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Monday, 7 February 2011

St. Vincent Weekend

I left early Friday morning (4:30 am to be exact!) to catch the Air France flight to Paris, meeting Helen (the Burgundy buyer) at Charles de Gaulle airport. All was on time and we were on our way south towards Auxerre and the Chablis wine region by 9:30am. This was my first visit to Chablis since 1996 when I stopped off on my hitchhiking tour of France aged 17!

Our first visit - where we were to meet Tony and Henry - was at Domaine Mandeliere in the small village of Fleys just east of Chablis. We were warmly greeted by Josette and her son and started by getting our first glimpse of the 2010s tasted directly from the vats. 2010 is a very good vintage - more like the 2008 than the acidity-lacking 2009s - showing lots of floral acacia and mineral qualities on the finish. I am sure that these wines will certainly age well.

Chablis has possibly the worst mobile phone coverage in France, so coupling that with the complete lack of sign posts throughout, it’s a miracle that Tony and Henry finally found us at the winery!

Next stop was at the village Maligny just north of Chablis to visit Domaine Lamblin and Fils. Here we tasted a whole range of wines and vintages starting with Petit Chablis, moving up the ranks with Chablis, 1er cru and finally the great seven Chablis Grand Crus of Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaud├ęsir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos and Blanchot. At the end we were lucky enough to taste a 1990 and 1983 1er Cru Fourcham which were both still alive and showing just how special and ageworthy Chablis can be!

Our final visit of the day was at Domaine Seguinot-Bordet where we tasted their 2010s with the very funny winemaker/owner Jean-Francois. J-F serves his wines from a rather amusing stainless steel ‘cake’ trolley he pushes around the winery like a waiter!

A rather exhausting day so with the Fete Saint-Vincent looming tomorrow it was a quick dinner and early to bed.

Saturday morning we all drove to see Tony’s long standing suppliers the Dampt brothers - Eric, Emmanuel and Vincent - out in the village of Collan. Collan is where their winery is located and actually situated in sheep farming country just outside of the intense wine growing area.

The Dampt family are real pioneers of Chablis and some of the lesser-known surrounding areas such as Tonnerre. Just try the Domaine Dampt Chevalier d’Eon Bourgogne Tonnerre 2008 and you will see exactly what I mean.

The Dampts have kindly invited us all to attend today's exclusive growers dinner in Chablis to celebrate the Fete de St.Vincent. St.Vincent is celebrated each year and the hosting is shared between the 19 wine growing villages, Chablis last hosting in 1992!

After an aperitif of Champagne served by the winemaker and a Dampt cousin Joel Falmet, we made our way to the hub of activity in downtown Chablis for THE lunch. When we arrived there were cars and people everywhere and then we saw the giant marquee which was to be our residence (along with 1300 others) for the next 7 hours.

Using just one breath, read the following description of 'lunch' out loud. If you can manage that, you'll begin to understand what the next seven surreal hours felt like.

Invitations given out ... present ticket ... yellow/green bracelet now glued to arm hair ... 1300 people ... Tony in a tie ... ‘gougeres’ the cheesy bread ... cold glass of Chablis ... more cheesy bread ... ushered to the ‘Washington’ table ...

... another cold glass of Chablis ... cheek kissing ... shaking hands ... can’t remember anyone’s name ... sit down ... get up ... move round table two places? ... sit down ... more cheesy bread ... cold glass of Chablis ... free cork key ring ... wine waiters and loud music ... toast to St.Vincent ... funny la la la Chablis hand dance ...

... Mr Renard and his fox tie ... chefs with fruit and vegetables on stretchers ... glass of Chablis ... cheesy bread ... more hand dancing ... a starter of veal terrine and truffles ... glass of 1er Cru Chablis ... la la la hand dance ... conversation about vineyards with Chris Watson (father of actress Emma) ... glass of 1er Cru Chablis ... la la la hand dance ...

... Scottish kilts and bagpipes ... scallop pie ... la la la hand dance but no glass of Chablis ... THE BAND ... veal that’s pink in the middle for main ... glass of Grand Cru Chablis ... la la la hand dance ... great singers! ... a French Del Trotter lookalike in white suit on trumpet ... handkerchiefs in the air for another round of funny Chablis la la la hand dance, this time with added wrist cramp ...

... French X-factor contestant called Fredo on stage, very cheesy! ... red wine from Irancy served ... and then the real cheese: delicious aged Compte, Roquefort, and soft goat's cheese ... more Irancy ... les Filles de Moulin dancing girls ... wives dragging old winemakers back to their seats ... dancers lightly dressed as female English soldiers ... more red Irancy wine ... Cotton Eye Joe dancing cowgirls ... waiter falls over ... paramedics ... desert ... Marc de Champagne brandy ... paramedics leave ... la la la hand dance ...

... check my watch and only 6pm! ... speeches, Champagne, Fredo back on stage ... announcement to “look for red spot sticker under your chair to win prize” and from what I understood if you find one you just pick it up in the air wielding it towards the stage ... another announcement “not a red sticker (that was 19 years ago) it's purple this year, we forgot to peel them off last time!” ... lots of confusion ... president of Chablis wine region then says 'hour break, party starts later' ... more Champagne ... la la la hand dance ... taxi, hotel, check watch 8pm, bed!

Merci Chablis!!

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