Please remember to approach the world of wine responsibly
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tells me why it's great to be
I have The Beatles living in my courtyard garden and I’m not sure that George is at all well. Paul is really thriving, as is John, while Ringo is pleasant to look at but always shows up late and makes me worry every year. I cannot help but feel that I’ve seen the last of George and I’m going to have to replace him.
They arrived in my courtyard garden a few years ago. First John and Paul, then I added George and Ringo, and I’ve been rather proud of the way they’ve grown up got on with it and made me smile, but now Beatle three is causing me concern in such a way that my Fab Four will soon be down to a Tremendous Trio.
I realise that you’re probably reading this and thinking that I’ve completely lost any sense of reason, that perhaps being cooped up has softened my brain into more of a soupy jelly type substance but read on dear reader and not only will you understand, you too might be tempted to grow your very own Beatles, Rolling Stones, Steely Dan or Carpenters!
As I said at the start of this article I live in a house with a concrete courtyard, for a garden. The house is a lovely townhouse that looks out on a crescent like a miniature imitation of one of those grand properties in Bath. One of the reasons we picked it was because there wasn’t much of a garden to labour over, but a few years ago all this changed when I started to write about wine.
I was sat, slaving over a hot story on my even hotter computer keyboard (the sunshine really burns down through the window where my study is) and a stopped for a moment, and looked out through the window and down at that dull, grey square of concrete that was surround by non-descript bushes and that stared back at me like some non-descript face.
Sitting back down I started to tap out a review of a book about growing condition in Northern California, but my mind kept wandering to the outside. Then a guilty thought came to me. How can I empathise with vineyard growing conditions when I’d never attempted to grow a single vine myself?
It was then that I decided to have a go at growing a single vine. Nothing too special, but just enough of an experience to allow me a sliver of empathy with those winegrowers I was regularly writing about. I also decided that I wouldn’t be planting it in the ground, but in as large a pot as I could get. I figured that if I moved I wanted to take the vine with me.
I headed to my local garden centre, which is so large it could double as a safari park, and where I knew they had a collection of vines that might suit my needs. Here I confidently marched to where their collection of vines was kept and taking my time I studied what was on offer before buying my vine.
Of course I expected the usual British varieties of Sylvaner and Bacchus, but what I didn’t expect was to see a couple of Chardonnay vines next to a few proud Gewürztraminer. This was going to be a little harder than I thought. Which one of these would not only respond to my attempt to commune with nature and grow, but might actually be able to produce even the tiniest grapelet?
My thought of owning a single vine were quickly undermined by my inability to make a decision, and instead of returning to the till with mighty vine in hand I went to get a trolley that would be able to carry two vines.
By the time I actually made it to where you paid, I was the owner (well, not until I paid) of four vines (two Chardonnay, a Gewürztraminer and a Bacchus) four tubs that were so large I could bathe in them if the need arose, soil, a couple of posts that I figured would act as a kind of trellis effect, wire to act as a guide for the vines and a couple of tools that might help me to coax a little bit of growth.
Back at home I studied the layout of my little concrete pen (this actually took me all of three minutes and then positioning the four tubs in a row that would be mostly bathed in whatever sunshine could be prized out from behind the clouds, I planted my vines into the soft soil, sprinkled a handful of plant food, gave them a watery wash and looked at them with the benevolence that only a father can look at his children, and that was when I realised that in the best traditions of the human race, I would have to give them a name and thus be able to superimpose my own personality on these new additions to the Harries household.
Originally I did think about calling them, ‘The Four Horsemen’ but I thought that was a little dark. Then I thought about naming them after famous Prime Ministers, but then I realised that politics had no place in my attempt to grow grape vines.
And that is how they became The Beatles. In no particular order I named the two Chardonnay vines after Paul and John (if you need to ask their second names shame on you) the Bacchus was named George and the little Gewürztraminer was named after Ringo!
In that first year very little happened except for a little flowering and a short spurt of growth. I added the posts and linked the tubs with wire in an optimistic notion that everywhere would soon be cordons, flowers and, hopefully, bunches of grapes.
The next few years brought a smile to my face as first Paul, then George, followed by Ringo and John grew and grew. They responded to my attempts to prune and shade the small grapes and the bunches that appeared were large enough to see from my study window.
Last year I picked all the grapes that came forth and though it wasn’t my attention to make wine (that could wait until I retired to France) I decided to crush the grapes. There wasn’t much juice from my four vine crush, but after it had settled in an old bottle I found for the purpose it did take on the actually look of wine. I didn’t know if it had adopted the taste because at heart I was coward and wasn’t sure the air that had got into the bottle had turned it into something that could be possibly used in germ warfare.
This year disaster struck and while Paul showed large promising growth and potential, John wasn’t far behind but producing higher quantities of fruit and Ringo flowered with those beautiful rose colours that belong to a Gewürztraminer vine, George seemed to be staying in hibernation.
I watered him, gave him vine food designed to nourish him and I even sang the odd verse of ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ but in the end I was forced to admit that the end was near for little George. If I learnt anything from the experience it was not to trust my instincts because if I’d have bet on any of the vines giving up the ghost on me it would have been Paul and John. I’d bought those two Chardonnay plants more in hope than anything else and assumed that the Bacchus would grow with a familiar ease in the English climate.
My tale does have a happy ending (of sorts). Once again, Paul seems to be growing so large that he’s threatening to dominate the whole garden. There’s no sign of fruit this year, that’s the role of John in that partnership because once again he might be a smaller but he certainly makes me smile when I see those little bunches flourishing on his branches. At the time of reporting, Ringo is growing strong and while there’s no sign of fruit at the moment, his leaves are blooming and those pink edges make you feel he is going to be all right.
At the time of writing I’ve just taken deliver of two new vines. Another Gewürztraminer (if there’s no fruit, at least he’ll be lovely to look at) who I’ve christened George and there’s a Sylvaner who I’ve decided to name Brian (after Brian Epstein). Who knows how things might progress for my lovely Beatles vines. All I can say is that it will probably be a long and winding road!
The kitchen looked as though it has been ransacked by Mother Hubbard, and the echo that came back as I mused aloud was as empty as the promise that I would find the mearest tipple. If ever a man needed his fridge to come to his aid it had to be now!
I opened the door and knew the inside was mocking me. Not one of those gentle mocks, but a belittling laugh right in my face. There was absolutely nothing but a couple of slivers of a hard Brie with the foil loosely wrapped around, a box of cereals I stored inside because I was once informed that it made them last longer, vegetables in various states of decay and a tub of butter that appeared to be turning into a mouldy science experiment.
Closing the sombre door, I noticed the glint of tin almost too late. It was coming from behind the box of cereals and would have been missed if the fridge light hadn't have kissed the metal surface. They might not be wine, but in my state of growing desperation I'd settle for a can of bloaty beer!
I moved the box, stared hard at the two tins. Now I felt like crying! Staring back at me in a state of embarrassment were two cans of the sort of lager that were used to advertise football and should have been banned by the Geneva Convention as a possible weapon of mass-destruction. I now realised that at times like this God does indeed laugh at us when we are in the nude!
How did this emblem of blandness come to be in my fridge? I had always found the taste to be somewhere between licking an iron bar and remembering when an ink cartridge had leaked inside my mouth, only I do remember that the cartridge had been sightly more palatable!
I seemed to vaguely remember that they arrived (like unwanted relatives) during Christmas when a friend of my daughter had come to visit. The fact that they had spent four months in my fridge (the beer, not the friend) gave me hope that my daughter had got more taste than I'd given her credit for.
The fridge door was swifly slammed shut before temptation got the better of me, but a booze devil perched on my shoulder urged me to go back, saying that the taste wasn't really too bad, and that the feeling of chewing metal was just a trick of the mind. Besides, I reasoned, it had been so long since I'd tried this brand it might have miraculously improved. Then again, Donald Trump might have started to show empathy!
QUESTION 3: 'Which vineyards and owners have been the most supportative of the project?'
CITÉ: 'Bordeaux wine region is a special place. The Bordeaux Wine Council is one of the founding members of the Foundation for Wine Culture and Civilisations (the Foundation which directed La Cité du Vin project and now runs Cité du Vin throughout the year).
'But since the beginning we've managed to create partnerships with wine regions across the world. Before the opening we already had about 40 partners! So, support really came from everywhere! Wine owners and merchants especially from Bordeaux have also been very important donors who co-financed the investment.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'What are you drinking at the moment?'
GARY: 'I love Cabernet Franc. I love Pinot Noir, Vermentino and Sauv Blancs.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'What is the most difficult thing about being gay in Wine Country?'
GARY: 'The most difficult part is not personal, but is on a business level of having to educate people in the industry about the how and why of marketing to the LGBTQ community.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'Do you feel part of the Sonoma Community or an outsider?'
GARY: 'I am a part of the Sonoma Community. I have served on both the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau Board and the County Tourism Boards over the years.'
WINEFULLNESS: 'What is your favourite place to visit in Wine Country?'
GARY: 'My favourite area to go wine tasting is up in the Healdsburg/Alexander Valley region. I love the one lane winding roads and all the small wineries that most people have never heard of.'
I forced myself to leave before weakness and desperation overcame my sense of taste, and I lifting my head to the heavens (or in this case the kitchen ceiling) uttered fifteen different curses that I'd forgotten I knew.
It was then, on top of one of the kitchen cupboards, that I noticed a beautiful feminine shape that could only belong to a bottle of wine! Quickly retrieving a chair, I carefully clambered on to the seat (no point breaking my neck before I'd reached my grail) and I grabbed the wine by neck. Who cares if it was covered with more dust than a forgotten librarian.
I started to clean away the dusty particles of filth until they floated in the air like a grey storm. Finally, I caught a glimpse of the label and my heart sank lower than a rap artists trousers. It was a Lambrusco that my grandmother had given me so long ago that I thought I could date it to somewhere between Margaret Thatcher stealing milk off children and the birth of punk rock. It was so terrible that the bottle didn't have a year, it had a look of sadness! It was so far past it's drink-by date that dinosaurs had died out when it might have been in something approaching its prime!
The mood in that kitchen became vile and confused, and there were more swearing than you might hear in a teacher's staffroom. My gaze kept switching between the fridge with its horrible foamy lager waiting inside and the bottle of Italian wine that was so old that the label was written in Latin, when it was spoken by more than the Pope and his mates.
To cut a long story short, I'm here to tell you that I've learnt three things from this incident, and the first one is that I'd rather drink anything than a lager that could make metal detectors screech, even a wine that might have been at its best when the United Kingdom was happy to join the European Union, or Common Market as it was then.
The second is that one should always keep a check on your supplies of food and wine on a Sunday morning and replenish when in doubt. The third, and most important thing I learnt from this experience was that a wine that tastes of lifeless must, dead fruit and obvious embarrassment isn't too bad after the third glass!
NEXT EDITION - The Beatles are living in my garden!
QUESTION 7: 'When I visited La Cité du Vin the other year it was so full of visitors. Are there plans being made where the visitor experience can feel a little less crowded?'
CITÉ: 'We pay a lot of attention to the visitors' experience. It's really our main focus. We try to find what bothers the visitor when it is too crowded. We regularly bring improvements to the technological devices so there are no bugs due to the number of people using them.
'We warn our visitors in advance when we know it will be a busy day. We allow only a limited number of visitors into the 'Permanent Exhibition' or the 'Belevedere' at the same time if this happens.'
QUESTION 8: 'Which do you prefer, Left or Right Bank?'
CITÉ: 'Both! It might be difficult for me to give another answer!'
QUESTION 9: 'Your wonderful wine shop seem to cater for most tastes. Is there a wine you feel is missing and why?
CITÉ: 'We do not run the wine shop, so I'll answer as any consumer or wine lover. I think it is an incredible place with so many different wine references coming from more than 70 countries... There is always something new to discover and I don't feel as though anything is missing!'
'Then I stood with determination because it was time for this wine hunter to go forage.'
'At times like this God does indeed laugh at us when we are in the nude!'
QUESTION 10: I have heard a number of views regarding the design of La Cité du Vin. What is the actual theory behind that wonderful shape?'
CITÉ: 'You are right, the architecture of Cité du Vin is making people talk! There are as many ideas about the shape as there are visitors.
'The architecture and staging of La Cité du Vin are a result of a close collaboration between two agencies: the Paris achitectural agency XTU architects led by Anouk Legendre and Nicholas Desmazières, and the English staging agency Casson Mann. It's an audacious evocation of the soul of wine and the liquid element (a seamless, immaterial and sensual roundness say the XTU architects).
'The building recalls wine that swirls in the glass, the coiled shape of the vine or the waves of the Garonne, while its golden reflections echo the white stones of Bordeaux facades and reflections of the river.'
One to Try
La Cite du Vin
QUESTION 11: 'Has the city of Bordeaux been totally supportative of the project?'
CITÉ: 'Absolutely! Alain Juppé, the former mayor of Bordeaux, was convinced of the importance of having a place dedicated to wine in this city. Bordeaux is famous worldwide thanks to its wine. That's why the city of Bordeaux was at the initiation of the project.'
QUESTION 12: 'France is often seen as inward-looking when it comes to the wine industry. With centuries of history, is there anything left for the French to learn from the rest of the world about the art of winemaking?'
CITÉ: 'Of course! We can always learn from the others. That is what our 'Permanent Exhibition' shows: wine as we know it as a result of many cultures and civilisations.'
QUESTION 13: 'What is the best and worst thing about living in Bordeaux?'
CITÉ: 'Best: the beauty of the city, its gastronomy and the proximity to some of the most beautiful locations in France (Archachon, the Atlantic Coast, Bordeaux wine regions, the Pyrénées Mountains, Basque Country...).
'Worst: lots of traffic jams!'
QUESTION 14: 'Why should people visit La Cité du Vin?'
CITÉ: 'To understand why wine is not just a drink, to learn more about a thousand-year-old product and its impact on the life of men, their landscapes, their habits for centuries and to just have a good time!'
QUESTION 15: 'Which question do you wish you had have been asked and why?'
CITÉ: 'What's next for La Cité du Vin? I wished you'd have asked that question because we always look up to the future!'
If you are ever in Bordeaux, you would be missing out if you do not include a visit to La Cité du Vin. I think that visiting this wonderful place is one of many good reasons I love Bordeaux. I'm not denying that it is popular and often crowded, but I've always found that there are one or two pockets of calm where you can feel as though La Cité du Vin belongs to you.
If your are interested in visiting LA CITÉ DU VIN (when all this virus and mayhem are over) then fire up your computer and check out their website at www.laciteduvin.com and you'll find all sorts of useful information to help you plan your trip.
'Alain Juppé, the former mayor of Bordeaux, was convinced of the importance of having a place dedicated to wine in this city.'
The Beatles Are Living In My Garden
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A Tale From The Winefullness Armchairs
(and I'm not sure that George is going to make it)