WINE and THE CULTURE of HANDING DOWN
The B-SIDE TOUR
of Château La Gaffelière, Premier Grand Cru Classé of Saint-Émilion
In 2009, while I was studying Wine and Spirits in Bordeaux, I clearly realized my fate had handed me not only a wine glass to inhale bouquets and to sip bliss from but also a “cup of knowledge” which was filled only if I had the curiosity to the culture surrounding that drink. And since curiosity is the main driving force in my life it turned out that I literally have the “glass to Paradise”: I felt exactly like the character Julian Barnes’s “The Dream” who has all the time in the world to taste all wines created on Earth, from all vintages, to study all the terroirs of all domains all over the world, all existing grape varieties with the clones which often manifest themselves on those terroirs in quite different elixirs… As we know, wine lives a life of its own in the bottles and changes so when I tasted them again and again over the years I could only exclaim with surprise and astonishment! The Wine Paradise also offered a meeting with all the people involved in wine creation: from owners of the estates who preserve in their memory and in documents the knowledge of each individual vintage and also the vineyard agronomists and wine makers…
I was experiencing that in France, an Old World country where wine culture has been passed down for centuries at all levels: family, circle of friends, professional field, everywhere!
In 2005, when I settled down in Bordeaux, the summer scenes of night life intoxicated me in an impressionist manner: streetlights illuminated the terraces where the people had lively discussions over a glass of wine!… Wine is an absolute part of life, a shared one.
My Dream came true: over the 10 years that followed my cup of knowledge was filling incessantly: visits to domains, professional and amateur tastings… And in the evening, when I was sipping wine it got a particular taste. The power of handing down had triggered some special magic: more intoxicating than alcohol… the magic of knowledge!
Led by that special passion I chose that to be my professional mission: a wine guide. I am convinced that one always starts with what is small: both literally and figuratively, and that in every individual case one lovingly approaches both what is being handed down and what it is aimed at. And here is what I mean:
The role of handing down is undoubtedly huge, on all levels: from one generation to another in terms of ownership; from the knowledge about the domain itself in terms of the terroir: among the professionals who work in the vineyard and among those who create the wine: step by step. And thus, to us: the ones who regroup all knowledge and hand it down to the visitors.
In this sense the wine guide is an educator of a kind. In addition to having to be exceptionally competent, the guide must also adapt both to the levels of knowledge of those who are interested, and they vary quite often, and to the different profiles of visitors: depending on the experience and age but also on nationality, even gender… If the guide lacks that (s)he will not be called a « guide” but merely a “storyteller.” But all this would be pointless if the guide does not have an attitude towards the people (s)he meets! And also (s)he does not have some ways to intrigue them: to arouse their interest, to keep their attention, to make the meeting truly unique! For there is nothing stronger than positive emotions that deeply penetrate the memory. And in this particular case: they make us wish to come back to the domain and taste again the wine created in it.
And after all I have said so far it would be appropriate to provide an example of how I myself experienced my role as a guide, and an educator:
The B-SIDE TOUR
Of Château La Gaffelière, Premier Grand Cru Classé of Saint-Émilion
Here is a serious beginning of a fantastic story whose only seriousness lurks in its being true.
From May 2018 to November 2019, I was responsible for the development of the wine tourism of an ancient family domain, Château La Gaffelière, Premier Grand Cru Classé of Saint-Émilion. A responsibility and a pleasure at the same time: in addition to the inspiring atmosphere, I found contacts with visitors quite an enriching experience – no boredom, not a single conversation or smile was ever repeated, ever!
This would be too idyllic but for the challenges of profession. And here are some observations: in this particular case they concern the “family months” of July and August. “They could and should be joyful, spontaneous and all smiles!,” I think. “After all a part of the visitors are kids!” But…
It is difficult for the kids to endure the “serious” pleasures such as a “Visit to wine domain”: they have to listen to some speeches and pretend they are interested, they have to behave “properly” and, if possible, kindly ask questions of the sort of “What is it like to be a wine guide?” and “How did you choose this profession?”
When I put myself in their place my soul is filled with deep compassion: during the hottest hours of the day their parents drag them up along the stairs to the vineyards, and then take them back… a great deal of groaning and pulling goes on… And here is what I would say to relieve us of the burden of the duty of being serious:
The guide is not the humdrum who has mugged up some big books of history and checks off one page after another in his head while telling them, choking up with a comma or the inverted commas that tighten his/her throat! And the guide’s energetic gesticulation and facial articulation betray the great deal of exercise (s)he’s done.
The guide is very eager to learn, one who loves reading stories. Maybe we certainly know that every story is a puzzle of many others that (S)He arranges into narratives during his lo-o-o-ong walks…
(S)He does not take herself/himself seriously! And why would (s)he do so: his/her work is entertaining! Even more so if (s)he works in a wine domain! In this case (s)he adds words such as “vineyards,” „soil” and, naturally, most often “wine”. “Wine this, wine that…” Let’s get back to the point!
Everything started in one of those hot nights of July 2018 – The sun is still rolling idly this way and the voices coming out of the polyphonic swarm of the day’s visitors is slowly dissolving into its orange light. A family of Italians with a little girl named Bianca stops by for a tasting and in the end of it I open the doors of the vat room for them: it is, after all, a creation of the Italian imagination! One thing led to another, and here we are in the wine cellar! At that very instant a memory rushed back to me: 9 years earlier, in another wine cellar I was telling my daughter one of my favorite scenes from Gianni Rodari’s The Adventures of Cipollino: the one about Baron Orange in the cellar of the castle. She is 4 years old; because of the muted light her little white face has a shade of wax which slightly gives her an air of suffering. I know that she is bored and I tell her that story out of the novel to cheer her up. In the end her face is shining and I think “It’s just a story, after all!”.
In that warm evening the story about Baron Orange rolled over for the first time in the cellar of the domain, one of the most fantastic in the world, and the four-year old Bianca and her parents sealed their laughter with its huge body!
The idea of retelling the classic visit to the domain as one for children was born at that moment. Early the next morning, with my mind relaxed and with my eyes seeing every element of the road I’d walked anew, I wrote down what I see, feel and think while having fun candidly. The same way as with the classic visit that I’ve never wrote down on paper this one remained in the form of sketched out markers. And because I am sure that every adult connects with the child he IS from time to time, this gives you a new opportunity to retell my own version!
The B-SIDE TOUR :
The family coat of arms on the limestone wall:
Malet is one of the most ancient names in the history of France and it is the basis of that emblem! Bestowed with a knighthood during the battle of Hastings, Guillaume Malet, the founder of the family, was made an earl for his bravery in the military campaigns during the conquest of England.
Centuries later, his heirs are still battling on the field called Life but instead of crossing swords they are raising glasses with the emblematic mix of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, while saying out the family motto: In Ardius Fortior!
The whole rite is played in his face but what a surprising look he has on it: the 3 buckles on the knights’ belts, the main elements, have transformed into eyes and a mouth, the earl’s crown – into a punk bang, the Gothic figures of the griffons – into a slightly Bohemian hair, and his beard is colored by sips of wine with the words: Stronger in Adversity!
The name of La Gaffelière:
The name comes from the word “gaffe” which has several meanings in French: “attention,” “a goof,” “a boat hook”.
Imagine a vast space and a multitude of people walking with sticks with hooks and small bells. They clatter on the ground: knock-knock-knock; the bells ring anxiously: “Watch out! If you make even the smallest mistake of coming near us you are exposed to the danger of becoming one of ‘the Gaffets’”, the name given to the lepers who lived in this place. And hence La Gaffelière, the name of the place from time immemorial.
The outcome of blending them together is the dark Medieval story!
It’s been years, they say, since anyone heard the moans of the lepers but it is a well-known fact that whenever wine is serviced to the earl somehow two sips automatically evaporate…
The Perfumed Staircase:
To celebrate the spring and hence the awakening of the vines the landscape painter of the domain plants violets every year. And this is not a mere flower! Touches of that especially fragrant plant species adorn the bouquet of the Château La Gaffelière wine in all vintages! The credit for that goes to the grapes of the Cabernet Franc variety, which is a whole garden for me! Irises, lily, roses, mint and fresh plants have left their traces into this elixir!
In the end of the blossoming season, in May, the landscape painter plants some other flowers. But in order to remind us of the presence of violets the wind, a real conspirator, scatters their tiny little seeds everywhere and they sprout, as an echo, in the cracks of the limestone stairs.
It is precisely that Perfumed Staircase that leads us to La Boulangerie – domain’s landmark plot, with its so significant name!
La Boulangerie and The Sculptor:
At this very point we must clarify that because of the name of that plot which is fundamental for the domain a lot of visitors think that the bread is made of grapes! Well, not quite so, although there is an unwritten prohibition that accompanies the grapes’ ripening months: Interdiction de manger le Raisin: on finira sans Pain!
Philippe Pasqua is the author of this fantastic mini-vineyard planted in the heart of La Boulangerie! Some wonderful grape varieties have emerged: the leaves of the silvery vines lead is to two new ones: a blend of Merlot and Cabernet: Mer-nеt and Caber-lot. “When one is a Creator (s)he can afford to create silver grape varieties!” I sigh.
The Vat Room:
Something like the Advanced Mathematics of the Nose and Palate meets the Imagination, a meeting that only the Master cellar, Franck Darricau, can explain to you! He has at his disposal 20 vats containing 20 elixirs that he calls “juices” and every year he creates out of them some miraculous equation blends. I told him once that this is a Magician’s doing and he conspiratorially suggested that I try a: С= [Merlot (C6+C5+C8+C15) + Cabernet Franc (C12+C17)] =Wonderland!
The Wine cellar: the treasure!
Gianni Rodari whom I adore ever since I was a child is a real virtuoso of the Story. He blends, in his own unique manner, sadness and joy, desolation and victory, tears and smiles!
In The Adventures of Cipollino he sends Baron Orange to the manor of his first cousin Baron Cherry and locks him in the cellar (what an admonition!). In his fear the Baron drinks up the contents of a small barrel of wine and exclaims in a state of ecstasy: “I am in Paradise!”
So, the story I told Bianca ended in the Paradise, and it became just one part of the experience called “Children at La Gaffelière”
Come in, please and let me tell it to you!
This is a dedication to Monsieur Léo de Malet-Roquefort with whom I have had the great chance to experience the most serious and fantastic at the same time conversations! To my daughter, who has been always so patient during our visits and curious to decompose the noses of the wines we taste. To the Australian Anne Moroney who I have met during the Great Wine Capitals’ week held in Bordeaux at the very beginning of November and who was the first to know this story and encouraged me to write it!
To all children who have visited the domain with me and the others who will listen it in the future!