spitting (unwritten Burgundy rule: one doesn’t spit Grands Crus).  And I was tasting something that was moving me.  I was tasting something that was close to perfection.  Layered.  Impossibly balanced.  Perfumed.  With a texture that I cannot put words to.  I had the most beautiful and perfect liquid in my mouth.  This was like kissing a first love.  There was much more going on here than simply grape juice.

La Romanee sits just above La Romanee-Conti.  One can tell the two vineyards apart by a small track between them, and the different orientation of the vines.  Depending on the time of year one can also see that the growers tend their wines in different ways.  What is so special about these vineyards, and the ones that surround them, is that coincidence of nature and history (including seismic shifts and, rather poetically, monks) have enabled them to produce (with some help from mankind) a liquid that transcends the idea of taste, makes the word alcohol seem more like “diesel” or “electricity”.

For me these vineyards provide a conduit to our maker.  One can wonder at the beauty of the human body, of the intricacy of the brain, the scale of the stars.  What blows me away is the elixir that this dirt can produce.

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