Uncle Henry: “Max, have I told you why I enjoy making wine so much?”
Young Max: “You don’t make the wine, Uncle Henry – that guy Dufot does.”
Uncle Henry: (Reproachfully) “In France it’s always the landowner who makes the wine, even though he does nothing more than supervise with binoculars from the comfort of his study. No, I enjoy making wine, because this sublime nectar is quite simply incapable of lying. Picked too early, picked too late, it matters not – the wine will always whisper into your mouth with complete, unabashed honesty every time you take a sip.”
From the film A Good Year based on the Peter Mayle novel
Making wine is dreamy proposition, especially if you love wine and like … making things. It’s a movie-like fantasy many of us share, to buy a plot of land, plant some vines, watch them grow. To open a bottle of the family wine to match the Sunday roast, to set aside a few cases of your children’s birth vintages to celebrate their achievements in the fullness of time (and perhaps a few bottles extra for the failures).
This summer we bought a beautiful château, albeit one without vineyards. In it’s heyday our new house was part of a larger estate, a proper wine making château that produced glorious wines, but as time passed land was sold, perhaps to settle debts, and now all that remains is a magnificent building with enormous corridors, high ceilings and the grandest rooms. But with no vineyards.
The empty cellars are crying to be restored to their former glory, the shelves dream of being once again stacked with thousands of bottles of wine. (There are of course some hundred bottles of wine in a far corner of the “cave”, pleasing on the eye but much less agreeable on the palate. The previous owner told me I could use them for sauces, but I think even that won’t work – maybe for Halloween?).
So how do you solve a problem like a château without wine? Oddur and I discussed this at length and indulged in fantasies of buying land, building a winery and hopefully making decent wine. We drove around the vineyards near St Yzans, talked about blends and character, we even agreed on the label. There would be a dog on it, a Smooth Fox Terrier, it would be simple, either white or red and in the end we agreed on the name “Humfri”. So that’s as far as we got until more practical matters occupied our plans, things like plumbing & electricity. So Humfri the wine remained just an imaginary bottle, something that only the ghosts of St Yzans could enjoy.
One of our favorite winemakers are the Cazes family of château Lynch-Bages. They along with a number of other winemaking families have evolved from being a name on a bottle that we loved to drink in Paris to becoming friends in Médoc. Late this summer I had a conversation about my winemaking aspirations with Jean-Michel Cazes and his daughter Kinou, asking them for advice on my little “dilemma”. For them the solution was staring me in the eye, I should make a wine with Viniv, a winemaking enterprise they co-own with a charming French/American named Stephen Bolger (who is now the proud owner of one of our Smooth Fox Terrier puppies from this summer).
I was vaguely familiar with Viniv, had always thought it interesting and this was an opportunity to find out more. To make a long story short Viniv has several vineyards in Bordeaux, in Médoc and on the other side of the Gironde, which we call the right bank. So we visited the vineyards, got to choose which plots we’d be making the wine from (Merlot from the right bank, Cabernet Sauvignon from Pauillac and St. Estèphe – sounds good right?). We accompanied the technical gurus of château Lynch Bages to the vineyards as they chewed on grapes, debating when would be the ideal time to harvest and on several occasions the whole family participated in the “vendanges” itself, picking the grapes by hand, row after row and then sorting the good from the bad once we had returned to the winery. In the fullness of time we will be choosing our blends, guided by one of the finest oenologues in the world, Eric Boissenot, who is already a friend. The good news: 2014 will be a spectacular vintage for Bordeaux wines.
So if you find yourself one day, holding a bottle of Humfri, you will know how it all started.
Of course the best thing about the harvest are the harvest lunches and we’ve been to quite a few this year. These are joyous affairs, where the châteaux reward the hard work of those in the field, us included, with good wine and a hearty three-course meal. In France nobody goes hungry during the vendanges. We’ve had Basque pork chops and museau de boeuf, pot-au-feu, poule-au-pot and the most sumptuous desserts. All these lunches have inspired me to make a vendanges menu of my own, a seasonal, luxurious but fairly easy to make three course meal that would satisfy any vigneron. Since cepes are literally everywhere and we’ve been having them every day, those had to be included. This summer we had a delightful mushroom dish in San Sebastian at a tapas restaurant called Ganbara (which I highly recommend), pan-fried cèpes with a simple but a game changing egg yolk in the middle. For the main I had to go with pigeons, infused with more cèpes and figs, just like a walk in the woods. And what could be more fitting for a harvest lunch dinner than Chasselas grapes from my grandmother’s hometown of Moissac in the south-west, drenched in the richest red wine caramel and paired with even more figs.
Truth in Travel
This summer we had the pleasure of shooting a story for Condé Nast Traveler, a ten-page feature on our beloved Médoc. It turned out much more eventful than we could have ever imagined, we fell in love with the creative director of the magazine, Yolanda, and her family, they fell in love with Médoc and the rest is history … and of course a feature in the November issue. We are thrilled to bits to promote Médoc, I think the story turned out great and we even got the cover. I think this must be the first time that the word Médoc is on the cover of that illustrious magazine and to think that I had something to do with that makes simply makes me proud.
Here is a link to the story & photos and there is even a lovely little video on Médoc, shot by Yolanda’s husband Matthew Hranek.
And talking about travel, in about 3 hours we are heading to Paris with a dog and two girls to be there for the launch of my book, A Kitchen in France, that (even if it’s hard to believe) comes out TOMORROW!. Oddur and I will be giving a talk at the American Library in Paris (Rue Camou, 7ème) on the 28th October at 7:30 pm (yes, tomorrow!) and it would make me ever so happy if some of you could come and have a chat with us. Click here for all the details.
When one thing begins sometimes another ends. Tomorrow is the first day of my book’s life but it also marks the end of the pre-order period and the complimentary prints for those who pre-order.
But you still have one final day to get yourself a print.
To receive the print, you simply have to click here and fill in your details.
Cèpes & girolles with egg yolk
This simple and amazing dish was inspired by this summer’s visit to San Sebastian, Spain. We dined at Ganbara, a superb restaurant with local specialities. Each dish arriving at the table was a pure delight, but the one that stuck me most was the grilled mushrooms with the golden egg yolk in the center.
A handful of cèpes and girolles
1 organic egg yolk
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
A sprig of parsley, leaves picked and chopped
Slice the cèpes 1/4 inch thick.
Heat the sauté pan until very hot. Add the sliced cèpes, season with salt and pepper. Cook on each side until golden, then add a knob of butter. Transfer to a serving plate and place the egg yolk in the center. sprinkle with chopped parsley. Pour yolk over mushrooms. Serve immediately.
Pigeon with figs & cèpes
There’s something so autumnal about this meal, so deep in colors and flavors… as if you entered the forest. The pigeon, cooked with the figs, the cèpes and the red wine makes this dish unforgettable.
3 tablespoons butter, unsalted
2/3 pigeons, cleaned and cut into 4 pieces
1 onion, sliced finely
1 large turnip, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced finely
160 ml/ 2/3 cup red wine
160 ml/ 2/3 cup chicken stock
A few sprigs of thyme
8 figs, quartered
About 2 to 3 large cèpes, sliced
Sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper
In a large dutch oven, melt the butter on a medium heat. Cook the pigeons on all sides until golden. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside on a plate and keep warm. In the same pot, cook the onions and garlic for 5 to 8 minutes. Add the sliced turnip. Pour the wine and reduce for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, figs and thyme – stir gently. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan until very hot. Add the sliced cèpes, season with salt and pepper. Cook on each side until golden, then add small knob of butter. Add to the pot. Return the pigeon to the pot and cover. Transfer to a preheated oven 170°C/ 340°F for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Roast figs and Chasselas grapes with a red wine caramel
8 figs, cut in quarters
A few small sprigs of Chasselas grapes
For the red wine caramel
1/3 cup/ 65 g granulated sugar
1/3 cup/ 80 ml red wine
Make the sauce:
In a small saucepan, combine 1/3 cup/65 g of the sugar and the wine and bring to a low boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat slightly and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens to a syrup, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Slice the figs in quarters and place in an oven-proof dish. Place a few small sprigs of chasselas grapes all over. Transfer to the oven on the grill setting until the fruits are roasted, about 3 to 5 minutes depending on oven strength. Drizzle the red wine caramel over the fruits and serve immediately.