- a personal account from Burgundy
by Mia Rudolf (1971) and Mads Rudolf (1970)
When travelling in Burgundy, one of the things you really have to consider is when to drink which wines. And which glasses to use. Obviously it is a good thing when the rear axles of your car are whole and unbroken, but it is definitely not a sine qua non. With a couple of good vineyard glasses, a corkscrew, and a half-fuddled approach to life's pinpricks you can get quite far.
A burgundy coloured dream in Burgundy: Mercy at Le Montrachet.
Mercy, Mercy Me
Well then. During the winter we imagined ourselves spending our summer holidays in our new old car. Of course we hadn't bought it yet, but anyway. Just our little family in the sunset on the Montrachet slope with one of those old wrecks that just run and run without any problems. So we bought an old burgundy coloured Mercedes (Mercy) with a lot of charm, and a cassette player to play Marvin Gaye; we were really cool. After a few quick stopovers in repair shops in Lübeck and Alsace, nothing to speak of – an oil distribution gadget and a rear axle – we rattled along towards Burgundy, home of the world's greatest wines and an alluring Mecca for every genuine wine lover. Between Nuits St. Georges and Beaune the other rear axle goes phut, and the situation is getting slightly critical. At any rate if you see it through economic spectacles. But do you really do that? No. After all you're on holiday. So you take care to keep the flag flying and the burgundy content in your blood high, and when the world is against you, you have to compensate, haven't you. The more damage on the car, the higher quality of the wine. The more French arrogance in the mechanic, the larger is the required quantity, while more mechanical Frenchmen necessitate a more arrogant quality. Or something like that. In any case, wine was a must!
We arrive in Burgundy late one Sunday evening and check in with Mrs Foch (well, this is probably not her name) at Hotel Foch. She is the mother-in-law of Thierry Matrot and thus related to a half-bottle of 2001 Puligny-Montrachet 1. cru Les Chalumeaux, which instantly makes us forget the sounds from the rear of the car. We agree that probably the only problem with the car is a loose gadget, for instance our brand-new left rear axle which needs tightening. In this elevated mood we go into town and, after some searching, we find a restaurant which, albeit grudgingly – they were not keen on letting kids in (let us not forget to introduce Esmeralda, 18 months at the time, used to dining out, enthusiastic about foie gras and almost able to distinguish between Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir by the smell) – agrees to offer us a refreshment in the form of a slice of bread and a bottle of 1999 Vosne-Romanée from Robert Arnoux. We go to bed with a fairly positive impression of the whole situation, and next morning we split: one takes care of the daughter and the other takes the car, which, in spite of the stimulating wines from the day before, we realize would probably need a little visit to the doctor. Halfway to the Mercedes garage in Nuits St. Georges, however, the plan has to be given up, and Falck International (the breakdown service) is called in. What do we do then? Well, we visit Ma Cuisine for lunch. The restaurant is owned by a great-grandchild of Escoffier, but it is not the food they are renowned for. It is the wine list, and without much ado we manage to find a bottle of 2000 Meursault from Coche-Dury, which lies there calling for us. Our spirits rise immediately, she will soon be OK again, our Mercy.
Our purposes in going to Burgundy were: to feel the sough from the great vineyards, to kiss in Les Amoureuses, to drink Chambolle in Chambolle, to kick the mud on Le Montrachet and to pee on Romanée St. Vivant. But we didn't succeed in drinking Chambolle in Chambolle! And in this way we approach what it is really about: It is a question of getting the right bottles for the right moments and the appropriate vineyard glasses. After all, it is a question of logistics. On this emergency Monday we invested in three exquisite bottles of wine at Ma Cuisine. But, as mentioned before, it is a question of logistics, and it was simply not the right bottles of wine we had invested in! We ended up sitting on the Montrachet slope in Puligny drinking a bottle of – incidentally, excellent – 2000 Nuits St. Georges from J.J. Confuron, and what was worse: We simply had to give up drinking wine on Les Amoureuses, and if there was something we had been looking forward to, that was it!
Now, back to the lunch, which was succeeded by five rides on a merry-go-round for the youngest member of the party and followed by a, let's say, slightly depressing telephone conversation with our new travel companion, Falck International. Now the fat was in the fire and good wine out of reach: In a trancelike state we wandered around in the town, ate a piece of crispbread (from home) and went to bed with a bottle of 2000 Bourgogne Rouge from Coche-Dury. The situation was getting a little brighter. Next day was another day, you see, where, dejected by a telephone call and later stimulated by a really magnificent purchase of wine, we took a taxi to Le Montrachet, the most legendary vineyard in white Burgundy and maybe in the whole world. The slope has a perfect inclination, the soil is stony and mineral, the evening sun gleams between the vine rows.
A few words about the light in Burgundy. It is nice. Actually it is unique. Maybe it is the vine leaves which in honour of the tourists catch the sunbeams and throw them skywards with a special vinous radiance. Maybe it is the sky which has chosen to send some very special rays of light to exactly Burgundy, knowing that the terroir here produces the most outstanding wines you can imagine. However that may be: the light is nice. It shines from the sky down to the vine, from the vine to the wine, down into the glasses and up again to us. Or does light actually consist of waves? Was Bohr right? After all, his name begins with a B...
Round and Round. And Round
We are trapped in Beaune, and we would rather go out to sit on a knoll and sing about the wines, vines and wine. Rear axles are easily sold out, Falck does not speak French, and the Mercedes Garage in Chênove make certain events if not quite natural, then at least inevitable. 30 km by taxi to a slightly colourless slope between Puligny and Chassagne – Le Montrachet. Anne-Claude Leflaive receives us for a little measured tasting. We roll the push-chair into the wine land and lie down on the stony slopes of Montrachet thinking of nothing. Baguette, rillette – unfortunately we didn't have a wine that rhymed, but a half-bottle of 2001 Chambolly-Musigny from Domaine Roumier is quite OK, we had a little discussion about glasses, but with intact rear axles we could have had our way and chosen a picnic rhyming with Montrachet.
A new day threatens. Coffee, croissant and no cardan. We fully realize that the wine content of the blood shouldn't get near the alarming lower limits; after all, we're on holiday. We swear a little at Falck and quite a lot at French mechanics. The youngest member of the party gets a ride on the merry-go-round, before we go by train to Nuits St. Georges and from there by taxi to Gevrey-Chambertin where we have arranged a visit at Domaine Trapet. Madame Trapet is in a league of her own, who together with us swears at French mechanics – yes, we're really on the same wavelength. After an excellent tasting she drives us to the station in Nuits where she leaves us with a bottle of 1971 Gevrey-Chambertin of her own make – it is almost as good as a whole cardan.
We swear at Falck, who naively say 'cardan' and 'pardon' on behalf of French mechanics, whom we also swear at and who for their part swear at anything whatever. We swear and we curse. The cup is full when the friendly fellow from Falck friendly feeds us with the information that it may very well take another couple of days before the French cardan arrives in Chênove from Dijon. It's a distance of 4 km. But what does monsieur Falck know about that? (Nothing, we can tell you). Now it is time to go and see an old friend: Lolo. We gulp a bottle of 2002 Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes from Lucien Le Moine (that big mouth), and get tough. Mercy gets her cardan, and we drive leisurely from the north to the south and from the south to the north and back again, up and down the Rouge National 74. Times are pleasant, the vines smile at us in the sunset; we're on wheels, yes, we are; the roots draw the minerals up into the light; we're on holiday, yes, we are; the wind blows life into the wine; we're poor now, but what does money mean between friends? We're friends with each other and with Burgundy, let's celebrate! The youngest member gets a ride on the merry-go-round.
On the Road Again
Aurevoir mémé Foch, blessed mother-in-law of Matrot, and bonjour les dégâts! We drive (i.e. Mercy runs!). North. Gone are the difficulties, we deserve a good time. Now it is holiday. Let's have some good wine. Now. We end up with a gîte-madame in Morey; we don't stay long: she has a short–legged dog, but we stay long enough to become acquainted with the hotel Castel de Très Girard in the very same village. The first time we just pass by and drink a glass of wine, 2002 Clavoillon, Puligny-Montrachet from Domaine Leflaive, later it gets worse, but there are a couple of bottles in between.
In Vougeot we ate steak-frites at the local bistro and had a pichet with it, and later we drank Mrs Trapet's donation, in Vosne we actually succeeded in drinking Vosne (Liger-Belair) – even without quarrelling about the Vosne vineyard glass, possibly (we don't quite remember) because we started with a bottle of 2002 Bourgogne rouge from Claude Dugat, the nice fellow in a navy blue sailor's sweater, and a 2001 Les Caillerets Chassagne-Montrachet from Marc Colin, a staunch mineral thing with or without a sweater (probably without). This break necessitated a rather long pause and a snooze in the car.
We land again on Très Girard in order for the youngest member of the party to benefit from the swimming pool there. Just a lunch and a bottle of d'Auvenay and an afternoon in the pool, but they couldn't find the d'Auvenay we had selected, and we end up with a decent 2001 Meursault from Coche-Dury, and the weather is unusually warm, and the rooms are unusually lovely, and there is also a bottle of 2000 Echezeaux from Domaine Dujac that we would like to taste, and a Meursault from Jacques Prieuré, and it is several days since the youngest one got a ride on a merry-go-round – so, spending the rest of the day in the pool is reasonable, isn't it? Of course it's expensive, but what is money between friends, and we are still friends with each other and with Burgundy, and we are friends again with Mercy, and, after all, we are on holiday, arent' we? We compensate by having a totally banal Puligny-Montrachet from Leflaive with the menu, and we have a bottle of champagne from David Léclapart with us, which the nice people have to taste of course, but finally it all seems reasonable or at least not totally out of reason.
Roch'n'roll in Vineyard Shoes
Mercy runs merrily. Before the departure we had prearranged a meeting with Henri Roch from Romanée-Conti in Nuits St. Georges, who would take us on a walk into the vineyards and tell us why he uses the methods he uses and explain how you can be biodynamic without being a hippie, but unfortunately he is busy with administrative work, and his wife is ordered to accompany us into the vineyard and explain. And here the concept of vineyard shoes gets into the picture. We may not have learned so much more about the wine, but in return we learned something about footgear. Tight skirt in leopard skin, 20 cm high stiletto slippers with gold and gadget, a studied Paris accent, and a Volvo 4WD of the monster class, which beeps heatedly every time madame Roch is about to hit the – rather expensive – vines, which she is all the time. She really acts la Parisienne and the First Lady of the village, even though she is married to a wine grower. Since then we we can't see a stiletto model Reberbahnstrasse without thinking of Mrs Roch, who rhymes on Mrs Foch – they may have a white wine fuddle in common, but that's all.
The sun set in sparkling red halfway between Nuits St. Georges and Beaune, and we drank a bottle of red Burgundy (we remember that quite clearly) at a really fine restaurant, where we got a really big – and really fine – veal cutlet, and bought a bottle of Auxey-Duresses from McMahon to go (no, McMahon is not an immigrated Scot, but a descendant of the first president of the Republic!); it was meant for drinking in the brown bathtub in the brown hotel room in the brown hotel with brown carpets on both the ceiling and the walls and apple cores under the bed. (Being a geek actually gives you some odd experiences).
It's about time to be homeward bound with Mercy – which still purrs merrily, as long as you don't forget to feed her with a litre of oil, a handful of fuses and quite a lot of petrol every 400 km. Before seriously driving home, we manage to taste... well, both this and that. And luckily the route takes us through both Champagne, Luxembourg and Rheingau (it's practically no detour, and you have to throw yourself on a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1970, since one of us was born that year). But, homebound we are. (And, yes, the summer holiday did affect the Christmas presents!).
Next year – believe it or not – the vineyards were still on the agenda for our summer holiday, and our slightly ailing, but faithful Mercy kept going all the way to Loire where, in Anjou, we managed to break the rear axle that we had bought so costly in Chênove – luckily two days before the guarantee expired, and we came home also this year. Yet another summer vacation is looming – to be spent in the vineyards, of course. But Mercy has now gone to the happy drinking grounds.