Arnaud Lambert Arrives, Part Twenty-Four of An Outsider at The Source

August 26, 2019

We again found ourselves at Les Trois Bourgeons for dinner, at a table further away from the constant, freezing draft coming from the front door. Ted sat at the head of the table between Andrea and Sébastien Christophe, looking forward to the arrival of Arnaud Lambert, another one of his favorite producers, who was on his way over from his domaine in the Loire Valley. Ted had been wanting to introduce him to Sébastien for a long time; he thought they had a lot in common in how they do things, and it gives him great pleasure to bring vignerons together.

Arnaud appeared in the courtyard outside the restaurant, and Ted said, “Yup, there he is in one of his signature pink sweaters.” He came in with his wife, Géraldine, a tall brunette who looks like a model. Ted made introductions all around, and Arnaud offered us a shy smile. Then, much to Ted’s chagrin, he and Géraldine took seats at the other end of the table.

Ted ordered another bottle of Rousset’s St. Joseph. The one we had the night before was totally different. He said, “last night it was perfect. Tonight it’s all over the place. Sometimes this stuff smells like gold, sometimes it smells like dog. But when a wine is alive, it can be like that!” He ordered a couple of others and didn’t bother to send the off bottle back, as he continued to make an effort to be as unobtrusive as possible at that restaurant.

After a few minutes, Ted leaned over and spoke softly with Andrea, who then went to the other end of the table and asked Arnaud if he’d like to switch places. She took his seat so she could catch up with Géraldine, and so Ted could make proper introductions between Arnaud and Sébastien. With the two vignerons finally across from each other, Ted waited for a connection to be made, and there were a few moments of them looking elsewhere, like they had just been set up on a date. Finally, after a couple glasses of wine had warmed everyone, a serious conversation ignited between the two men, and they leaned forward and hashed something out in rapid French. Ted smirked and nodded in my direction, quite pleased with himself.

I got the œuf en meurette that I had passed on the night before and had ordered at that day for lunch in Le Soufflot. It was a simpler and more traditional style, the eggs visibly poached in the bourguignonne sauce, without the tangle of wild mushrooms and frisée on top. It was less vegetal and earthy, but hearty and delicious, nonetheless.

Sébastien maintained a mischievous look in his eyes at all times, mostly making jokes about himself and always at the ready for Ted to rip on him for something, playing into each attack with feigned martyrdom. He would get increasingly animated as he told a story in fast French, then would start to hunch down and get quiet, cover his mouth in a stage whisper, then pop up with a punchline that set everyone to laughing. It was yet another time when I found myself laughing at one of the characters in Ted’s world, even though I only understood every other word.

He was bleary-eyed from sleeping only two hours the night before, after tending to the frost-fighting fires. He knew he would probably be doing it again that night and had showed up to dinner anyway, cracking everybody up with his antics. But underneath all the joviality, the tension of the threat to his premier crus, and to everyone throughout the region, was palpable.

Arnaud broke away from conversation with Sébastien to chat with me a bit. He has a mop of straight salt and pepper hair with bangs that constantly fall into his eyes, a boyish face with matching scruff and a polite and humble affect. He told me how he had met Ted in 2010, at a time when everyone held a negative opinion of wines from Brézé. But, he said, for some reason when Ted tried them, he saw something, their true potential. Arnaud never thought he’d be making the wines he’s making now, but Ted seemed to know he would, he had believed in him completely, and now his business has taken off.

As of April, 2017, he had forty organic parcels and twenty-five traditional. Back when he first met Ted he had forty traditional and eight organic, and is continuing to switch everything over to organic farming. Things are going so well that he has fifteen employees and spends less time in the vineyards than he’d like. The subject of frost came up and when I asked how he dealt with it, he offered another surprising answer: he blows the cold air away with giant fans. When I asked if it worked, he shrugged and said, “it’s hard to tell.”

After dinner broke up and we all ventured outside, nobody wanted to spend another moment in the cold, and the temperature was dropping fast, which clearly didn’t bode well for any of the makers. So we quickly said our goodbyes and see you soons, and jumped into our cars as fast as possible. Ted, Andrea and I made our way back on the darkest of country roads and crashed hard in the funny little modern townhouse with the heater that didn’t work nearly well enough for my liking.