Late last fall, what first seemed as a rather innocuous email turned into a press trip to both a region I had never visited (Beaujolais) and an event of near mythic proportions (Hospices de Beaune). I took the opportunity to also spend some time visiting some dear friends in Paris before turning southward.
My trip to France came on the heels of the Wine Bloggers Conference where I got very little sleep, and coupled with a sleepless overnight flight, I was at best on fumes. My greatest fear–being ill during two rather important wine-centric events–was a distinct possibility.
After several days in first Paris and then Beaune, the “real” reason I was in France was set to begin. I bid my convalescent VRBO à dieu, and made my way to the train station in Dijon, where I caught the hour-long train to Belleville-sur-Sâone, in the heart of Beaujolais. I was one of several journalists (but the only one based in the U.S.) brought in to taste the new releases of many of the producers of Moulin-à-Vent.
I was not over my illness, not by a long shot, but I could not sleep at all on the train as I am always deathly afraid of missing my stop, even when it is the terminus of the trip. I know, I have issues.
To prepare for the trip, I took the “cocktail” of about seventeen pills each of such a size that an average ox would have difficulty ingesting them. As I boarded the train, I just hoped to avoid misery—not a very high bar at all, but I was looking for any sort of “victory” no matter how Pyrrhic.
Moulin-à-Vent (which means “Windmill” in French) is one of ten Cru Villages in Beaujolais, which represent the best wines produced in the region. While not the largest of the Crus, Moulin-à-Vent is considered by many to produce the most structured and therefore longest lasting of the Crus, with many wines that can age gracefully for a decade or more.
Like the rest of Beaujolais, the wines of Moulin-à-Vent are made with Gamay, a thinly skinned grape that shares many similar characteristics with Pinot Noir: fruity, earthy, relatively low in tannin. Although there is a smattering of white Beaujolais (made with Chardonnay), it represents less than 1% of the region’s over all production, and I could not find anyone that new of any planted in Moulin-à-Vent.
There is no actual town called Moulin-à-Vent in Beaujolais (the towns of Chénas, another of the ten Crus, and Romanèche-Thorins are the two main towns in the appellation), but there is a windmill right in the middle of the appellation which has 660 hectares (about 1,500 acres) under vine. The total production is roughly 4 million bottles per year, depending on the vintage.
I was met at the train station by one of the representatives of the Union des Viticulteurs de Moulin-à-Vent, who was sponsoring the trip. We had a 45 minute drive ahead of us, and there were only two of us, which meant I would have to try to be somewhat conversant. Normally, that is not a problem for me as I can be quite loquacious, but all I wanted was a bed and a god, any god, that would cure me sufficiently for the big tasting the following day.
We made it to the hotel, and as far as I could tell I was fairly conversant, did not commit a faux pas, and did not pass out. The kind people from the Union des Viticulteurs indicated that I had a couple of hours before dinner, where I would meet the other journalists and several producers from the region.
I woke, three minutes before dinner and felt, surprisingly, worse. Much worse. Evidently I had prayed to the wrong god. Nonetheless, I made it through dinner, having made several witty comments, but I think they were in German. At least that was my rationalization as to why no one laughed.
Off to bed again before dessert.
Yeah, I was the life of the party.
But I had a huge day ahead of me, and I needed to find another god to reach.