When I'm not in the vineyards, the cellar, at some office of French bureaucracy, or cleaning my house because my parents or sister-in-law or some other distinguished guest is coming, I sometimes have the pleasure of doing a wine tasting evening or a wine tour. Take this week for example. Saturday night I was asked to host a wine and food pairing dinner at the Academie du Vin et du Goût. Usually I am a customer there. Once or twice a year, depending on her schedule Joanne Weir brings a group of students over for a wonderful week of cooking classes here in Provence. I am in charge of planning the weeks' activities for Joanne and we spend an evening at the Chateau de Clary ( home of the Academie of Wine and Taste) pairing food and wine. The owner Jean-Jacques Verdat opened the business about 3 years ago. They have wonderful facilities; a large reception room that could easily hold 300, an ancient cellar that could hold almost as many, two small tasting rooms for food and wine pairing evenings and finally a professional tasting room with individual spitting sinks for each participant. Last week they had a group of Danish and Norwegian journalists visiting four different departements of the southern Rhone; the Ardeche, the Gard, the Drome and the Vaucluse. Since not all of the journalists spoke French, they asked me to come host the tasting evening and "walk" them through the wines of each of these regions. It's a great evening and there's lot's to be learned. For instance, did you know that Saint Peray, an appellation at the southern end of the Northern Rhone famous for its whites also makes a delicious sparkling wine made from 100% marsanne? Well I didn't , at least until fall 2004 when I started taking Joanne's groups there.
I also lead day tours of the southern Rhone wine regions. On Monday I hosted a wonderful group in the appellation of Les Baux. There were 4 couples from Conway, South Carolina, not far from Myrtle Beach, they told me. We spent the day touring wineries around Les Baux and St. Remy de Provence. It's a great area to taste wine and visit wineries. Contrary to much of France, these wineries have taken a hint from Napa Valley and all have tasting rooms and fixed hours of operation so you can taste the local wines. We started with the very Napa-esque Chateau Romanin, a newly built mega-million winery tucked up against the Alpilles, not far from St Remy. It's owned by some Parisians who are interested in biodynamics, and they spared no expense building the winery. Frankly it was the antithesis of a typical French winery, but it was very interesting to visit. We visited 3 other wineries that afternoon, Terres Blanches, Mas de la Dame and Mas St Berthe. Interestingly, all of the wineries in Les Baux have decided to go organic, except Mas Ste. Berthe. They have gone as far as Lutte Raisonnée but still want to make sure they can fight a nasty outbreak of something or other, if and when that occurs. We had a nice lunch at the Bistrot des Alpilles in St Remy too! They were such great people, lots of laughs and good times. It's fun to get to spend a day away from it all and taste other people's wines. Today (Thursday) the group was headed to see the Pont du Gard, which is just a short way from my house, so I invited them to come taste our wines and tour our winery (all 20 square meters of it!) It was such a pleasure to have them visit and taste our wines. When are you coming????