As you can see by the bottom of the label, this bottle arrived a little worse for the wear.

To ship or not to ship?

I recently received a bottle of 2012 Estate Grown Holman Ranch Pinot Noir made with grapes grown from the Central Coast, specifically Heather’s Hill in Carmel Valley, California. The one-bottle box arrived end of day on a 90-degree Friday, as scheduled. As soon as I handled the very warm-to-the-touch box, however, I knew it might be tainted.

What to do, I wondered. Do I immediately put the bottle in my wine refrigerator or will that induce bottle-shock? The solution became clear once I tried to stash the bottle on the rack of my wine fridge; the bottle’s shape didn’t accommodate the space allocated on the rack. I placed the bottle in my living room wine rack to let it adjust gradually to a room temperature.

A few days later, I decided to open my bottle, but it tasted close to a cough syrup flavor. I air-locked the bottle and gave it another day before trying it again, this time in a proper pinot Reidel glass. I let it breathe for about 15 minutes and tried it again. This time, I did taste what was probably once a very good pinot noir but had since turned due to warm-weather shipping or perhaps improper storage before shipping. What I did get out of this was fruit forward, young wine that probably would have been great had it not been bottle shocked.

Pinot Noir grapes are difficult to cultivate and obviously difficult to ship in warm weather. There are many wineries that refuse to ship when the weather is too warm because these bottles are like their babies and they want to protect them from the elements. Priced at approximately $35 a bottle, the shock of weather is something to be considered when shipping, even if only from the Central Coast to Napa Valley. Cool packs are a great invention for short-term shipping, but many wineries hold off shipping until mid-fall, if only to avoid having to re-ship because the recipient complains the wine is bad.

To ship or not to ship? It would depend on the distance, the weather, the cool packs utilized and more factors, such as method of shipping.

limerick

3 Tastes at Limerick Lane Cellars

I once met a friend in Healdsburg. She arrived at Limerick Lane Cellars with 7 family members and was late. She was set to run a Sunday race, so picked up her pace and met me at a winery she hadn’t planned.

While I sat in wait, I sipped on a Hungarian blended white wine poured from a German-styled bottle, shaped slim and tall, with green tinted glass. I don’t know why I didn’t buy a bottle or two, but my friend will later sip on her purchased bottles to tell the tale.

OK, so enough of the limerick-ish fodder. Limerick Lane Cellars was off the beaten path from the cute little downtown square in Healdsburg, but only a 5-minute worthwhile drive down a country road of vineyards. I actually had to stop in the middle of the road to allow a segway tour group time to motor to the other lane.

The zinfandel was elegant, missing the spice I love, but balanced and quite a lovely craft of Russian River Valley grapes. Finally, the blend of syrah-grenache was a nice change of pace, as were the other two tastes, making a trip to this obscure winery worth the drive.

Following our excursion, lunch downtown at HBG (Healdsburg Bar & Grill) was inexpensive and delicious. Might I suggest the burger or cubano with a cold Lagunitas?

History of Limerick Lane Cellars, as told on the website:

Once known as The Boreen, an old Irish word meaning a small, unpaved country road, Limerick Lane has been home to small farms and vineyards for more than a century.

The Del Fava family planted our oldest currently producing vineyard in 1910. Without the benefit of modern scientific methods now used to determine the best soils and sites, the Del Favas were the first to recognize the rare potential of this small, enclosed microclimate just south of Healdsburg.

In the mid-1970’s, the Del Fava family sold to brothers Michael and Tom Collins. Like the Del Favas, the Collins brothers saw the potential inherent at Limerick Lane. They brought tremendous passion and enthusiasm to the property, overseeing the planting of twenty-five acres of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Grenache–the iconic Collins Vineyard. In addition the Collins brothers replanted and improved the existing vineyards, creating demand for their grapes at preeminent wineries De Loach, Chateau Souverain, Ravenswood, Davis Bynum and Gary Farrell.

By 2009, Mike Collins was ready to sell, but was unwilling to see the beautiful old vines and all his hard work absorbed into a corporation or fall into the hands of investors just out to make a quick buck. Instead, he approached Jake Bilbro and asked if Jake would like to buy Limerick Lane Cellars and the Collins Vineyard. Jake, a member of a family renowned for principled vineyard stewardship and sustainable winemaking, grew up in the business at Marietta Cellars, founded by his father Chris in 1978. The chance to own Limerick Lane–a place from which his father, among others, had sourced exceptional fruit–was so exciting Jake spent two years pitching nearly every bank in California. One day before harvest began in 2011, a local bank in Healdsburg finally agreed to give him the loan.

Only the third owner in the estate’s 106-year history, Jake brings modern farming and winemaking techniques to the inimitable fruit that only the historic Collins Vineyard can produce and creates wines that live up to the heritage that preceded him–wines noted not only for their exceptional balance and elegance, but with a specific sense of history and place as well.

Belgrade 2

First sips of Belgrade

 

On an AMA Waterways River Cruise from Budapest to Bucharest, I find myself in Belgrade, Serbia, learning about plum brandy at the Quburich distillery. As we drive the bus to the quaint neighborhood location of a family-owned plum brandy tasting room, we pass by lawns covered in Syrians camping out while awaiting a bus to illegally cross from Hungary to France, Switzerland or Sweden. It is heartbreaking, and we are told that 5,000 people from Syria come to Belgrade daily.

The neighborhood’s pyramid-shaped roofs were fashioned from the Nazi bunkers of WWII in order to allow the bombs to slide off.

Yes, this is a destination of disarray, but there is much beauty among the ruins, such as the Avala Mountain to the south, and the rolling hills and fruit growing region of along the Balkan peninsula. The fruits include raspberries, blueberries, pears and apricots for exportation. The most popular fruit is the plum, which is the key ingredient to a brandy. Second only to this plum brandy is apricot brandy schnapps.

 

Before I sip on a series of brandy’s, some 30 years old, I enjoy a glass of elderberry juice.

#1 – We begin with a brandy-soaked cherry, which tastes refreshing as we begin our tasting education. We learn that fermentation begins with a 12% distillation. The secret is in the fire and wood is chopped and added to the fire every 7-11 minutes to keep the temperatures high.

The final product is bottled in hand-blown glass referred to as Chockanchi, so each is unique. The shape of the glass is said to enable you to drink from the bottle while rocking out on the dance floor. The amber color of the plum brandy is colored only by the fruit.

Geevoleel! (long live!) We toast and sip.

That first sip burns all the way down, but is easier with the following sip. We nosh on sausage, hams and cheeses, cheese pie… in what is referred to as a Greek mezza (a mess), with Turkish caviar of vegetables.

 

 

 

 

Ilok and Vukovar wine 2

If it’s Wednesday we must be in Vukovar

In Hollywood films, “the bad guys are always Russian and named Elias,” says our AMA Waterways tour guide in a mixed tone of defeat and humor. Our tour begins in Croatia, within its 88,000 square kilometers along the Adriatic Sea. We are off the beaten tourist path except for the beauty of paprika farms that we drive past.

Our bus rides alongside sunflower fields of beauty in juxtaposition of the bullet-riddled buildings we passed far East of Croatia. We are headed to Ilok, to the city for wine tasting, coincidentally on a national holiday – August 5 – a day commemorating the Yugoslav Civil War of 1991-92. You can still see the effects of the bombed buildings, as with each election, empty promises of repair are meant to lure voters to what is commonly known as a corrupt government. Vukovar’s Baroque architecture is a promise of a rebuild of a city, and it is clear that this renovation is ongoing.

Symbols of resistance are everywhere we turn: Hiding places where there are ground-level doors, the water tower, a symbol of resistance. Graffiti on a yellow building in Serbia showcases an image of an angry man. The heaviest fighting took place in Vukovar. A war-ravaged neighborhood where on a drive you see many homes decorated with bullet holes.

The Croats arrived in the 7th century and by the 12th century, the state entered with Hungary. The Ottoman invasion of Europe in the 16th century claimed almost all of Croatia, and by the 17th century, the Austrians liberated Croatia. By the end of World War I, Croatia was part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Enter the dark period, also known as World War II, when Croatia declared its independence by committing bad deeds to the Serbs in a Nazi collaboration. By 1945 Croatia was socialist and the red star was its symbol of resistance in the fight against Nazi’s and Fascism.

Ilok & Vukovar - county of Vukovar-Sirmium Statue

In this city, a statue symbolizes the first democratic elections. In 1991 the war began  in the republic of Serbia; Croatia fell under UN protection and later liberated on August 5, thanks to Operation Desert Storm.

Today, Croatia is a parliamentary democracy with a prime minister and president that serves two terms of five years each. Today there is a woman president with no jurisdiction; basically she is a “floor plant in the office,” our tour guide admits.

Unlike its wine, the politics of Croatia are hard to swallow; luckily I am here to taste wine that began thanks to the Roman, Marcus Aurelias, who wanted to plant grapes here. Croatia’s region began with 80% grasevina – and Italian reisling.

The wines I taste in a 15th century castle’s hand-built cellars at Ilok (Nikolar Ilok) are crisp in minerality and the whites in particular are enjoyable on this late summer day. Aged in 7 years young Slovenian oak barrels grown in Venice, Italy, much of this wine was destroyed during the 7 years of war when Serb’s occupied Ilok.

 

But the wine is so tasty that even Queen Elizabeth has a few boxes of 1947 Croatian wine in her cellar. She got these bottles only because the wine bottles were hidden behind brick walls, as pictured, below.

DSC01865

 

My tasting notes at Ilocki in Croatia, where a bottle of Podrumi is $5.

#1 – Gratavina (Italian Riesling) 2014

A dry-greenish to hay color, definitely a summer wine that surprises with its buttery flavor.

12% alcohol

#2 – Traminac 2014 has a color more golden than the Gratavina, with a strong floral bouquet of roses. This wine is so delicious it is like sipping honeysuckle, jasmine and rose. It offers a longer finish than the Gratavina. I’m sold, if only I knew where to purchase a bottle in the U.S.

12.5% alcohol

 

#3 Kapistran CRNI 2013 is made from grapes that grow in a region where hunters flock. This is a cabernet sauvignon Frankoka with a dark, very dark, in fact, ruby red color and aroma of berries and currant. This wine is best served with Gouda cheese, wild boar, deer meat and Hungarian Goulash.

12.5% alcohol

 

 

 

It is difficult to swallow the hard history of Croatia, but its wine production goes down easy and with a pleasant, lingering finish.

 

hungarian goulash

More than Goulash, Hungary has Boar’s Blood?

Although quite tasty, there is more to Hungary than Goulash. For one, there is a huge wine production, but this isn’t new. And neither is the communication of Hungarian wine, still referred to as boar’s blood, or at least blended wines. In the U.S. we typically hear the same blends referred to as “table wine”, “Meritage”, or “Bordeaux blend”.

Historically, wine has been the favored choice over water for hydration, so it’s no surprise that the 3,000 Celtic people who lived in Hungary made wine. Most of the Hungary-wine produced was white, at least before the mid-19th century. In fact, 1686 marked the time when the Turks left and Bosnia monks arrived. German-speaking settlers brought white grapes, but over time, the Serbs switched to red.

To put things in perspective on Hungarian wines and their prestige, know this…Queen Elizabeth drinks Cabernet Sauvignon from Villany. I found this out while on an AMA Waterways River Cruise from Budapest to Bucharest. Tasting in Villany, I had the great pleasure to taste foreign wines in a cave. The first chardonnay comes from a village outside of Villany. This white wine was a favorite of mine —un-oaked and made in stainless-steel tanks.

Wine tasting in Villany surprised me, with its 22 historical wine-producing regions. These fun facts satiated my curiosity almost as much as the wines tantalized my palate. For instance, in the northern region of Hungary, the Tokaj wines are made from white grapes discovered by the French King… from a 15-million-year-old leaf!

Yes, the history of wine production is long in Hungary.

I hadn’t known that the second best known wines hail from nearby Belgrade, Serbia, and that in the 19th century, the Phylloxera outbreak left the majority of vineyards dead. From the point of re-planting, red grapes began to grow in this area…Oporto to be exact, which is the Portuguese wine in Villany.

When the Turks tried to seize Hungary for 25 days, the Hungarians thought they were gonners – they could live or die. So, on their last day, they were happy when their women brought good red wine from the cellars, from barrels to buckets.

The Turks saw the wine trickling down on the Hungarian beards and white shirts. These Hungarians drank too much, and as a result, felt strong — strong enough to fight. The Turks thought they drank boar’s blood and they ran away.

Moral of this story: drink wine in fight or flight.

While tasting, I discovered the 2014 rose would have tasted best mixed with soda water. With an aroma of strawberries and its coppery rose color, this wine seemed to have gone into secondary fermentation – a bit fizzy. It’s blend of 3 sources, including blue cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon did not impress.

Finally I tasted the first of four reds, a ruby color that made me feel regal. It had a faint aroma of currants, a very good tannin structure and medium finish. It proved a medium to light bodied wine, “real blood of Villany Hills” —  an Oporto from 2013.

The second red – again a ruby color – offered a deeper berry aroma and still light, definitely a pinot noir. It was an enjoyable medium bodied wine, a 2011 blue francish with 14% alcohol, originally from Austrian region – Nazi days – when payment was made with blue francs.

Our third wine had the same ruby color – with high alcohol and low acidity – so its shelf-life is less. I got the aroma of a band-aid and obviously disliked this 2011 blend of 40% Oporto, 40% blue francish – seed of sour cherry – and 20% cabernet sauvignon.

Here’s toasting to Attila the Hun and history.

90 plus

A ‘lot’ (57) of Tuscan gold

The expression of a destination once visited comes alive with a sniff and sip. For me, a trip to Tuscany was revisited when I opened a bottle of 90+ Rosso Toscana Sangiovese Merlot, Lot 57, 2012.

A bottle of 90+ brings about mixed emotions to those in the wine industry. While we like to attain bottles of premium wines otherwise affordable only to the upper class, 90+ offers the opportunity to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak.

If you aren’t sure what 90+ labels are about, here’s what I found out through the grapevine: When 90-plus rated wines don’t sell out with a private label, there is opportunity to sell unlabeled bottles to consumers who can’t pay a lot for those premium wines, but want to sip them nonetheless. Slap on a 90+ label, document the grapes (in this case, Sangiovese and Merlot), the wine region (Rosso Toscana), country (Italy) and the year (2012). The most important factor beyond the grapes and region is the lot number (Lot 57) so that if you enjoy the wine, you can get another bottle from that same lot. If you get a different lot, it will be a different wine from another winemaker, but in the same region.

Overage is put to good use via 90+, and consumers will never be able to know the winery or winemaker behind the bottle, but you will know a good wine when you taste it, and this Rosso Toscana Lot 57 is quintessential Tuscan wine grown from perhaps the greatest wine region in Italy…Chianti and its super Tuscan blends.

Central Italy’s history of wine dates back to the 8th century, B.C., with the Etruscan settlements. This is one situation where it’s a good thing that history repeats itself. I love Rosso Toscana because it is not as robust as a cabernet sauvignon, so drinkable alone. But you will crave Italian food once you have a taste.

Lot 57 Ross Toscana Reserve 2012 sells for approximately $15 a bottle…not much compared to what the true label might sell for, given the grapes hail from the home of Sangiovese.

Enjoy!

Fletcher2

The cheesy little planet of Napa Valley

Ever since I arrived to my new life in Napa Valley, California, I’ve felt like I’ve been living on another planet. The people are of a different nature than what I’m used to, having lived my whole life on the East Coast.They’re not European, but the landscape has a strong Burgundian familiarity. So, it was fitting to take a seat at Beringer Vineyards for a cheese and wine tasting with Janet Fletcher (pictured below), publisher of “Planet Cheese.”

JanetFletcher2

The stars aligned for me to sit in on this tasting event that began with a West Marin Nicasio Valley Foggy Morning cheese made with cow’s milk. To match the intensity of this delicate, young farmstead cheese, we each received a pour of 2013 Luminus Chardonnay, Oak Knoll ($38) made with grapes from north of Napa on a flat vineyard that allows even ripening and balance of fruit. The nose on this Beringer white offered apricot, and flavors of mango.

“This is a good aperitif wine,” stated Janet.

Its crispness brought forth a slight intensity, and I agree: it is a great wine to start off an evening. The cheese brought the wine forward, and so we moved forward to the next pairing.

***

Point Reyes Farmstead Toma has been around for almost 8 years, hailing from Marin County. This is another farmstead cheese, which means it has its own cows. Its commonality is with Gouda, and would go well with beer and lots of wine choices. We enjoyed a glass of 2013 Private Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($46) made with grapes grown on vineyards in Yountville. The cheese was moist and creamy…butter aromas and crème fraiche taste, while the wine offered a nose of pear, pineapple and intense elegance. The cheese didn’t stand alone. It was a good match.

***

Next, Vella Mezzo Secco of Sonoma County was served with a Beringer 2012 Quantum, Napa Valley ($65) made with grapes from vineyards of Howell Mountain and Saint Helena. This is a Bordeaux-style blend of earthiness from cabernet sauvignon (70%) grapes, merlot, malbec, petit verdot and cabernet franc. A nose of deep chocolate, smoke, dark berry led way to good tannin structure and a silky finish of baking spices. The cheese was drier than the rest, with more grain and deeper flavor…made from raw cow’s milk. Its aroma was on the nutty side, but I also detected a brown butter scent.

***

Number four on the list was Bellwether Farms Blackstone, which is a new cheese on the market made from cow’s AND sheep’s milk of Sonoma County.

Bellwether Farms Blackstone with Beringer 2012 Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon  was my favorite of the tasting.

The rind has ash on it, which adds a peppery aroma to the already buttered, peppered lamb scent. Paired with a 2012 Steinhauer Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain ($110), the earthy, jammy, pie filling flavor was amazing. Aged in 95% new French oak barrels, notes of dark chocolate/mocha, toast level of perfection and cigar, cedar offers a glimpse to its age-ability of 15-20 years to which this wine might be laid down.

***

Last pairing: Bleating Heart Cheese Fat Bottom Girl, made with sheep’s milk from Marin County and paired with a 2012 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($165). This wine is made for private reserve from grapes of Howell Mountain and Saint Helena. This is Beringer’s most sought after bottle, according to Janet. The cheese is dry, almost brittle, and like the cheese, this wine was not my favorite. Or at least it needed to be decanted.

At the onset of this tasting, our group of 35 to 40 in attendance was instructed to start with the cheese, then chose the wine. But know this… You will never get a “horrible pairing” of cheese and wine. It’s simply that some cheeses are better when served with a particular wine.

Fletcher3

I would attend another of Janet’s classes, if I can find one with an opening. If the below schedule of sold out classes is any indication, she is a popular speaker, author and cheese guru. Check it out:

Single class: $65
Monday, March 7:  SOLD OUT Mambo Italiano
Monday, April 4:  SOLD OUT The Hills Are Alive! Alpine Cheeses from France and Switzerland
Monday, May 2: Best of the British Isles
Monday, June 6: SOLD OUT Locavore Night: Notable Newbies from Northern California
Monday, July 11: SOLD OUT Bubblemania
Monday, August 8: Artisan Cheese & Craft Beer: Seven Slam-Dunk Pairings
Monday, September 12: Blue-Ribbon Winners from the American Cheese Society
Monday, October 3: Cabernet Country: Great Cheeses for the King of Reds
All 8 Classes: SOLD OUT Grand Tour

malbec

Wine of the week: Terrazas de los Andes

Priced under $20, Terrazas de los Andes 2013 Reserva Malbec is my find of the week!

This inky, medium-bodied red wine offers a strong bouquet of violets and dark fruits that match on the palate with the added bonus of a tobacco finish. Point of note: the Malbec grape is one of the original 5 Bordeaux grapes that have since dwindled on French soil. France’s loss is Argentina’s gain. In fact, this winery uses ungrafted Malbec vines that were planted in 1929. The vines grow over 1,000 meters above sea level.

As an investment wine, Malbec is known for its ability to bottle age, but I wouldn’t know. Although I savored this bottle over the course of a week, it was opened and emptied without a thought of storage. I’ll be on the lookout for more of Terrazas, which is one of the top 25 Argentinian Malbec wines in the U.S., best served with spicy beef, lamb and poultry.

The higher priced wine I recently tasted: a 2015 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (just under $30) did not thrill me as much as the Malbec. Sauvignon Blanc, or “the wild white” is a staple wine of New Zealand, but this Marlborough version was a bit too sweet for my taste. Perhaps I don’t care for the wet granite sensation mixed with wet freshly mown grass. Maybe this would have tasted better paired with a plate of green olives. I would try it again, but this round left me clouded.

palace

Channel your inner queen at The Palace

Life in Northern California offers endless opportunities for day trips and weekend visits to explore small coastal towns or big cities like San Francisco.

So, I spent a night in San Francisco following a short visit to a friend’s house in Sacramento. The first thing I did was relax with a glass of Magnolia Grove 2013 California Cabernet Sauvignon.

magnolia
Magnolia Grove 2013 California Sauvignon, priced at just under $10 a bottle.

This wine is an average, well-priced garnet-toned Cabernet made from grapes of Sonoma County. I wouldn’t complain about it – it was tasty! — but there really wasn’t anything complex about it.

For my palate, this is a drink-alone, medium bodied, great all-around table wine.  The Magnolia Grove of Chateau St. Jean would be the perfect spot to sip this berry and cherry-flavored wine.

Although I was not in Sonoma when I drank it, I was enjoying my first experience exploring San Francisco. This bottle of Magnolia Grove was left as a gift during my stay at the Palace Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel. This was the start of channeling my inner queen.

Cowgirl CreameryA round of Cowgirl Creamery cheese was left with an assortment of crackers. Yes…

My room at the Palace Hotel, which, by the way, was originally built in 1875, was so inviting, especially after a long evening enjoying the company of good friends and perhaps too much wine the previous night. I would have been perfectly happy to crawl under the crisp, clean sheets and watch the big screen TV and sip wine paired with Cowgirl cheese and crackers. But…I was in San Francisco for only one evening, so the plan was to explore the dining scene. I had already spent the afternoon in Fisherman’s Wharf, which was amazing if only to watch the seals compete for space to sun on the dock. I wasn’t hungry, but if I were, it would have been a great place to select any number of culinary delights — from seafood to burgers and chowder, and lest not forget See’s Candies or Ghirardelli Square, the latter a stone’s throw from the area.

I can now say that I rode the cable car in San Francisco, and I live to tell the tale. I had no idea it would be so thrilling, and quite similar to a roller coaster in that you creep uphill in a struggle; fortunately you do not coast downhill, but it is a steep slope and the struggle of the car to keep a slow speed conjured up thoughts of broken cables and a runaway car from movies and televisions shows I’ve seen. Now that I’ve done it, I don’t need to do it again.

My day was full, I was tired, and when I stepped into the Palace Hotel, I wanted to remain there for a few days…at least. Why wouldn’t I? The lobby entrance was palatial, keeping in line with the theme of ornate interior design. Inside my modest, but very comfortable room, a toilet with options! A warm spritz later, I was out on the town — to Telegraph Hill to enjoy an Italian dinner at Original Joe’s in North Beach, with the Rat Pack overhead. Before I knew it, my virtual crown was left behind and I was on the rode again. San Francisco, I’ll be back soon!

RatPack
At Original Joe’s.

 

 

Els Baekelant artwork

Weekend in Burgundy: Les Deux Chévres 

If history and wine cannot be separated, then Burgundy is a prime example. The monks are the common denominator, who from the 6th century until the French Revolution were largely responsible for the development of the Burgundy viticulture that we know today. As of 2015, the vineyards and wineries of Burgundy and Champagne, mainly the climate and terroir, are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. What this means to the businesses in these regions of France is yet to be determined. Burgundy, in particular, is a conglomeration of small villages unable to accommodate hordes of tourists, but more exposure to the area’s history is no doubt going to highlight a tourist’s visit.

View from my room
View from my attic room.

One of the best areas to explore Burgundy is in the heart of the world’s most expensive Romanée-Conti vineyard at the foot of the Combe de Lavaux: Gevrey-Chambertin. This wine village is a seven-minute train ride from Dijon, and among a few gites and hotels, the luxury inn, Les Deux Chévres, is but a short car ride to a five-star experience. For the couple who manage the 10-rooms within this inn, it is an all-encompassing life commitment.

Guests filter in and out for a night or two, seven days each week. For innkeepers/owners Paul and Jolanta Thomas, a schedule of rising at the crack of dawn and resting at midnight is common. As the precursor to running this inn, the couple endured a three-plus year renovation during some harsh winter months, roughing it with no windows or heat, and working with a crew that spoke a different language. The biggest challenge began within the start of renovations, when Paul had to exit the country to tend to his folding U.K. business. The stress took its toll on Jolanta, who continues to suffer from migraines and isn’t as relaxed as her husband or the guests to which he offers pours of wine with an open heart and obvious passion to be in Burgundy.

Les Deux Chévres is the story of two stubborn goats: Paul, a lawyer from the U.K., and Jolanta, a Polish woman determined to follow-through a challenging renovation. Its lure is its location in Burgundy, where some of the world’s best wine is available (a bottle of grand cru can cost 500 euros), and where Les Deux Chévres is a bike ride away from the grand cru vineyards and wineries.

Breakfast view on property.jpg
Breakfast on property at Les Deux Chevres.

Cobblestoned streets connect the grand carpet of vineyards viewed from the windows of this peaceful property. The only noises heard are the morning cock-a-doodle-doo’s and dinnertime clink of wine glasses as the village restaurants set outdoor patio tables. Although winters may be harsh, the area’s grapes thrive on the baking hot sun of summertime and its cool nights. In July, the grapes are pea-sized, but soon enough ready for harvest.

There are 10 guestrooms and a converted attic space a circular staircase away, where the aroma of fresh-cut wood is telltale of the new construction and the window view looks out to vineyards that roll up and down through Gevrey-Chambertin. Artist Joyce Delimata’s artwork of the vineyards are sold in the boutique shop in the reception area.

A tasting

A day visit to Chateau Villars Fontaine Le Cos du Chateau, only 10 kilometers away, offers a flight of tastings, beginning with a 2010 Les Jiromees from Cote de Nuits, with a mushroom nose. Winemaker Bernard Hudelot is a legend in Burgundy, known for making wines that can last 30 years or more. The finest wine tasted is a 2012 Gevrey Chambertin Grand Vin De Bourgogne. This pinot noir is less fruit-forward than California pinot noir, as Burgundy is all about terroir. Tres bon. Another great sip is a 2013 Puligny-Montrachet Vielielles Vignes made from Chardonnay grapes in the area (did you know that 60-% of Burgundy’s overall production is white wine, most of which is Chardonnay?). A floral aroma dominates the subtlety of beeswax and offers a rich mouthfeel with mineral complexity and lingering finish. The 1994 tasting can only be described as awesome, and a 2006 offers layer of licorice and baking spices. Worth noting is that some Burgundy reds are aged 48 months in new French oak barrels, spending two years in one barrel before switching to a new one for another two years.

Dinner is best served down the road from Les Deux Chévres, at Chez Guy, beginning with a Cremant Bourgogne de Champagne and a plate of green olives and thumb-sized popovers. The chef’s amuse bouche is a beetroot mousse topped with pine nuts and eye of bread topped with celery cream and caviar. Oh, yes.

Back at the inn, there is information about an upcoming wine school for visitors who would like an introduction to Burgundy wine, and in particular the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin. With 600 hectares under vine, Gevrey is the largest and most important wine producing commune north of Beaune, boasting no fewer than nine Grand Cru wines to its name. Today, there are half-day courses available in the luxurious 19th-century salon of Les Deux Chévres. Wine instructors include Mark Fincham, the only English winemaker in Gevrey-Chambertin, and one of the few making wines biodynamically; Sandrine Lanaud, who has a degree in molecular biochemistry, yet devotes her life to the subject of winemaking in her native Burgundy; and other members of the team include Matthieu Aravantinos, chief taster for Les Deux Chévres, and consultant Tim Magnus, qualified WSET Level 4 – just below MW.

For an English-speaking tour guide, U.S. historian Kelly Kamborian is the best, and works with Les Deux Chévres to offer some of the best tours of Burgundy, including a photo stop at Romanée-Conti. Check out her video on The Story of Wine and Burgundy: www.theburgundyshop.com/historicaltours

For more information about wine education and a stay at Les Deux Chévres, visit www.lesdeuxchevres.com. Note: Featured image is a drawing by Els Baekelandt.

 

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The story of two goats

In 1694, the famous French writer and poet Jean de La Fontaine, wrote his final series of Fables, and one of them was about two goats. The story did not actually call for goats – it just needed two nimble and agile creatures with perfect balance and a head for heights. Can anyone think of a creature more apposite than a goat? Probably not, and nor can we. And this is where the problems start. Because de La Fontaine was writing about the unfortunate consequences of a refusal to compromise. Always topical! To illustrate the point, both of de La Fontaine’s protagonists were prepared to be crushed to death on the rocks below, or swept away in the raging torrent – rather than let the other animal cross the bridge first.

But this was only a Fable, you say – the goats were only used to convey the message that compromise is a better option. However de La Fontaine was the most famous poet and writer in France, and his works were published around the world. And so anyone reading the Fable, would come away thinking – what complete clots these goats must be. And so it has been ever since. In every country where the Fables have been published, there is a saying or expression associating our breed with stupidity or obduracy. We have been made into fools. For this reason, we have decided to respond.

We need to recognize Monsieur de La Fontaine’s tale for what it is – a poorly researched negationist fabrication! Strong words you say! – but we reply : how would you like to be held to ridicule for 300 years, and repeatedly put on a par with the mule in terms of cognitive functioning?

On behalf of myself Archimedes, my mate Tensy, our 674 million cousins (not to mention 1.4 billion of our Chinese friends in the Year of the Goat!) – we invite you to read the true story of The Two Goats at www.lesdeuxchevres.com

– Archimedes and Hortensia