Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cave Saint Cyr Beaujolais 2010

Abbé Bertillon could smell a fierce fire.

It was far away, maybe even in Chambolle, but he was not mistaken. His sense of smell was his greatest physical gift. It was the reason his abbey never had a barrel of wine go sour, the reason they never sold a wine too early or too late, and the reason that they only acquired perfect vineyard parcels--Abbé Bertillon simply needed to put his nose to the earth and breathe deeply to know everything about the wine that would eventually come out of it.

Now he smelled a fierce fire, fed by wood and cloth and leather and other things that homes were made of.

It was the last week of June, 1790. May been rainy and humid, and fruit set was uneven in the easternmost rows of Pinot Noir.  If the summer continued like this, Abbé Bertillon knew rot would be a severe problem at harvest time.

His brother in Reims had written to him two weeks earlier, telling of riots in Paris that were spilling into the countryside. Peasants were smashing shop windows and burning anything that stank of nobility. Priests and even nuns had been threatened, but not harmed--as far as anyone knew.

Georges, to the chagrin of their parents, had not entered the priesthood but Abbé Bertillon knew he was still a more devout Catholic than most of the clergy. He said a short prayer for the safety of his brother's family, then put on his boots and went outside.

Today was one of the first beautifully clear days of the summer. As Abbé Bertillon walked the rows of vines behind the abbey, he brushed his increasingly unsteady fingers against the bark of the thick trunks. These vines were getting too old, the yields would be unacceptably low in just a few years.

Two decades earlier he had planted many of them himself and now he thought of how difficult--physically difficult--it would be to pull them out. He mumbled I Corinthians 4:12:

And we labour, working with our own hands: we are reviled, and we bless; we are persecuted, and we suffer it.

Georges in his letter had called the Abbé Sieyes a traitor and a heretic for siding with the revolutionaries. Abbé Bertillon was not so sure. He found it harder to think ideas through to their conclusions as he approached seventy.

He still believed the King ruled by the grace of God, but he did not believe that fact would save Louis from the grace of the guillotine. Maybe not this year, maybe not next, but it would happen. Abbé Bertillon was no politician and certainly no revolutionary, but he could smell the desire for regicide in the pages of the newspapers describing the growing chaos--the same way he could smell what a wine, or a vineyard would become long before it became that thing.

He kept this to himself, despite his certainty.

Down the slight grade that ended at the road to Dijon, he came to some younger vines. Two rows of Gamay, his secret. He was sneaking the grapes in with the Pinot Noir at crush, and once the wine was made it was it was indistinguishable to anyone but him.

Abbé Bertillon had a special affinity for Gamay--he suspected that it could be as good, or nearly as good as Pinot Noir could be if planted in exactly the right place and handled exactly the right way. He had no doubt that this was exactly the right place, where it smelled like moss and wind and water and something else no one, not even he, could describe. With a few more rows of it he could bottle a 100% Gamay and show everyone the truth.

And maybe soon he could have a few more rows of it. Duke Philip the Bold had called Gamay "vile and disloyal" nearly four hundred years earlier and that was that, the end of Gamay in Burgundy.

But now that every French ideal of "loyalty" was being immolated, revolutionaries were killing revolutionaries for not being revolutionary enough, and the Dukes were lucky if their property was the only thing they lost, maybe the decrees against Gamay were also running out of time.

The fire smelled stronger now. Was the revolution in Burgundy already? There were enough intellectuals and brutes in Dijon to do serious damage. Abbé Bertillon decided that if they came for him, he would simply ask them to spare the vineyards. He touched a little unripe green berry and said Hebrews 6:10 to it:

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

As long as his head was on his shoulders, Abbé Bertillon would continue to help.

I bought this Cave Saint Cyr Beaujolais 2010 at Falletti Foods in San Francisco for $18.99. The importer is The Sorting Table in Napa. 


Richard Houston said...

While this leans slightly in the direction of recondite, your attraction to the historical context of wines and viticulture industry is a winner. I loved this.
Your Mondavi piece was most interesting re: the Pater Familias.
The historical context perspective is a terrific differentiator for you.
Best wishes for a great holiday,

James Houston said...

Thanks Rick... I hope you have a great Christmas too. I plead guilty to toeing the "recondite" line... I'm just sick of reading the same descriptions of wines over and over and am trying to come at the experience of drinking one from a different angle. Cheers!