My never ending search for Adventure, Art and Hidden Treasures around the World
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
A Sip of Provence
Although this was my second trip to the region of Provence, I had not yet ventured to the famous wine center of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CNP). Translating directly to "new castle of the pope", this town had once been the site of the fortified summer home of the Avignon Popes. Clearly, the clergy were not tee-totalers, even back then. Who can blame them? Even men of the cloth needed something to help cool them during those sweltering summer Provence days and warm them when the fierce mistral winds came.
I start my ascent to the heart of the town, which seems to stretch from the base of the hill, straight to the sky. Passing sign after sign luring tourists in for degustations (tastings), it is comforting to know that I do have a destination with a name, referred by the proprietors of the lovely B&B where I am staying in Carpentras, Chateau Talud. Following signs for Cave du Vergers, I continue upward...and upward...and upward. Just when it seems that there is nowhere else to go, the ruins of the ancient Popes castle are looming in front of us. All that remains of the fiefdom is one crumbling, stone wall, perched overlooking a vast valley of patchwork vineyards and fields.
The caverns of Cave du Vergers are here. The collection of wines at Cave du Vergers is exceptional and unlike other vineyards here. While other local vineyards showcase only what they grow, this collection represents the elite of the region-almost like a "best of" compilation. Les Caves are carved into the white speckled ochre rock at the top of the hill that crowns this vintage town. They date back to the Roman-Gallo period and consist of five vaulted rooms that are joined together by narrow arched doorways. Walking through the entrance, a soothing, chill greets you-and if you are visiting anytime between May-October, this can be quite refreshing. Scattered throughout the cave are crates of wine, random dusty bottles and artifacts that depict wine-making from the old days such as ceramic storage containers and antique wine bottles. Most interesting are old vats that the Romans used to stomp the grapes after harvesting the crop.
The wine steward/sommelier, Jean-Baptiste, as it turns out, is a delightful, funny, young and hip Frenchman with not only a passion for wine but also a knack for teaching the basics and recounting the fascinating stories of this wine region.
He sets up large, crystal goblets and shares with us at least 6 wines (mostly reds) and we swirl, sniff and sip our way gleefully through all of them. There is a stainless steel spittoon built into the weathered bar but we can't bear to part with even a sip of the nectar. Jean-Baptiste explains what makes CNP unique in the vintner's world. The vine beds are covered with rocks, which during the colder months, absorb the heat from the sun during the day and then continue to provide warmth and promote growth through the cold, dark nights. This simple process allows for almost 24 hour growth cycles and has increased the amount of wine that CNP can produce. Another important fact I learned is that white wine contains approximately 20 times more sulfides than red wine. Sulfides are preservatives that prolong the life of the wine. Unfortunately, it is the sulfides that are responsible for the unpleasant headaches that linger after a few glasses of wine. So, the moral is, if you are going for the cheap stuff, do it with red, not white.
That night, as I lay comfortably cocooned in a four poster bed, the mistral winds began to blow. Blow is a misnomer for what the famous 80-100 mile per hour winds really do here. There is actually a howling in the air. The locals say it is a sign that there will be clear skies and no rain for the days ahead. Filled with wine and surrounded by a romantic wind, I am lulled to sleep, dreaming of adventures ahead.