Sunday, December 30, 2012

Grapes and Goats

Not wanting to spend the entire ten days of Mr. Oil's holiday vacation in Paris, and being too pregnant to travel far, we chose to spend four days in Burgundy.  Why Burgundy?  No real reason, other than it being a less than four hour drive from Paris, a region we hadn't spent much time in, and we found a fantastic place to stay for dirt cheap.  Off to Burgundy we went.

We stayed in Farges-les-Chalon, a village that nobody will ever have a reason to have heard of.  Really.  It is so small, there isn't even a boulangerie (gasp!).  We had the great luck to discover La Maison Brulee, a new bed-and-breakfast there, which is being run by a young American couple (her family owns the property - she's half-French).  For four days, we stayed in a gorgeous country home of which we occupied an entire two-story wing.  Wood-burning fireplace, huge living room, a bathroom bigger than our kitchen and bathroom in Paris combined, and two beautiful bedrooms.  We shared the kitchen facilities with our hosts, who were so unbelievably gracious as to offer to babysit Baby Oil so we could enjoy a dinner out on my birthday.

Burgundy in winter is quiet and cold.  Many establishments simply close down for several weeks around the holidays.  Like most of France, there is often rain, though we were fortunate enough to have multiple days with actual sun shining.  Wine is what puts Burgundy on the map, of course - this is pinot noir country though there are a number of good white wines from the region as well.  Along the rolling hills of the Cotes des Nuits, the Cote de Beaune, and the Cote Chalonnaise are endless vineyards bookended by picturesque villages.

One morning we headed to the village of Monthelie to taste the wines of Florent Garaudet.  Florent is typical for the younger generation of winemakers - quick to point out that he is the fifth-generation of Garaudets to make wine in Monthelie, he also has started his own wine label rather than work on his father's wines.  We learned that this is common - younger winemakers learn new tricks and approaches both in school and in their various apprenticeships (Florent has spent time working in Languedoc and Bordeaux), and are eager to try things a new way.
Village of Nuits-St-Georges

Chateau de Vougeot
Florent met us in front of his tasting room sporting track pants and a jacket that may have seen better days in 1987.  Effusive, chatty, and relaxed,  this wasn't the kind of wine-tasting you may have experienced in more established wineries.  He presented four wines to us - we had brought J & K, the hosts from our B&B, along for the ride as they themselves as still learning the endless wines of the region - and even Baby Oil gave the nod of approval.  Or should we be worried that at dinner that night, Baby Oil asked for more wine?
In the goat nursery

French countryside is not only about wine so we made sure to visit one of the local goat cheese farms - our host K's French family has been buying their cheese from this particular family for years.  They have a lot of goats, and a lot of cheese.  Baby Oil was instantly enamored with the goats and the tractor.  The cheese ranged from dry, aged goat cheese to fresh fromage blanc that you can eat by the spoonful (in Burgundy, they like to serve their fromage blanc in a savory manner, with garlic and pepper, etc).

One of the aspects of French countryside that struck both Mr. Oil and me is simply how long people have lived and worked on the land.  We're not strangers to rural areas - growing up in Ohio and Oregon, respectively, we've both driven through and/or visited country throughout the US.  But in France, when you stop in the town of Chablis for lunch and learn that Chablis wine-making dates back to the 9th century, and that throughout the Burgundy region are scattered Roman ruins, the countryside takes on a persona of its own.   This is land that has lived. 

It's funny how quickly you can get used to the idea that a trip to the grocery store involves a 20 minute drive, and that the most noise you'll hear in an evening is the church bell ringing on the hour.  These few days in Burgundy gave us a glimpse into the calm peacefulness of the countryside in the off season, when vines must be trimmed and goats are still milked, not for the benefit of the next busload of tourists but simply because this is what they do.  Grapes and goats, and so much more.