20 July 2009

Beaujolais and beyond, Day Five

This morning we bid a sad farewell to Burgundy and drove south to the tiny village of Villie-Morgon for our 11AM appointment at Domaine Marcel Lapierre. Villie-Morgon was a surprise to us. We tend to associate Beaujolais with Burgundy, but it could not be farther removed. It looks and feels far more like the Mediterranean here than the Côte-d'Or! We were very excited about this visit, because year in, year out, Lapierre Morgon is one of our favorite 'everyday' wines. We were supposed to meet with Monsieur Lapierre's English-speaking son Mathieu, but Mathieu and the Lapierres' english-speaking employee were both very busy with winery operations. Rather than pull them away, Monsieur Lapierre decided to give us the tour himself. He warned us at the beginning that he does not speak much English, but his English was actually quite good.

We started at the winery, and walked through the cellar, the fermentation and crush facility, and then the bottling line. Right now, the wine's being bottled and corked, then allowed to rest (albeit very briefly) outside in pallets on a warm day while the corks expand to seal the bottles. Then the bottles are quickly loaded into a climate controlled locker so the wine won't be damaged by the summer sun.

After showing us the winery operations, Monsieur Lapierre took us on a tour of the vineyards. He showed us the granitic soil, and then explained to us that he was pulling some grapes (and a few clusters) off the vines because they were damaged by fungus. 2009 has been a wet year here so far, and immature fruit is far more susceptible to fungal damage. Since the damage is not extensive and it's already July, Lapierre considers it a small problem and is not concerned that it will significantly compromise the vintage. One of the things that's really fascinated us (well, Steve anyway) is how specialized the equipment has to be in a winery or vineyard. While we walked up and down the vineyard rows, we watched a special machine move through the rows ahead of us. It was designed to fit perfectly between two rows, and had two functions-- the front trimmed the wines to let more sunshine reach the grapes, and the back cultivated the soil and removed weeds. From the top of the vineyard high above Villie-Morgon, Lapierre pointed out each of the Beaujolais Crus to us, and explained how each site's location contributes to the wines' characteristics.

After the vineyards, Monsieur Lapierre took us back to his home and set up the picnic table off the kitchen for a tasting. He, Mathieu, and Nikolai all joined us for a round of tasting. The setting was absolutely perfect and we had a great time. Several of the wines that we tasted were ones we've had at home, but we also had the opportunity to taste some wines that are not distributed on the west coast (or in the U.S. at all). Once again, we had an experience that far exceeded our hopes. We were sorry to leave, but we had an hour's drive to the Northern Rhone for our appointment at Domaine Phillipe Faury.

The GPS system in our rental car (more on this later) has been an invaluable tool here, but it was no match for the steep, narrow roads in Chavanay. We took a few wrong turns and showed up fifteen minutes late to our 3PM appointment. We enjoyed the line-up at Faury, but we were both pretty tired from a long day in the car and our three hour visit in Beaujolais. A lot of wine enthusiasts will visit three or four wineries in one day, but from now on, we'll limit ourselves to one.

If you blink, you'll miss Cliousclat.

From Chavanay we headed south to the tiny village of Cliousclat,
where we'd reserved a room at the lovely La Treille Muscate hotel. Our room has a panoramic view of the picturesque valley below. Well, sort of. It's picturesque most of the way across the horizon, but we were curious about the steam rising off in the distance to the right. Through the camera's telephoto lens, we found a landmark you don't see everyday: a nuclear power plant. With no oil resources of its own, France gets 75% of its energy from nuclear power. Hey, we're all for clean-green energy and all, we just didn't expect to vacation so close to the control rods.

Our hotel's restaurant is closed on Mondays, so we walked down into the village and found a casual place with its own sweeping view of the fission factory. We settled into two bowls of absolutely delicious gazpacho, a charcuterie plate, and a pitcher of rosé.

Tomorrow, a big detour.

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