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More Fabulous 2017 Chablis Wines From Domaine Jean Collet
The style of wine crafted chez Collet is directed by the deep history with their family's vineyard parcels, how they grow and how they’re different from each other. Each wine has something to say, and the Collets have taken the route of customizing their approach to exemplify the natural talents of their many different vineyards. At the young age of twenty-one, the eccentric and fun-loving Romain Collet knocked it out of the park with his first vintage, 2008, which was also the first vintage we imported from their domaine. The foundation established by centuries of viticultural knowhow passed down through generations and Romain’s relentless curiosity and desire for improvement further set the stage for decades of inspired drinking from this domaine gifted with an average vine age of about fifty years. Romain pointed out that, “I am the luckiest generation. To have old vineyards like these to work with in my lifetime is something special, and it’s thanks to my grandfather, Jean.” Organic viticulture is now part of the domaine’s practice under Romain’s direction. The two grand crus Valmur and Les Clos, the premier crus Montée de Tonnerre, Vaillons, Butteaux and Les Forêts have all been converted to organic farming, as well as a good portion of the Chablis AOC wine, where the organic viticulture conversions were first done. The rest of their vineyards are sustainable, lutte raisonée, farming with the intention of eventually having all the sites fully converted. (Read more about Domaine Jean Collet here.) The first Chablis in the range, their village wine, comes from many parcels throughout the appellation, with a large portion from the backside of the Montmains hill, facing the premier cru hill, Vaillons. Were it not for its soft northern exposure, this vineyard section surely would've been a premier cru because it shares the exact same geology: kimmeridigian limestone marls with limestone and clay topsoil. This entry-level Chablis for the range over delivers for its price and classification. (Read more about the Chablis here.) The premier cru Montmains is located on the left bank of the Serein River. This south-facing lieu-dit is likely the rockiest premier cru within Collet's entire range. There is nearly nothing that sits between the Kimmeridgian marl bedrock and the vine roots, but an extremely shallow topsoil of clay and limestone rocks. The wine is aged exclusively in stainless steel tanks for eleven months and leads the pack with the most intense mineral impressions. (Read more about Montmains here.) The vineyard for the premier cru Vaillons has an extremely high concentration of rock mixed in the topsoil with very little clay and organic matter—but still more clay than the neighboring cru, Montmains. The somewhat steep slopes reach higher elevations than Montmains as well, and its similar south-face brings the advantage in even ripening across the entire hill. The higher quantity of clay brings to it extra weight, and fills in-between its lines with a little more body. The wine is raised mostly in stainless steel with a smaller proportion in an old 85-hectoliter foudre, all to preserve its slightly angular dimensions. (Read more about Vaillons here.) The most famous premier cru of Chablis is Montée de Tonnerre. The thin Fyé Valley separates it from the grand cru slope, and if it weren’t for some weakness in the bedrock that eventually led to the creation of this erosional valley in former times, Montée de Tonnerre would likely have been included in the grand cru classification. It shares nearly the same southwest aspect as the grand crus, as well as the deep marne (calcareous clay) that is mixed with Portlandian limestone scree and Kimmeridgian limestone marls that have been unearthed through time from the bedrock. This wine is fermented and aged in second- and third-year 228-liter French oak barrels. (Read more about Montée de Tonnerre here.) Collet’s Chablis Grand Cru Valmur is a true grand cru in every sense. Their parcel is nestled high up on the slope near the top and faces slightly northwest, while the other main face of this vineyard sits opposite, facing south. It has relatively shallow topsoil (at least by grand cru standards) thanks to gravity. The vineyard’s altitude keeps it fresh, and that combined with its favorable aspect will give it an edge in the face of climate change. Because of its endowed mid- and back-palate weight and full finish, complexity, minerality and nuance, if a blind-taster got as far as pegging it as Chablis, it would be nearly impossible to not sense its breed as that of a grand cru. It’s fermented and aged in second- and third-year 228-liter French oak barrels. (Read more about Valmur here.) Click here for all available Jean Collet wines
This story emerges out of one of Burgundy's extensive family trees. You can attempt to make sense of it all, but what matters the most is that the wines in these bottles are finely crafted, impressive Burgundy. To keep it as simple as possible, François Parent is married to the famous, Anne-Françoise Gros, and makes the wine for both estates. The fruit sources come from the fortunate holdings of the Gros family in Vosne-Romanée and François’s family holdings in Pommard. The wines from Vosne-Romanée express very well the nobility, power and grace of this great village. The Pommard wines come from the northern end of the village and are full of earth and dark fruits, qualities the village is known for. The estate is run by the son and daughter (Caroline, pictured here) of François Parent and Anne-Françoise Gros.
Jean-Louis Dutraive – Grand Cour
It’s never too late for a renaissance. Nearing the age of 60, Jean-Louis Dutraive has done just that. After prying him for what has happened over the last five years, there seems to be no other answer outside of pure inspiration and enlightenment. You get the feeling it was always there but has just emerged over the last years. This extremely humble and hard-working vigneron has unintentionally become (for me) an iconoclastic vigneron within Beaujolais. He has found his own unique style of winemaking and has pushed his wines to a place that knows no equal. He has abandoned conventional farming in favor of organic many years ago and has become at one with his vines and his wines. He has come to realize and practice that with near perfect work in the vineyard of a great terroir, one must observe more and react less.
Newsletter February 2023 – Part Two
(Download complete pdf here) New Arrivals Katharina Wechsler Rheinhessen, Germany We started our collaboration last year with Katharina Wechsler’s remarkable 2019 vintage of dry Rieslings from the Rheinhessen’s heartland, Westhofen. 2019 is considered one of the great vintages of recent years. Its high acidity, perfectly matured phenolics and low yields for concentration make for wines that will age very well, and that will also need time to open up once the cork is pulled or a much longer time in the cellar. Katharina began the harvest of her 2020 Rieslings on September 14th, though most of the top sites—the crus that have just arrived—were mainly collected at the end of the month. She explained that in the middle of September nighttime temperatures dropped, allowing the grapes more time on the vine to further develop their aromatic complexities. While the praise is greater for 2019, she believes that 2020 is more balanced overall because of the even crop load and slightly lower degree of acidity, though the acidity is still high. All in all, there may be a better fluidity to her 2020s than 2019—better for today’s market that probably drinks 95% of all of these wines within the first few years of their arrival. At the end of the month, Katharina will be making the rounds showcasing her top cru Rieslings. Katharina’s Big Three Benn sits to the left of the fallow field and goes from the road up the hill Benn, the family’s tiny monopole vineyard site, has perhaps the most diverse plantations of all her vineyard parcels. It’s her biggest section and has the greatest variation of bedrock and topsoil as well as grape varieties. The warmest of Katharina’s three important crus, it’s composed mostly of loess topsoil in the lower parts that sit as low as 120m, and limestone in the upper part, peaking around 160m. Quality Riesling vines are preferential to suffering, which is why it is in the lower sections where much of the non-Riesling are planted. The 50-year-old Riesling vines, particularly those used for Wechsler’s top-flight trocken bottling, are planted in limestone bedrock and limestone and loess topsoil toward the top, not too far away from the bottom of Morstein. Notably, the old vines produce an annual average of nearly 25hl/ha (1.33 tons/acre), and the young vines used for the estate trocken wine 65hl/ha (4.33 tons/acre)—almost a 1:3 ratio; you can imagine which vines are used for the top wine. The quality of Riesling generated from Benn is noteworthy, but there’s no doubt its current highs at the Grosses Gewächs level (while it isn’t classified as a GG wine, nor is Katharina in the VDP) are not yet the same level as Kirchspiel and Morstein. That said, Benn is still being discovered by Katharina. To this taster, Benn produces a substantial Riesling and it has very impressive moments, especially with more time in the glass. When the others shine so brightly in their own individual way, Benn has been upfront but somehow still a slower burn. The material for potential greatness is unquestionably in the wine’s interior, but it often needs a little more time open and perhaps more cellar aging too, to fully express itself on a level similar to Kirchspiel and Morstein. You can read a more exhaustive account of this vineyard and the others on Katharina’s profile on our website (here). Morstein vineyard Kirchspiel is a great vineyard and screams its grand cru status (Grosses Gewächs) upon opening. It’s always the readiest out of the gates—in the range of other growers as well—and for many reasons such as its amphitheater shape that faces the Rhine River (but still roughly five miles away by air to the closest point) with its southeastern exposure an average of around a thirty percent gradient, with bedrock and topsoil composed of clay marls, limestone and loess. It’s warmer than Morstein because of its lower altitude (between 140m-180m) along with the curvature of the hillside that allows it to maintain greater warmth inside this small topographical feature that shelters it from cold westerly winds. Katharina has three different parcels in this large vineyard with reasonably good separation, giving the resulting wines a broader range of complexity and greater balance. The three different parcels were planted between the years 2000 and 2015 and the average yield between them ranges from 40hl-60hl/ha (2.67-4.0 tons/acre), with some of the fruit slotted for the Estate Riesling Trocken and the Feinherb Riesling Trocken, the top quality lots (which doesn’t always have to do with yield, but rather specific parcels that naturally excel beyond others) for the Kirschspiel Trocken, and the difference for the Westhofner Riesling Trocken. The youth of these vines is on display with the resulting wines and their vigorous, energy-filled, fruit-forward personalities that balance the mouth-watering, mineral-rich palate textures and aromas. Kirchspiel is a leader in the range of all who have Riesling vines in this gifted terroir, and it’s considered one of the country’s great dry Riesling sites. Morstein, Rheinhessen’s juggernaut limestone-based, dry Riesling vineyard is—even with vines only replanted in 2012—the undisputed big boy in Katharina’s dry Riesling range. It’s one of the vineyards that first made Klaus-Peter Keller famous (I believe the other was Hubacker), and from what KP told me some years ago, it’s also the principal location for his G-Max Riesling (the precise location of which he won’t openly disclose now because some years ago some overindulgent visitors were made privy to its location and later stole a bunch of the grape clusters!). Katharina’s Morstein vines are massale selections from the Mosel and have smaller, looser clusters with naturally low yields, even from the young vines. A mere pup by the standard of vine age, Morstein is formidable. And while it’s not as flashy out of the gates, it picks up serious power and expansive complexities that seem to know no end. There are many top wines in the range of the world’s great producers that behave similarly. Take the slow burn once the corks are pulled on Armand Rousseau’s Chambertin compared to the all-out charge of their crowd-pleasing Charmes-Chambertin; Cavallotto’s Riserva Barolos, with the long-game, Vigna San Giuseppe, that trounces after hours open, versus the upfront Vignolo that has a smaller window of greatness; Veyder-Malberg’s greatest pillar of Riesling purity and deep power, Brandstadtt, next to the ready-to-go Bruck; Emrich-Schönleber’s regal Halenberg on blue slate versus the friendlier Frühlingsplätzchen spurred into immediate action from its red slate. Morstein is no rapid takeoff F-15 fighter jet with instant supersonic speeds. It’s a rocket ship with a slow initial takeoff and a steady climb that reaches 17,000 mph before entering orbit. Morstein faces south and rises to a high plateau of around 240m with a 20% gradient (a slope hard to understand from a distance but more evident when standing in the vineyard), all on limestone bedrock. The topsoil is referred to as terra fusca (black earth), a soil matrix of heavy brown clay. Its low to medium topsoil depth (by vinous standards), combined with limestone fragments from the underlying bedrock limits its ability to store water than Katharina’s other main sites. Its root penetration into the subsoil is also a more difficult challenge, giving the Riesling vines the much-needed stress to regularly pull off peak performance. These young vineyards yield between 35hl/ha and 55hl/ha (2.3tons/acre to 3.7tons/acre), relatively low numbers for young vines that demonstrate Morstein’s spare vineyard soils. Cume do Avia 2021s Ribeiro, Spain The stress of each year at Cume do Avia pays dividends on the final wines. Every year, brothers Diego and Alvaro Collarte, and their cousin, Fito Collarte Pérez, enter the ring with Mother Nature to take her punches. They’re pummeled with frost, mildew, disease, and hail—everything! 2021 was no exception, but a complete opposite from the previous year, except that they had about the same 50% losses in overall yield. They may get beat up pretty badly but they still manage to win, and each year is another hard-earned uptick in the overall quality of their wines. Vintage 2020 & 2021 2020 was a dry winter followed by a rainy and cold spring, and fifty days straight summer sunshine before a wet fall. 2021 had a wet winter, late budbreak and dry spring, wet and rainy summer, and a dry autumn. 2020’s losses were mostly due to bad flowering, while 2021 was mostly due to mildew during the fruit season. Diego pointed out that even though the losses were 50% in each year, they were at about 25% of the production capacity of their vineyard when all the young vines will begin to produce to their potential. With this, you can imagine the amount of work they do each season for such meager yields. Especially notable in 2021 was the high level of humidity from the daily fog that only encouraged an explosion of mildew pressure and a severe selection through periods prior to the final harvest. Under organic culture, this is especially difficult. For varieties that need a longer growing season, like Sousón, Caíño Longo and Caíño Redondo, it was imperative to pull them earlier than they wanted. It’s for this reason that they were not made into single-varietal bottlings but instead were all blended into the Colleita 9 Tinto, just like their 2020 estate reds. Stylistically, the 2020s are more structured and 2021s are sharper and more angular. 2021 Wines Arriving are their two bottlings from the Arraiano estate, owned by another extended family member but farmed by the Cume do Avia team. These Arraiano wines are usually a little fruitier than the Colleitas. It’s another year where they skipped the single varietal bottlings because of the devastating low yields. 2022 will again have the full range of goodies in single-varietal form. In the meantime, we get to take advantage of having all their best materials from each vineyard area blended into a single wine. The Arraiano Branco is 59% Treixadura, 15% Albariño, 13% Godello, and 13% Loureira. Colleita 9 Branco is 53% Treixadura, 29% Albariño, 10% Loureira, 5% Lado, 2% Caíño Branco and 1% Godello. Treixadura has a medium to low acid profile with a more herbal, floral, and white, non-citrus fruit notes, the supporting cast of other grapes are all of much higher acidity, with stronger citrus characteristics and more taut stone fruit qualities to give these wines some punching power and a little more fruit. Both the wines are aged in stainless steel vats. Both reds are aged in large, restored chestnut barrels (some nearly 100 years old) and very old, medium-sized oak barrels. Every vintage the Arraiano Tinto comes from the same plot (as does the white) and is almost always the same blend of 60% Caíño Longo, 13% Sousón, 10% Mencía, 9% Brancellao, and the remaining 8% a mix of Mouratón (Juan García), Merenzao (Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet; not the same grape as Grenache/Garnacha). The dominance in Arraiano Tinto with Caíño Longo makes a wine with perhaps a touch more tension and red fruit compared to Colleita 9 Tinto. In top years, Colleita 9 Tinto is a blend of grapes that don’t make the single-varietal bottlings (Caíño Longo, Brancellao and sometimes Sousón). That’s what makes the 2020 and 2021 bottlings of this wine so special—they have all the best stuff from each harvest! It’s a blend of 28% Sousón, 27% Caíño Longo, 24% Brancellao, 9% Mencía, 6% Carabuñeira, 4% Merenzao and 2% Ferrón. The Caíño Longo brings some electric thunder, Sousón brings animal, spice, darker color and even more acidity and tannin, and Brancellao softens both of those strong personality grapes with its extremely fine nuance, beautifully balanced freshness and extremely pale color. The others, Mencía brings more fruit, Carabuñeira more tannin and color, Merenzao higher aromatic tones and Ferrón more beast, pepper and inky color. Birgit Braunstein Burgenland, Austria Our biodynamic guru, Birgit Braunstein is on the far eastern side of Austria in Leithaberg, on the north end of Burgenland. Many centuries ago, this region was inundated by Cistercians, the same monks responsible for advances and the preservation of knowledge in Burgundy and Galicia, among other European wine regions. Here the rock types are limestone and schist, no surprise for the monks who had a thing for limestone (Burgundy) and metamorphic rock (a good chunk of Galicia). Birgit is without a doubt one of the most actively thoughtful producers we work with. Nearly every month a personal email arrives wishing us well and with news and inquiries of how things are going for us. Not only does she farm her vineyards under biodynamic culture (Demeter certified), she lives that same culture in her daily life. A single mother that raised her two twin boys alone since birth and who are now running the winery with her, she’s a bit of an angel and she reveres everything around her, including you. She’s our Austrian Mother Goose. While she is most known for her Blaufrankish red wines, Birgit also has a zillion different cuvées of experimental wines mostly sold in Austria. They’re pleasurable, with solid terroir trimmings. We showed a set of them at an event just before the pandemic struck and they were a hit. It’s maybe understandable that we forgot about them while the world was falling apart, but they’re now back and even better, as she has a couple more years under her belt. We were able to secure a good quantity of these wines but we expect they won’t last long. After tasting her range of skin-fermented whites some years ago, I asked if she could make one that is easier on price, and she came through with her first bottling of the new wine, 2021 Pinot Blanc “Prinzen.” This delicious and fun wine meant for early drinking (and I don’t only mean before noon) comes from a very serious terroir buzzing with biodynamic life. It’s on the top of the Leithaberg hill, one of the most historical sites in the area, and abuts a forest that helps to regulate the temperature with cold northern winds that pass through the trees and into the vines in this relatively warm and humid area close to Lake Neusiedl, a shallow, landlocked saltwater sea (that’s also mosquito hell!). Pinot Blanc is known to have been in Burgenland since the Fourteenth Century and is grown here on limestone bedrock and clay topsoil. It’s almost too good for such an inexpensive biodynamically farmed and clean natural wine. It spends three days on the skins, pressed and then aged in steel tanks for six months. 120 cases imported to the US. Birgit’s 2020 Pinot Blanc “Brigid” is named after the Celtic goddess of light. This is a step up in complexity compared to the Prinzen Pinot Blanc, vis-a-vis its cellar aging and what Birgit considers to be ideal for a deeply mineral wine due to its schist soil. This wine made from 42-year-old vines was skin fermented for three weeks (so seven times more than Prinzen) before being aged in old, 500l barrels. Birgit describes it as having a strong presence of flint in the nose and subtle notes of marzipan, menthol, graphite, lemon verbena, white flowers, and ground hazelnut; fully ripe and vibrant with a taut mineral structure and long finish. 35 cases imported to the US. Birgit Braunstein's nature-filled vineyards Birgit’s 2019 Sauvignon Blanc “Nimue” is skin fermented for two weeks prior to pressing, then aged in old, 500l barrels without sulfur additions until bottling. Birgit describes this wine grown on limestone as delicate elderflower, fruity extract, pure minerality, and a robust structure derived from a prolonged maceration period. Birgit named the cuvée after Nimue, “Lady of the Lake,” a ruler in Celtic mythology who gave Excalibur to Arthur from within her waters, and she was the foster mother of Lancelot and Merlin’s lover. 35 cases imported to the US. Domaine Chardigny Beaujolais, France Victor Chardigny We also have some 2021 wines arriving from Domaine Chardigny. It was a soul crushing year for the Chardigny family with terrible losses on Beaujolais and even worse on Chardonnay. The battle for grape preservation began in April with a frost that killed a lot of early shoot growth, followed by a snowfall that added enough weight to the remaining tender shoots for them to break. Then there was heavy rain in July and August (more or less the same weather I experienced in Portugal during the summer) and then a dry enough final to the season to pull off healthy grapes with what was left. We spoke with Chardigny about getting behind their Chardonnay wines in a bigger way, but that will have to wait until the 2022s. After a series of hot years (2017-2020), we are finally able to relax and swirl copious amounts of low alcohol Beaujolais—the only problem being that the quantities are so miniscule! Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just take the average alcohol in a ten-year period instead of such swings? As mentioned in all past promotions of this young group of sons in charge of their family’s winery, they are on a constant upward trajectory. The first vintage we imported from them was 2016, a tough year in itself, and the rest were warm or hot years that they managed quite well. Now with 2021, we get to see what they would’ve done with a vintage that resembles what was more common in the past. Domaine Chardigny first bottled Beaujolais-Leynes with the 2020 vintage. Named after their hometown, it’s a Beaujolais-Village appellation wine sourced from vineyards at the geological convergence between Beaujolais and Mâconnais. It’s made entirely with carbonic fermentation with 100% whole clusters in concrete and stainless steel with almost no intervention over its two-week fermentation. This wine is a reaction to the need for a more price-friendly Beaujolais, and it delivers the spirit of these young and generous guys. Standing in Saint-Veran and looking at Beaujolais across the way Chardigny’s 2021 Saint-Amour Clos du Chapitre continues to dazzle with its trim figure and subtler notes than its counterpart, the 2021 Saint-Amour À la Folie. À la Folie has won over so many with its unabashed, bodacious curves, middleweight texture and big but trim flavor. It was always the greater potential production between these two Saint-Amour crus and was the one on which they ran most of their experiments, with different aging vessels of concrete, stainless steel, foudre, and small oak barrels (called fûts de chêne, or simply fût, in Burgundy).The 2020s I tasted out of barrel with Victor and Pierre-Maxime were stunning. I didn’t make it back to Beaujolais to taste the 2021s out of barrel this last year, so I don’t have the comparison to it, though I already know in the bottle it’s showing beautifully and it’s certainly less full bodied. Pique-Basse Roaix, Southern Rhône Valley Every order we receive of Pique-Basse evaporates almost overnight. Frankly, we’re pleasantly surprised that in this low-alcohol focused market that many buyers continue to recognize that one can make a good wine with low alcohol, but in some regions, like the Southern Rhône Valley, picking when the phenolics are properly ripe leads to wines of greater depth. The reality is that many wine drinkers who can actually afford to eat out in restaurants of high quality want more classically styled wines, not only natural wines, especially in the Southern Rhône, like the wines of Pique-Basse. Arriving are 2021 La Brusquembille, a blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Carignan, and 2019 Le Chasse-Coeur, a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Carignan. Syrah from the Southern Rhône Valley is often not that compelling because it can be a little weedy and lacking in the cool spice and exotic notes that come with Syrah further up into the Northern Rhône Valley. However, La Brusquembille may change your opinion, especially with the 2021, a cooler vintage with even fresher and brighter fruit than usual. Without the Carignan to add more southern charm, it might easily be mistaken for a Crozes-Hermitage from a great year above the Chassis plain up by Mercurol, where this appellation’s terraced limestone vineyards lie and are quite similar to the limestone bedrock and topsoil at the vineyards of Pique-Basse, without the loess sediments common in Mercurol. It’s not as sleek in profile because it’s still from the south, but its savory qualities and red and black fruit nuances can be a close match. Despite the alcohol degree in the 2019 hitting 14.5% (while the target is always between 13%-14%), Olivier tries to pick the grapes for Le Chasse-Coeur on the earlier side for Grenache, a grape that has a hard time reaching phenolic maturity at sugar levels comparable to grapes like Syrah or Pinot Noir, so he farms accordingly for earlier ripeness with the intention to maintain more freshness. It’s more dominated by red fruit notes than black—perhaps that’s what the bright red label is hinting at—and it’s aged in cement vats, or sometimes stainless steel if the vintage is plentiful, to preserve the tension and to avoid Grenache’s predisposition for unwanted oxidation. Both Le Chasse-Coeur and La Brusquembille offer immense value for such serious wines.
Beaujolais and the Inimitable Jean-Louis Dutraive, Part Nineteen of An Outsider at The Source
I jumped out of bed on our last morning in La Fabrique, having slept straight through my alarm, but I was packed and had inside of fifteen minutes. As we loaded the car, Pierre was nowhere in sight; he wouldn’t rise until later and I regretted not saying farewell the night before. As we said our goodbyes to Sonya, I gave her a big hug and said I couldn’t thank her enough. She replied that the best way to thank her was to come again. I said I most definitely would, even though it would probably be a while before I made my way back to France, and I thought the offer must have been a habit that didn’t yet take into account the imminence of their leaving that magical place behind. In any event, maybe Sonya and Pierre would land at a smaller place that would surely be no less of an oasis with Sonya at the helm, and I could show my appreciation at the new location. After we stopped for some much needed gas at what was essentially the French version of Costco, Ted grabbed a ticket from a toll booth and said, “I wonder how much this one’ll be.” The Mistral along the road was particularly strong, blowing the car from side to side and making the trees thrash erratically and somehow in opposite directions. I said the wind was protesting our departure from La Fabrique, and Ted agreed. He mused on the nature of the Mistral, how hot air from the south meets the cold air from the north and hits the mountains near Montélimar and creates this powerful downdraft, which may have answered my question about the seemingly impossible movement of the trees. As we entered Châteauneuf-du-Pape on our way to Beaujolais, we passed a series of Shell gas stations and a McDonald’s, giving my sleepy head the momentary impression of being on an American road trip. Soon it became clear that another pit stop was needed for the two coffee drinkers in the car, much to Ted’s chagrin (he doesn’t touch the stuff unless he needs a lift after a lunch with wine), and he wondered aloud like a grumpy dad why we hadn’t taken care of business back at “Costco.” We stopped at a rest stop with a Starbucks and the dissolution of my sense that we were in France was complete. We would be on the road for the next three hours, and there would be another three after our next stop. We had already done this a few times, and I was finally starting to feel it. If you think it looks easy to be an importer, it might be, if you don’t mind sitting in the car most of the day. But Ted’s heavy foot kept things going as fast as they could, mostly within legal limits. There were signs that read “Le Ferme aux Crocodiles” every few miles, and without really thinking about it, I wondered if we were in a swamp and were supposed to keep our doors closed. These were clearly half-baked and road weary thoughts; there was little danger, what with us going eighty and not in Australia. I Googled it and they were actually advertising a crocodile farm that translates literally as “The Closure of the Crocodiles.” Yet another lapse in my French abilities, but I liked my version more. Ted hit the brakes as he pointed at a little steal box on the side of the road. “Speed trap,” he said. “They don’t rely on cops with radars much. It’s mostly automated.” The boxes capture your speed and photograph your license plate if you’re over the limit. But unlike in the United States, where penalization for profit is the norm, there are signs that warn of these traps and give you time to slow down. Granted, in the states there are signs that read, “speed enforced by radar,” but there’s usually not someone actually there training a gun on the road. So drivers notice this pattern and become complacent, then are ambushed when they least expect it. I considered the consistency of these boxes a kind of courtesy that truly prevents speeding instead of one meant to dole out putative measures after the fact. Of course my view of this as French benevolence flies in the face of the reputation for quick incarceration by Parisian police for the smallest infractions. But out there in wine country, things (other than the tireless Ted) seemed to move a lot slower. As we headed into the northern Rhone and passed through the commune of Valence, there was a mountain to our left that marked the end of the limestone and the start of the Massif Central, a region of mountains and plateaus where the stone turns to granite and schist. Whereas to the south, the bulk of the vines are Grenache with small portions of Syrah blended in, in the Northern Rhône Valley they use exclusively Syrah as their red grape. Not only is the Syrah a requirement, it seems to be best fit for these types of acidic soils. The landscape is marked by softer, rounder hilltops, and we passed one last limestone mountainside that had been quarried for building materials before the change was complete. The next set of vineyards was Saint-Joseph, one of the better known appellations in the Rhône Valley. Traditionally it is placed below Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas in the pecking order, but Ted thinks that’s a subjective preference and certain producer from Saint-Joseph can give the rest a run for their money. The hills in the Rhone are similar to those in Beaujolais where we were headed, but they’re steeper because they were carved that way by the Rhône River. Next was Hermitage, where the majority of the land is owned by only four négociants: Jaboulet, Chapoutier, Delas and Cave de Tain. But the top producer in the area is the much smaller Jean-Louis Chave, run by a family that has owned and worked their land since 1481. We were almost at our first destination of the day, where would have lunch at the house of Jean-Louis Dutraive, the Beaujolais producer that Ted considers one of the nicest guys he’s ever met, always generous of heart and hearth. Many times he has hosted lunches and dinners for Ted and his companions and even provided a place to stay. Ted remarked that “he’s a hub in Beaujolais who treats everyone with great respect, and unlike a lot of others, I’ve never heard him say anything negative about anyone.” He’s not just a producer whose product Ted imports, he’s become a very good friend. “His 2012s were special,” Ted said. “Then I got to his 2013s, which were even better. But his 2014s were absolutely epic and now people think he walks on water; his talent and mastery of his terroirs is extraordinary.” Dutraive has passed his love and talent on to his three children, the oldest of whom is a woman, Ophélie, who studied enology at a few different universities. Dutraive makes about six cuvées a year, but in 2016 he lost more than eighty percent of his entire crop to two huge hailstorms. The first one destroyed half that amount, and the second finished off the rest. Hail is so specific to some very small areas that the growers are realizing they need to diversify and buy and rent parcels elsewhere with a little distance from their domaine vineyards. We entered Fleurie where we found Dutraive’s place, a simple little white ranch-style house on the top of a vineyard-covered plateau surrounded by walls on all sides, the Clos de la Grand’Cour. Dark gray shadows from quickly moving clouds rolled over a patchwork quilt of sparse greens and mostly browns below us; there’s very little life in most of the Beaujolais vineyards. Something like ninety-five percent of the area is chemically farmed, which kills everything but the vines, and ultimately kills the soil. At Chez Dutraive the vineyards are organically farmed and teeming with life above and below ground. Jean-Louis came out and greeted us with his deep, thickly accented voice, gruff and warm at the same time. He has big rosy cheeks, leathery and weathered from decades under the sun, and he’s a stock tank of a guy. “As stout as a warrior from Lord of The Rings,” Ted said (again with his LOTR references). “And like me, he likes his meat,” he added. Jean Louis’s home was cozy and cluttered, well lived-in in the way any farmhouse feels, with every surface and object having a practical purpose. We took a seat at a long table in his sunny dining room. I immediately noticed that it was constructed of old wine barrel slats, something he had custom-made with his retired barrels; I wanted one. Ted and Jean-Louis chatted in French, laughing and patting backs. This was a social call; their business relationship is established well enough that it seems to maintain itself. There was some talk of Jean-Louis’s losses in 2016 and how he had to scramble to get fruit from other growers to produce at least a small batch of cuvées for the year. Still, Jean Louis kept up his jolly disposition, laughing his wide, open-mouthed, big-belly laugh. His sons Justin and Lucas joined us to say hello, then they disappeared and returned with salads of fresh, earthy lettuce, and fishcakes called brochet. They were mild and herbal, prepared with pike and brought to mind the brandade of Provence, without the saltiness. They were delicious, and since I hadn’t anticipated more courses (wasn’t I paying attention to where I was?), I ate way too many of them. There was a big boule of rustic light brown bread that I attacked with the same gusto. We sampled an incredible lineup of Dutraive’s wines and I was quickly as sated as can be. Then his sons cleared our plates and to my surprise, returned with the plat principal of duck cassoulet. Duck is one of my favorites if done well, I think because I can’t get it at my regular grocery store. This confit took Ophélie three days to make and it was absolutely glorious. On top of that there was a huge platter of roast chicken, so I had to pack it all into an already full room. Justin brought out all the wines he makes. At only twenty-three years old, he’s already making very good wine. Justin’s Beaujolais was light and extremely easy to drink, and his Beaujolais Villages was just as lovely. They chatted about a recent party in the village that happens every ten years to celebrate decade birthdays, for those who are twenty, thirty, forty years old, etc. It’s a huge get together of people far and wide. They joked about how all of the Champagne was served in the old-style Hellenic glasses with the wide mouths, so that by the end of the night everyone’s shoes were soaking wet. I laughed at all the sentences punctuated by “dack,” short for d’accord (agreed), and “poot,” short for putain (literally “whore,” but really the French way of saying “fuck”). Ted mentioned that at the end of this trip, he and Andrea were going to Corsica, a place Jean-Louis holds dear—he was in the military back in the seventies and was stationed at a base there. He gestured at his head and said he wore the beret with the pompom and all. We all shot him looks of disbelief, which prompted him to disappear and return with a photo album. There he was in his uniform, wearing one of the funny French military hats of that time. He really did look like he was having fun and added that Corsica, with all of its beauty, was a hell of a place to serve. He flipped through the album a little further and we saw his jovial spirit at play on a much younger face, making silly expressions, standing naked in someone’s living room with only a vinyl record covering his privates, laughing hard and drinking beer with his friends. He chuckled and joked, his mischievous and warm energy the same as ever. We left his place well-fed and buoyant. After hearing so many great things about him for so long, I was most definitely not disappointed with the real thing.