A Winelover’s Tour de France (11)

The next two days were spent leisurely exploring this large and
beautiful city. Lyon sits at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône
rivers and is the second largest city in France, after Paris. It is a city
rich in artistic interest, and its old quarters (Croix-Rousse, St Jean) are
no less impressive than its monuments. Bede wandered through one
of the largest squares in France, the Place Bellecour, with its
equestrian statue of Louis XIV in the middle. He happened to witness
a live performance by a troupe of young people dressed in black
leotards and with their bodies blackened, who were performing like
monkeys in a large cage set up for the purpose. He was not sure who
was meant to be observing whom, but he recalls that it had a
somewhat disquieting effect on him at the time.
In the Croix-Rousse quarter, Bede took a walk from the Place Tolozon
along narrow alleyways known as traboules, which, with steep uphill
streets called montées, afford many different views of this old silkweavers
quarter, whose tall buildings, with myriad windows,
dominate Lyon. He took a walk up Fourvière hill, following the
winding montées, which again afforded wonderful views over the city
below. He also visited the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière, with
its overpoweringly ornate 19th century interior and wide terrace,
which sits high over Lyon.
When Bede departed Lyon it was to head north to the Beaujolais
region. This is a large area, extending from the outskirts of Lyon to
just south of the town of Mâcon. The most important vineyards are
situated to the north of the town of Villefranche, where the nine great
wine villages of Beaujolais are grouped: Saint-Amour, Juliénas,
Chenas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Brouilly and
Côte de Brouilly. Beaujolais is a red wine made from the Gamay
grape and is best when young. Beaujolais Nouveau is a relatively new
phenomenon: fermentation is specifically controlled so the wine can
be bottled and sold – amidst great publicity– by the middle of
November each year.
Brouilly is sourced from grapes grown in six different villages, while
Côte de Brouilly comes from the vines that grow on the southern
slopes of Mount Brouilly. In Juliénas, one of the local caves is in a deconsecrated
15th century church, and the other, just outside the
village, is in the Château du Bois de la Salle, headquarters of the local
wine co-operative.
The abiding memory for Bede is of an expansive wine-growing
region with an undulating landscape extending as far as the eye can
see, given over totally to vines. It has a mild climate, which is ideal
for the cultivation of wine grapes. The country roads wind and climb
through the more hilly areas, giving a captivating vista of the
cultivation, which is everywhere.
His resting place for the night was at the Logis de France Hôtel la
Promenade, in the town of Mâcon. Although Mâcon itself is the centre
of the region’s wine trade, the vineyards are situated further to the
west, along the line of low hills rising from the valley of the Saône.
The villages of Pouilly, Fuissé, Solutré, Vergisson, Davayé, Vinzelles,
Loche St-Vérand and Chasselas are clustered almost on top of each
other, linked by a number of narrow, winding roads. They are small
and quiet, but full of character. The scenic splendour of this area is
matched by the excellence of the wines. The vines that produce the
full-bodied Chardonnay wine of Pouilly-Fuissé are planted over a
landscape of dramatic character and proportion, dominated by two
enormous rocky outcrops, Vergisson and Solutré, cathedral-like as
they rise above the vineyards.
The next day Bede cycled to the small town of Tournus and then on to
Chalon-sur-Saône. The countryside was not memorable, nor was the
weather, which was distinctly cold and with the occasional shower of
rain. The sky was a purple-grey, and evening primroses along the road
were fully out in the dark afternoon as he neared the large town of
Chalon-sur-Saône. His hotel for the night was the St Jean, which was
undergoing exterior upgrading and repair work at the time.
Scaffolding was in place across the whole of the front of the fourstoreyed
building , wrapped in plastic sheeting to keep in the dust and
debris, in the interests of passers-by.
Tuesday, and Bede was on the road again headed for the large town of
Beaune. His route took him through the pretty wine village of Ruilly,
with its imposing château; Givry, an old town with a fortified
gateway, an ancient covered market, many old houses and a bustling
atmosphere; and the charming town of Chagny, where Bede took
lunch at a small roadside café. By early afternoon he was in the
village of La Rochepot. It is here that one finds the magnificently
sited Château La Rochepot, with its spires and turrets and impressive
mosaic roof. There followed a succession of small towns, all of them
famous for their wines: Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet,
Meursault, Auxey-Duresses, Monthelie, Volnay and Pommard. The
old walled vineyard le Montrachet lies mid-way between Puligny-
Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, high up on the slopes of the
rather stark hill called Montrachet.
The town that impressed Bede most was Meursault. It is sited on high
ground, with sweeping vineyards all around. Meursault is well known
for its superb, full-bodied Chardonnay wines, and the vineyards of the
commune are immaculately laid out and kept. The whole town has the
appearance and feeling of well-being and affluence – un bourg cossu
( a wealthy village ).
In the centre of the town is the imposing and elegant Hôtel de Ville,
built on the site of the former castle. Parts of it are said to date back to
the 14th century, but it is mainly 19th century, including the
magnificent mosaic tile roof. Another eye-catching building is the
church of St Nicolas, which dates from the 15th century and is topped
by a Gothic-style spire, which dominates the skyline.
Each year in late November the town is host to a unique wine festival
– une Paulée – which is celebrated immediately following the wine
auction at the Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune. It was explained to Bede that the
occasion is a joyful banquet attended by the propriétaires and their
clients and friends, négociants, wine writers, and also the vignerons
and their families. The Paulée dates from 1923, when Count Jules
Lafon recognised the need to promote the wine of Meursault beyond
the immediate region of the Bourgogne. At the heart of the Paulée is
the literary prize of 100 bottles of Meursault wine, awarded to a
celebrated writer each year. Notable recipients of this prize include
Colette, Maurice Druon, Hervé Bazin, Henri Vincenot, Jean
d’Ormesson, Maurice Denuzière and André Castelot.
In the small town of Pommard he came upon a roadside wine cellar,
with signs on each side of a gateway leading to a small courtyard,
which announced: “Bienvenue A La Petite Cave de Pommard —
Dégustations – Ventes.– Ouvert Tous Les Jours.” ( “Welcome – To
The Small Cellar of Pommard—Tastings —-Sales—Open Every
Day” ) Bede entered the cellar, and after tasting a number of fullbodied
red wines of the climat, came away with a splendid bottle of
1985 Les Grands Epenots of Michael Gaunoux. It was a wellrounded,
velvety smooth Burgundy wine, which he enjoyed over the
next couple of days.

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )