One More Trip to Europe, Spring ‘13
The first twenty parts covered the history of how the Williamsburg Winery began its life. I have been working on the next volume of parts on the excitement and challenges of the nineties and they will be released over the next months.
As a break in that process, here is the story of our latest trip. And, more of these will be interspersed with the continuing parts on the creation of Wessex Hundred as it is today.
Given the condition of the world today, international traveling is nothing like it was in the sixties or the seventies. From the downing of the PanAm 747 over Lockerbie to the plane crashes on the World Trade Center towers, terrorism has grown to the point of the necessity of adding layer upon layer of security at many aspects of daily living but more particularly to air travel. The resulting impact has been the deeply unpleasant time-consuming accommodation of the security measures, particularly when you miss a transfer flight as we did some months back. But, then again, life is what it is and the security is indeed needed.
In late April, we embarked for our destination to Munich, Germany. Coming from a family of Germanic roots, I have particularly enjoyed being in Bavaria, since my early days as a young boy in the Fifties. To top it all, Francoise, who is very French, lived for a couple of years in Munich and enjoyed it greatly. After collecting our gear and getting our wheels from one of the rental car agencies, we drove, as we usually do, to the small Baroque city of Landshut, twenty minutes from the airport and rested overnight in a charming hotel housed in an old building that was a rural castle, Hotel Schoenbrunn.
The next morning, we crossed Bavaria and Baden Wuertenberg and reached the Swiss border for a meeting with Marc Breitenmoser, the owner of ARCave, a fascinating company that specializes in creating kits for constructing vaulted wine cellars. The range of products for the high quality organization of an up-market wine cellar that his company offers wine enthusiasts is extraordinary.
Of course, I have to admit that adding a vaulted wine cellar to our operation has been one of the limited expansions that I have been dreaming about for years. See how they build vaulted cellars on their web site.
Our next session was near Geneva, a meeting with Eric Petiot a plant pathologist who has written numerous books on organic ways to treat plants and trees. Our interest centered on his recommendations for the world of viticulture that had been described on a television show on French satellite TV.
We had exchanged emails and arranged for the meeting at his house that includes his lab site. Eric Petiot is genuinely a genial person who discusses plant pathology with passion, and he recommended that during our trip we visit a viticulturist in the Champagne area who acts as the head of a group of champagne producers who are focusing on the health of their soils and the adoption of management techniques that are ultimately friendlier to the environment.
It was not just idle curiosity. Patrick II, my son, Matthew, our winemaker and I have been focusing on how we could improve our viticultural practices from enhancement of the micro-biological life of the soil to minimizing the use of any chemicals.
We then drove down to Chambery and had the pleasure of an over-night stay in a wonderful old castle. I have had, since my early years, a love of old castles, and Francoise shares that feeling. The evening meal was light but superb including fresh asparagus with a surprisingly delicious passion fruit sauce.
Soon we were back in Forcalquier where Francoise has her apartment in an old nineteenth century stone house in that little city in the mountainous part of Provence, north of Aix.
Last year while I had remained in Williamsburg, she had begun to remove old wall paper in the entry of her place. We decided that we would finish the project . The walls soon were bare to old plaster. The ceiling had also been covered in Fifties biddy flower wall paper, and I set myself on top of the ladder to check things out to determine how and on what surface it had been applied.
Surprise, the plaster boards were loose and quickly I took it down noticing that these boards had been carelessly nailed into a few wood pieces that were barely attached to the rafters. Over the years, I have always enjoyed manual labor from making furniture to planting trees as a way to relax and focus on completely different things.
The plan was then to install a cathedral ceiling made in tongue in groove heavy wood pine boards and create a beam like assembly at the peak of the ceiling.
Several days later the project was completed to Francoise’s approval and satisfaction, and we could use the next days to visit a few places in Provence that were on our to-do list.
With friends we travelled to the Chateau de Berne which is both a hotel and a winery. As such it is a destination very much like our Wessex Hundred farm, just larger and in Provence rather than in Virginia, two regions of the world that we consider to be very close to paradise. http://www.chateauberne.com/
We enjoyed a delightful meal on the terrace and went to visit the winery and the winery shop. The staff at the shop was most interested to learn about our operation and a couple of them were not shy asking as to whether they could intern with us.
No question, the Chateau de Berne is a beautiful property of fifteen hundred acres in the hills of Provence with lavender fields and vineyards that produce a great rosé. A perfect place to relax for an afternoon.
Later, we went to visit Chateau Thuerry which features a stunning avant-garde architectural winemaking cellar and enjoyed a tour of the facilities with the owner, M. Croquet. http://www.chateauthuerry.com/
A few days later, we were on our way up north driving through the Massif Central.
Near Vichy, the small city famous for its medicinal thermal waters as well as mineral water, we had booked our overnight stay in a hotel, member of the Chateaux-Hotel collection headed by Alain Ducasse, probably one of the world’s top chefs if not the best.
The Chateau de Maulmont was managed by the Scottish-Dutch couple, also owners of the place. Francoise was impressed with its nineteenth century architecture as the structure was rebuilt over the ruins of a XIII century fortress. http://www.chateau-maulmont.
The next day, we stopped at the home of friends in Sologne some hundred miles south of Paris. We have known the Lefebure family since 1972. Claude & Christiane have a few years on us, and we have had the pleasure of hosting their son and a number of the grandchildren and cousins for visits at the winery. It is always a pleasure to see them. Claude shares the same care and love of his woods as I do with ours.
After a quick breakfast we departed for the Loire valley known for its succession of the most famous royal palaces of the French royalty. A quick lunch with Francoise’ family and we were on our way towards Burgundy, deliberately selecting small country roads known as “departementales or communales”. Winding, well maintained roads with virtually no traffic.
Our meeting in the heart of Burgundy was with Alex Gambal a young American who some twenty years ago decided to take the plunge and become a vigneron and winery owner in and around Beaune. His wife Diana Williams is a former free-style skier who now organizes special , custom vacations in French wine country. Alex showed us his cellar. We tasted an exceptional white wine that we plan to bring in for our friends of Wessex Hundred. His production is limited. We are now talking about acquiring a special barrel of the famous Hospice de Beaune. http://www.alexgambal.com
A few hundred kilometers up North, we stayed overnight with my brother’s widow deep in the Ardennes, virtually at the border of France, Belgium and Luxemburg. It was a short stay as we had a 10 o’ clock meeting with the young Champagne producer. It was Pentecost Monday in France, and the traffic was light. We made the two hundred clicks and got there right on time.
Sebastien Mouzon is from a family well established in Champagne. We had a most interesting meeting and left pleased with what he had shared with us. What was really important, he is one of the vignerons who has all his enthusiastic soul in the product he produces and is greatly oriented towards organic farming.
We then took the slow lane driving back towards Germany stopping over in the Black Forest on the mountain road high in the Alps. The temperature had dropped down to about 40 degrees and we were in the clouds in these dark woods. We finished the trip on the last day with lunch in the Ratskeller of Munich, one of our traditions.
Goodbye Europe until our next visit. We gathered plenty of information and little details that we can use to adapt to our projects in Williamsburg to make Wessex Hundred, the farm that encompasses the Williamsburg Winery and Wedmore Place with our own Café Provencal, a touch more unique, a place for good food, good wines and a place to “Enjoy Life”.
Patrick G. Duffeler
Founder & Chairman