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Past Articles – The weary wine merchants travels

May 3rd, 2010

Long before there was my blog, there were my articles in the paper. Seeing it is a bank holiday and I am feeling lazy, I will copy one of last summers articles ( or 2 ). I am also planning this summer’s big journey so nostalgia is setting in. However, it may be my age, but nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Anyway, these articles were posted from the road last June.

Greetings from the vineyards of Provence in the south of France. The sun is beating down on my white Irish brow, and the insects must know I am on a wine tasting trip. They sense either the alcohol or sweet fruits of the vine that are flowing through my sunburned veins. They have devoured me these last few days and one of my legs looks like an overworked bodybuilder, on a bad day. If only I could explain to them that I have been spitting all the wine on this trip.

I have a little gap in my itinerary and have time to grab lunch in Le Bistro de Lourmarin, which funnily enough is in a small village called Lourmarin. This is the village where Peter Mayle re-settled after having to sell his original Luberon house when his book, “A Year In Provence” became a worldwide hit. It made the Luberon very crowded and Mr. Mayle a tourist attraction. I was hoping to spot him having a quiet coffee, but it is not to be. After lunch I make the hazardous and extremely scenic mountain drive between Lourmarin and Bonnieux, which leads on to Roussillon, where Domaine de Tara can be found. Incidentally, Roussillon is where Samuel Beckett spent most of World War 2, having being exiled from Paris. He later complained that he found it too hot, and today I can understand why.

The very scenic village of Roussillon in the Luberon, Provence

The very scenic village of Roussillon in the Luberon, Provence

Those of you familiar with Red Nose Wine, may be aware of Tara and Michele Follea’s award winning wines, which we have imported since our first day in business. I am here to taste the latest vintage and fight over price. Poor Mr. Lenihan and his excise duty get yet another battering. The wines are Cotes de Ventoux and the reds are primarily made up of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. A cheaper version of Chateauneuf du Pape for all the world, and not as heavy, so you can drink them in the summer. The whites are delicate Rousanne based wines and offer a great alternative to those sick of Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The meeting/tasting goes well and I try once more to find out whether the domaine is named after Scarlett O Hara’s homestead or the big hill beside the motorway. It depends who is asking is the well worn line. Whatever the truth, it is amazing how Ireland permeates the wine culture of France.

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine at Domaine de Tara

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine at Domaine de Tara

Tomorrow I am off to visit the great vineyard of the Languedoc, Mas de Daumas Gassac. Aimé Guibert’s wife Véronique is one of the preeminent scholars on Irish ethnology, and the family have a house in Bantry Bay. Their son, who now runs the business, went to school in Rockwell College. It is a small world. This is a family who redefined Languedoc wines on their own. The wine is referred to as the “Lafite of the Langeudoc” or the only Grand Cru wine from the region. They are no fools though, and have a range of wines from €8.99 all the way up the Grand Cru wine. They are also a joy to work with, as they show true understanding of the demands and realities of the Irish wine buying public. And in true French style (when you get to know them that is), they have also promised to give me a nice lunch among the vines tomorrow. Bon appétit.

With that in mind, I bid you farewell from Provence and the searing sun and hungry insects. All going well, I will return next week with news on many new and exciting wines I have found.

Part 2 of the Article – published the following week

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine visiting Mas de Daumas Gassac

Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine visiting Mas de Daumas Gassac

Continued greetings from the vineyards of Provence, Languedoc, Chateauneuf du Pape and Bandol in the south of France. The sun has been joined by an unseasonal mini Mistral wind that swirls above us, and hammers the fishing boats in the harbor against each other. Yet, with nature roaring, the insects prove more resilient than the boats and continue to feed on my weary legs. At least the driving has stopped, and with it the torturous spiting of all the great wines that I have been tasting. Samples fill the corners of the house I am renting, and my 2 year old daughter is beginning to call it Daddy’s shop. Even sadder, I will have to dump the majority of them before I leave.

After I left you last week, I spent a fantastic day with Samuel Guibert in Mas Daumas Gassac. The “Lafite of the Languedoc” certainly lives up to its name and it is truly a magical valley. After a very pleasant lunch in a nearby village, we drove through the valley on Samuels jeep (no car would survive 5 minutes). The vineyard is spread out over an amazing natural amphitheatre – flat, steep and everything in between – see the photo. Rather than raze the whole plot, they decided to keep the natural boundaries in place and what you get is small independent portions of vines scattered throughout the valley. When the family bought this land, it was farmed traditionally with the horse. No chemical fertilizers have ever been on this land (the horse did ALL the work), and this is an integral part of their philosophy. Bordering the valley is the famous forest that Sameul’s father, Aimé, so famously defended from the Californian wine giant, Robert Mondavi. For those of you who remember Falcon Crest, the Mondavi’s were supposedly the blueprint for the family in the TV series. However, this would be completely irrelevant if the Guibert’s were not making fantastic wine at all price points. Samuel has promised to come over to Red Nose Wine next year for a very special tasting / dinner. I can’t wait.

Louis XV of France was once asked the secret of his eternal youth and he replied, “the wines of Bandol”. Now Louis may have told the truth, as the Mourvèdre based wines are delicious, but he did not have to drive from Martigues to Bandol to taste them. Any map will tell you that it is motorway nearly all of the way, and it should take under an hour. Considering I have covered more than 1,500km this week, it is one of my shorter trips. What they don’t tell you is that a part of the motorway goes through central Marseille, and there is a tunnel section that makes Jack Lynch’s look like the gap under Laffensbridge near Killenaule. As I entered Marseille, the traffic got busier, and the lanes got narrower. However, when we entered the tunnel, already being bullied into doing the maximum 130km/hr, every car suddenly found another gear and I found myself in the middle of a scary computer game. I was getting flashed and beeped and people were jumping lanes in the dark. There are actually exits off of the tunnel and people suddenly realize they have missed theirs and just veer at huge speeds to make it. The rules of skiing apply it seems. It is the responsibility of the person behind not to hit the idiot in front. After surviving the tunnel, they then have the audacity to ask you to pay a toll of €2.70. Don’t pay the ferryman. You have no choice if you want off of the mad merry-go-round. I was dreaming of Laffensbridge by the time I finally got to Bandol and its picture postcard wine country. I am still not sure the general wine buying public will have the stomach for Bandol when it is young, or the patience to wait for it to age. I am undecided whether to import into Red Nose Wine. I did taste some great examples of the wine though. I may bring in a little of the Rosé and the Red and see what happens. Incidentally, I took the long way home via Aix en Provence.

I was trying to get under this city at speed

I was trying to get under this city at speed

The next article they let me publish will be from Ireland, and I will keep you updated on how the insect bites are adapting to the Irish weather. I know you care. More importantly, I will return to a more structured piece on wine. I just thought you might like the peak into the wine buying routes.

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

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