Day 1: Monday 14th December
Eyelids creek open at 4.30am. Where have I heard that before? Oh yes…moi…several times in recent months. Do I have some masochistic yen for unnatural awakenings? At least I had a sound sleep. Upon closing the front door and looking into the universe above, I am the solitary spectator to a shooting star burning across the atmosphere. I interpret this has a positive omen.
“Go forth to Pomerol” God is saying.
I have a decent snooze on the flight down to Bordeaux and then that shooting star counts for naff all, as calamity strikes. I haven’t even got past customs.
The farrago transpires after I go to wash my hands in the toilet prior to passport control. Upon exiting, I find that the border patrolmen have vacated their stations and locked the doors, effectively incarcerating me in the no-man’s land of Merignac airport. I have to bang on a glass partition to attract the attention of staff and get me out. I could have been there all week.
The rest of the day passes smoothly: an enlightening tasting at Chateau L’Enclos, a brief lunch in Saint Emilion and then down to Michel Rolland’s laboratory in Catusseau to interview the hirsute, uber-consultant himself. He makes a great interviewee: garrulous, candid at times, much more self-effacing than the media makes out but the kind of man you feel that you would never get to really know. I drive back to Bordeaux city listening to The Beatles’ “Revolver” whilst run aground in a traffic jam (I thought their trams were supposed to eradicate these?) In the evening, a private dinner with an old colleague from the trade accompanied by Xavier Borie of Grand-Puy Lacoste and a delicious trio of clarets: Pichon Lalande 96, Montrose 89 and Margaux 82, finished with a lip-smacking Doisy-Vedrines 89.
Tomorrow: more Pomerol.
Day 2 - Tuesday 15th December
I am freezing my gonads off. I am glad that I have bought my extra-thick “cool dad” Firetrap cardigan that keeps me snug and warm (even though one winemaker enquires whether I am wearing it inside out during the week. Obviously Pomerol does not thrive with fashionistas.) I drive from Bordeaux to Pomerol to visit the little known Chateau Feytit-Clinet. The small property has a slightly run-down feel, but is certainly clawing back its former glory and tasting recent vintages in Jeremy Chasseuil’s kitchen, I am impressed by recent vintages. My companion, Brinda and I then foolishly attempt to find a cup of coffee in the vicinity: a futile exercise in Pomerol. You can have a perm in Catusseau’s permanently empty hair salon, the snappily titled “C’Style”, but a cup of coffee?
So we drive up to Chateau La Croix de Gay for lunch and interview with Dr. Alain Raynaud and he proves to be a fabulous interviewee surfeit with enlightening vignettes of Pomerol’s bygone years. Merci Docteur! Next to his neighbour at Chateau Rouget, where we have any great, more light-hearted interview with proprietor Edouard Labruyere, who offers an intriguing outsider’s view of the region. With night time falling, I drive back to Bordeaux where I spend the evening writing, comme d’habitude. Though Bordeaux city is festooned with desirable eateries, it is too bloody freezing and so I just shove my gob full of a McDonalds, which I only ever eat in France under dire circumstances. This is one.
Day 3 – Wednesday 16th December
I spend the morning in the offices of the CIVB researching their library of wine literature. At least it is warm inside. I peruse all the books on Bordeaux and conclude that they all look the same: austere, dry and aloof. My book will be different…well, that’s the intention anyway.
Next, a privileged lunch with a group of the most distinguished and influential figures in Pomerol: Jean-Francois Moueix, the rarely seen proprietor of Chateau Petrus, his amiable son Jean, the man who has more legendary wines under his belt than any other…the magician, the maestro, Jean-Claude Berrouet and his son Olivier, the present winemaker at Chateau Petrus.
It is almost too much.
I cannot concentrate on interviewing, translating and eating the scallops with salmon roe and in any case, Jean-Francois and Jean-Claude spend most of the time gossiping like old women, bless ‘em. I have to keep steering them back to the topic in hand: Pomerol. Fortunately I sit down with Jean-Claude and Olivier after the lunch and obtain nuggets of information and memories that make it all very worthwhile.
What a lucky sod I am and if that is not enough, I spend the rest of the day with his brother, Christian Moueix, at his offices in Libourne. We start chatting about Trotanoy and he suggests we drive up to the chateau to examine the vineyard, even though the light is rapidly fading. We park in the vineyard and Christian cannot help but start clipping a few vines with his secateurs. If he did not have an impending meeting with the Syndicate de Pomerol, I suspect he would have been there all night.
Nothing to do in the evening so again I spend the time writing in my crappy St. Emilion truck-driver hotel whose spell I seem to have fallen under in recent years. It is like falling in love with a one-star prostitute. The hotel still offers free hardcore porn after the clock chimes midnight, although the actors on Channel XXL still have an annoying habit of giggling midway through their acrobatic act of melodramatic fornication. I make a mental note to complain to reception in the morning and see if they can offer something equally salacious but with a tad more gravitas.
Or maybe not.
Day 4 – Thursday 17th December
Up early for an 8.30 appointment with yet another Moueix, this time Alain, who manages Chateau Mazoyeres. I end up 20 minutes late due to a lacks of signage. Next up to Chateau La Croix St Georges for tasting and interview with owner Jean-Philippe Janoueix, who is refreshingly forthright and opinionated, though a little obsessed by planting densities (he has a wine entitled “20,000”, which refers to the number of vines planted per hectare, rather than the number of Parker points he hopes to obtain.) We have a lunch at L’Enver de Decor for the 347th time this week. I bid hello to Alain Vauthier and Jean-Luc Thunevin, the gentlemen in deep discussion by the log fire. There we meet my next appointment, winemaker Jean-Baptiste Bourotte and I spend the remainder of the day tasting with him and learning about Clos du Clocher and Chateau Bonalgue.
In the evening, my second McDonald’s of the week on the outskirts of Libourne (how sad) and watching Them Crooked Vultures on late-night TV whilst writing and waiting for XXL.
Day 5 – Friday 18th October
Shower in my third-world bathroom (no shower curtain in sight, temperature temperamental.) It is the most crystal clear morning you can imagine, not a cloud in the sky, morning dew frozen on the vines that glisten in the sunlight. I use the time profitable taking photos around Pomerol. I end up at Chateau Lafleur and end up talking to Jacques Guinaudeau on the blower, wishing him happy Xmas and look forward to seeing him at primeur. I then meet Frederic Casteja at Chateau La Croix du Casse and then Domaine de l’Eglise for a multi-vintage vertical. I then drive to Merignac airport, although it takes about 20 minutes to work out how to open the petrol cap for the wheelbarrow I hired for the week. In the evening, a private party that involves some very, very serious wines and a conversation with my neighbour, Philippe Schofield about fermented grape juice and the comeliness of Holly Willoughby.