The good news: we arrived in Châteauneuf-du-Pape with half an hour to spare before the world cup semi-final between England and Croatia began.
The bad news was that our chambre d’hôte at La Pergola was inaccessible – totally barricaded within a building site in the centre of the busy little town. But as our hostess Brigitte was later to demonstrate, everybody knows everybody, and the neighbouring shopkeeper was soon on the phone while I had a halting but ultimately successful french conversation with our host’s husband who then manfully removed the barriers and showed us to our room. Phew!
Next stop was the nearest bar, Le Mule du Pape – by the fountain in the corner of the square – which had both a large screen inside above a pleasant table and an excellent menu. We settled in at 19.55 with the interior more or less to ourselves, while outside the match was projected onto a huge screen to attract passing trade.
England lost. It had all been going so well! So, football is not coming home this time…..hey ho. But the food was very good, and the commiserations sincere.
This meant that back in the UK the tennis at Wimbledon could now return to TV centre stage on its final Sunday, though not before Trump’s extraordinary visit to Europe (to harangue NATO) and the UK had caused equal measures of incredulity, scorn and despair – even from the Daily Mail.
The president tells us the Sun’s report of his comments on Europe is fake news….or is it fake fake news? And if so, do two fakes make a true? Even Teresa May looked astonished – despite holding his hand again. The Queen – who perhaps has had more practice than many when it comes to dealing with madmen and narcissists – looked like she was either taking cover or making her getaway…]
Thursday took us to Chateau La Nerthe to meet Ralf Garcin who is in charge of this fantastic estate and winery. The sun was hot even in the morning but the hour spent in the vineyards with an expert who loves his work and his vines was brilliant. We heard about the water supply and its relation to various blocks of vines, the inclement May with incessant rain, the frequent essential copper spraying, and the vagaries of the vines – Grenache, Syrah, Clairette and Bourboulenc. And then the tour of the grounds, the cellars and the tasting were equally instructive. Thank you Ralf!
Our next visit took us east of Chateauneuf-du-Pape to the Vacyras appellation via Bedarrides where we found a delightful menu de jour at the restaurant Numero 3.
We almost visited Orange…it was only later in the day that I discovered that this is the Orange (top left of the map below) from which William of Orange sprang. Some time king of part of the Low Countries, as well as Orange, he became co-monarch of England with his wife and cousin Queen Mary after deposing James II in 1689 (who was his father in law AND uncle. Complicated or wot!) And how odd that the Ulster Orangemen gain their name – and their cause – from this sleepy, unsuspecting small town in southern France!
We moved on to Montirius, a family winery where the sisters Manon and Justine showed us around in the absence of their parents. Their commitment to a total biodynamic approach is very impressive. We were particularly intrigued by their dynamiser, whose rapid spin creates a vortex to concentrate energy in the organic compounds to be then applied to the soil. This was a first for us!
The dynamiser is housed under the raised circular canopy beneath the trees, below.
We returned to Chateauneuf for supper at Les Vergers du Pape, just below the castle at the top of the town. A popular spot, reasonably enough, with stunning views, and a continuous chorus of cicadas – one of which posed for the camera in a nearby tree.
The visit to Barroche on the final blisteringly hot day was arranged by our hostess, whose family are long-standing members of the local wine-making community. We had met sister Laetitia and brother Julian Barrot on a previous visit to their old family winery, during which Julian had greeted us cheerfully from within an ancient concrete tank.
Today Laetitia showed us their beautiful new winery.
The interior matched the exterior’s style – with its elegant, almost sculpted vats, and spacious layout. And the wines are equally elegant, stylish and demure. Fantastic !
And these wonderful wines from such extraordinary soils!
The heat was formidable. We ate lunch in Le Pistou, a small, unpretentious yellow place away from the crush, and then retreated to our air-conditioned room for post-lunch respite. An hour or two later we walked the 100 metres to the shop of Château Beaucastel, relieved to find it well air-conditioned, and enjoyed a tasting of the wines of La Famille Perrin there.
This was our last evening, and it was Friday. We hastily booked supper at La Mère Germaine, the restaurant of a central, traditional hotel, and retreated once again until the temperatures fell. It turned out to offer very fine, largely fish menus, with a menu formule made up of not one but two lobster courses for just 31 euros. Wow!
The journey to Avignon airport the next morning could not have been easier; the airport tiny, the cafe serving as the main waiting area with a local family (mother and young son) in charge of modest, home made breakfasts. We watched the small Flybee plane arrive and disgorge its passengers 50 metres from our seats in the cafe. We walked from the café table directly onto the plane. The flight to Southampton was rapid and uneventful; the trains running smoothly. Home in no time!