On a lazy summer’s day in Vancouver, the shoebox under the bed calls out to me for attention.
A shoebox into which I have tossed letters, post cards (when we still sent and received them!) and other memorabilia that I wanted to keep or at least not throw out upon receipt. You know the sort of thing.
The jewel lay quietly at the bottom of the box – an anonymous rough brown envelope addressed to my decades-ago address in London and post-marked August 25, 1972!
50 years ago!!
With great anticipation, I look inside the envelope and find a tourist guide to France, The Traveller in France, Love France for her thousand beautiful faces,  January 1972 and pictured below! It’s a true jewel and I love the cover illustration.
Travel guide to France found in the Shoebox under the bed
In this time traveller envelope I also discover tourist brochures about places we had visited, including Avranches and amazingly, I find a travel diary for a particular road trip to France, September 6 – 17, 1972, entitled, “Holiday, 72 France, Diary”.
Travel diary Sept 1972
Reading a diary from 50 years ago is when the past becomes the present. From the diary, I can see I was as interested in wine and food in those days as now and several meals are described. One in particular stands out. On the first day of our trip we drove to Avranches in Normandy and my diary provides the following tempting details:
“We drove onto Avranches. Booked into Croix d’Or. Hadn’t changed at all. Had magnificent meal of eight courses: potage, pâté, fruits de mer, moules, truites Croix d’Or, Canard/Entrecôte, fromage et meringue pudding and coffee. ½ bot. Chablis, and bottle Chateau Neuf du Pape.”
Wow, some meal!
I remember those multi-course meals at the Croix d’Or and although it sounds like a lot of food, the portions were small and you take your time and savour the experience and flavours. I commented in the diary that it hadn’t changed because I had been to the Croix D’Or on several memorable, previous occasions with my family when my father, someone who really appreciated good food and wine, was alive.
The Croix d’Or in Avranches is a 17th century coaching inn and from looking at their website, it is still going strong. I’m delighted!
Avranches is an interesting, historic town, near Mont St Michel on the Normandy coast. The brochure from the 1970’s outlines at least three facts of interest for history enthusiasts.
– In 1172, the excommunicated Henry II of England received absolution in Avranches for the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury committed by others following Henry’s famous comment, “Will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?” He made public penance before the Cathedral (which was razed as unsafe in 1794). The paving stone on which he knelt is marked by chains on a small square locally called La Plate-forme and is featured in the Avranches brochure.
– General Patton, the World War II American military hero is recognized in the Monument Patton for his role in liberating Avranches in July 1944 and for his famous breakthrough of enemy lines ultimately making possible the liberation of France.
– Mont St Michel – A Benedictine Abbey founded in the 10th Century or earlier and built on an island in the bay that connects Brittany and Normandy. Subsequent to our visit in 1972, it was identified in 1979 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s accessible at low tide and I’ve made that crossing in the past. The Traveller in France , 1972 magazine p.17, mentions, “ At Mont-St-Michel the town’s festival is held on the first Sunday in May, while at the end of July there is a colourful pilgrimage across the sands”. It would be interesting to know if that pilgrimage still takes place.
Tourist brochure for Avranches from 1972
The Croix D’Or Inn at Avranches as well as the town and its interesting sites are on my list now for a return visit!
Sometimes I wonder about keeping memorabilia from years gone by. We seem to be endlessly encouraged to declutter, get rid of paper and streamline. It might be easy to just throw it all away. And yet, there would be no gems to give such pleasure, to remind us of places and people otherwise forgotten, to connect the past with the present and help us make plans for the future.
I’m keeping the shoebox!
 The Traveller in France, Love France for her thousand beautiful faces, No 255 Published since 1925, January 1972 by The French Government Tourist Office in Piccadilly, London.
The end of summer in Vancouver coincides with the annual Bordeaux wine release by the BC Liquor Stores. September is the important month.
Excitement builds as aficionados wait for the online and print catalogues as well as notification of the prebooking opportunities. It looks like the 2018 vintage will be a very good year, like 2015 and 2016.
The Bordeaux Release is quite the show! Especially when you see shopping carts loaded down with multiple cases of wine being wheeled out to nearby parked cars.
For me, the catalogue of wine is not just about the wine. The catalogue is like a travel brochure as each name that I know conjures up the place: the countryside, the beautiful chateaux themselves, and the rows of vines and the sense of history – the whole ambiance is like magic for me.
I have visited the Bordeaux wine region – left bank, right bank – several times either on arranged tours or one-off visits to a particular chateau. Seeing the names is like reading poetry that you know well, there’s a rhyme to the words: Chateaux Margaux, Palmer, Haut Brion, La Mission Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc, Figeac, Leoville Barton, Lynch Bages, La Dominique, Quintus…
Some are chateaux I have visited for the first time in the last few years, often with my wine expert friend. Yet others like Chateau Margaux and Chateau Palmer I first visited decades ago with my parents and have happy memories of those introductions to the world of Bordeaux wines !
Putting aside these fine memories, I got down to the business of modestly buying some of the 2018 Bordeaux Release!
When the wine is released in the ‘liquor stores’ run by BC Liquor Stores, there is a mad rush of people swooping in with determination written on their faces as they grab a copy of the catalogue, which is an excellent reference guide with helpful information, and decide what they will buy!
I have to admit I probably had that same look of determination on my face as we decided what to buy. I didn’t have time to do any research before buying. I know from previous experience that if you dither, the choices you would like will have gone!
The wines in the 2018 Bordeaux Wine Release were selected at the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux in 2019, and are now released for sale in 2021.
After we bought some wine at the release, I serendipitously rediscovered my Decanter magazine issue of June 2019, in which Jane Anson, Master of Wine and Decanter’s Bordeaux Correspondent gave her En Primeur Report for Bordeaux 2018.
Not only does she write about the vintage overall but she also assesses individual chateau and interestingly, identifies those chateaux she considers to be Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 (i.e. possibility of being rated 100 points).
I compared this list with the wines available through the BC Liquor Stores and prepared the following chart of those wines which appear both on Jane Anson’s three criteria list from 2019 and the BC Liquor Store release in 2021 for left bank Bordeaux wines. Here it is, rather a short but informative reference list.
Jane Anson MW – Decanter Magazine
BC Liquor Stores
BC Price $Can
Ch. Cambon La Pelouse
Ch . Cambon La Pelouse
Ch. Ormes de Pez
Ch. Ormes de Pez
Les Tourelles de Longueville
Les Tourelles de Longueville
Ch. du Glana
Ch. du Glana
Ch. Leoville Poyferré
Ch. Leoville Poyferrê
Producer to Watch
Ch. Clerc Milon
Ch. Clerc Milon
Ch. Lafite Rothschild
Ch. Lafite Rothschild
Ch. Mouton Rothschild
Ch. Mouton Rothschild
Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalonde
Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalonde
Needless to say, both the Decanter article and the BC Liquor Store catalogue list many more wine choices.
The above chart is a very short list of those Bordeaux left bank red wines which were assessed as either Top Value, Producer to Watch or Potential 100 points of Left Bank Bordeaux 2018 red wines and were also available in the BC Liquor Stores 2018 Release. These were the criteria for inclusion.
The value to me of this comparison chart is that it fine tuned the information in the BC Liquor Store catalogue and has introduced us to some vineyards we didn’t know about at the lower end of these price points that we will keep an eye on for future purchases.
Enjoy the magic of Bordeaux!
References: Jane Anson MW, Decanter Magazine June 2019, Vintage Preview: Bordeaux 2018
2018 Bordeaux Release – BC Liquor Stores.com
and with recognition to my wine expert friend who always encourages my interest in Bordeaux wines.
When a story hooks you, you go deeper…at least I do with topics like wine, history, geography… This post is another look at the wines listed for sale by Mr. Christie in 1822, as illustrated by these beautiful enamel labels, which would have adorned decanters to identify and serve the wines.
Photo of Mr. Christie’s poster advertising Choice Old Wines by auction in 1822.
This is my second post about this intriguing Mr. Christie sale advertisement, which put me on the path of discovery. That is, discovering more about the wines listed for sale nearly two hundred years ago.
In my last post, the focus was on Frontiniac, Sack, Calcavella.
This post is about Malaga, Cape, Paquaret/Pacaret and Lisbon wines. These wine names are beautifully illustrated in this photo-collage of enamel labels that are in the collection of enamel expert, Dr Richard Wells. Richard kindly put together this grouping to reflect the wines from the cellar of Mrs. D’Oyly and I greatly appreciate his generosity in doing so.
Wine labels from the collection of Dr Richard Wells that match the wines in the poster
Several of these label names, like Malaga, Cape and Lisbon are generic in nature for the particular geographic regions.
Malaga, for example, is the term that was applied generically to any variety of heavy sweet, usually red fortified wines that originated in the Malaga area in southern Spain, including certain kosher wines served at Jewish celebrations. Spanish Malaga is made from Muscat grapes, and from a variety known as Pedro-Ximenez and these grapes are usually sun-dried to concentrate sweetness. Vineyards are in the Malaga Mountain Range and in the Ronda Mountain Range. These are liqueur wines with a fairly high sugar content.
This area with its Mediterranean climate is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, since the arrival of Phoenicians almost 3,000 years ago.
Its not surprising that Mrs. D’Oyly’s 19th century cellar contained Malaga wines as they were at their greatest quality around that time before the phylloxera louse so badly affected vineyards in Europe.
Dr Wells tells me that the Malaga enamel wine label is French from the second half of the 18th Century.
Pacaret, Paquaret (also spelled as Paxarete)
This is another Spanish dessert wine. It’s a wine of the deep south of Spain, like Sherry, from the Andalusia area. It was made in different styles, both dry and sweet and was also made from the Pedra Ximenez grape.
A note of interest: in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sherry was known in England as Sack and this is described in my last post.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Pacaret was generally considered to be a “ladies” wine, and suited to the American custom of drinking wines mainly after dinner.
Pacaret is listed in Thomas Jefferson’s Paris Wine Cellar list of 1787 and he continued to order Spanish wine, including Pacaret after he became the third President of the United States in 1801.
The Paquaret enamel label is English from the late 18th/early 19th centuries.
The Pacaret enamel label is French from the same period.
Wine growing area around Lisbon: Carcavelos (previously Carcavella), Colares and Bucelas
The reference to Lisbon on the auction sale poster refers to the historic Denominaçâo de Origem Controlada, (DOC) wine region west of Lisbon, or Estremadura as it used to be known, and can include wines such as Carcavelos, Colares and Bucelas. This area was known for fortified wine production; off dry topaz coloured wines that have nutty aromas and flavours. The grape varieties appear to have been Arinto and Ramisco. When fortified, using distilled grape spirit, the wines were world renowned in the 19th Century. Again, it’s not surprising that these wines would have been in Mrs. D’Oyly’s cellar. While similar to Port, these wines are not Port, which is only produced in the Douro river valley area and according to present law is only shipped from Oporto.
The manner in which wine names change over time is worth noting and the name of Carcavelos is a good example. Wine labels from the 18th and 19th centuries would be made for Calcavallo or Calcavello wine, which is the older name for Carcavellhos or Carcavelos wine as it is presently called. The change was to move away from Spanish spelling, which was a hold over from the Spanish occupation of what is now Portugal in the 17th century.
In a letter dated May 26, 1819, Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America (1801 – 1809), wrote to his wine agent in Marseilles referring to sweet wines including Frontignan from France and Calcavallo from Portugal. He clearly appreciated wine and designated both wine and friendship as a, “True restorative cordial”.
Another quote from Thomas Jefferson about Calcavella wine is in my previous post.
Moving to the 21st century, the name for the wine area around Lisbon was changed in 2009 from Estremadura to Lisboa VR (Vinho Regional), again to focus on the Portuguese language.
In the modern era, the wine areas of Carcavelos, Colares and Bucelas have been affected by real estate development in the suburbs of Lisbon and the coastal town of Estoril. There is apparently some interest and activity in reviving the historic legacy and indigenous grapes of the area. We will wait and see.
The Lisbon enamel label in the photo collage is English, again from the late 18th/early 19th centuries.
Many people will have visited these areas of southern Spain and the Lisbon area of Portugal and not necessarily known anything about the 19th century history of these wine areas. I’ve flown into Malaga and driven up the coastal mountain highway to Ronda, little knowing this history. I stayed in the area 20 years ago and did some early morning runs as I prepared for the BC Arthritis Society Marathon in Hawaii!
Similarly, as a child my family spent many holidays in the Portuguese coastal areas of Cascais and Estoril at a time when Cascais was still a fishing village and the area was on the cusp of real estate development. Little could I imagine then that years later I would be commenting on the wine history of the areas in the context of a George 1V era sale of Lisbon wines!
Cape: this is the generic term for the geographic area around Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
The Cape wine producing area.
A noteworthy three-century viticulture tradition exists in the area originating when the Dutch arrived and South Africa became an important staging post for both Holland and England for trade with the East.
At the end of 1654, the first cuttings of vines arrived at the Cape from Holland and were probably young vines from the Rhineland. Wine was pressed for the first time in 1659. In 1688, French Huguenots arrived in the Cape and extended the vineyards and improved the quality of the wine. By 1711, South African wines were becoming known and travellers spoke of the ‘world famous Constantia wines”, which were sweet wines. In 1805, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain took possession of the Cape. Around the time that Mrs. D’Oyly’s wine cellar was developed probably from the late 1700s on, the export of Cape wine to Great Britain flourished.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Constantia Valley was known for its legendary dessert wines. These were the halcyon days of these wines, which were fortified for overseas patrons in order to survive the long voyage and generally unfortified for local consumption. The original grape varieties were probably Muscat, Pontac and maybe Chenin Blanc.
The Groot Constantia winery dates from 1685 and has a museum section on their website, which provides the chronology of their history.
These Cape wines took on a fame of their own as they were mentioned in at least two books that we might know. In Jane Austen’s novel, Sense and Sensibility, Cape wine was mentioned as a cure for a broken heart! Charles Dickens referred to it as a way to lift a character’s spirit in The Mystery of Edward Drood. Were they writing from experience? Perhaps tips worth noting!
The next post in this series about the Mr. Christie 1822 wine auction poster will be to share some history of Mrs. D’Oyly, whose generous wine cellar prompted these discoveries.
References: Alexis Lichine’s Encylopaedia of Wines and Spirits and various references.
Last month, the fascinating poster for the sale of choice old wines on February 7, 1822, together with the images of the Cyprus enamel labels sparked interest.
Photo of Mr. Christie’s poster advertising Choice Old Wines by auction in 1822.
Dr Richard Wells, my collaborator in identifying enamel wine labels, has kindly created this montage of labels from his collection, that represent the wines listed on the sale poster.
Wine labels from the collection of Dr Richard Wells that match the wines in the poster
Most of the wines represented by these labels, with the exception of Rum, are no longer consumed or popular, as they once were, so it’s interesting to know a bit more about them. Apart from knowing more about the wines, the shapes and designs of the individual labels are really worth further examination for the colours, the floral motifs and in some cases grapes! and the shapes: beautiful craftsmanship from another era.
All these wines were sweetish, a style of wine popular in Paris and London in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Some of the labels and the wines are described below, more will be noted in the next blog.
Frontiniac label: this is an English late 18th/early 19th century enamel label. Frontiniac is a sweet muscadine wine made in Frontignac, France. A reference to this wine in a collection of old plays refers to Frontiniac in this way: ” One more Frontiniac and then a walk”. With difficulty perhaps!
Sack label: this is an English late 18th /early 19th century enamel label. Sack is an antiquated wine term referring to white fortified wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands. Most Sack was predominantly sweet. Sack is commonly but not quite correctly quoted as an old synonym for sherry. In modern terms, typical sack may have resembled cheaper versions of medium Oloroso sherry. As a literary reference, William Shakespeare’s character Sir John Falstaff, introduced in 1597, was fond of sack, and the Falstaff character said, “If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack”.
Calcavella label: this is probably an English label, again late 18th/early 19th century and unusually made from Mother of Pearl. Calcavella is a Portuguese sweet wine that was noted in a wine sale in 1769. Calcavella was noticed by Thomas Jefferson ( 1743 – 1826 and 3rd US President) when he was the US Ambassador to France from 1784 – 1789, right at the time of the French Revolution. Later on, he would order Calcavella several times while living in the United States. When writing about wine, Thomas Jefferson said, ” I would prefer good Lisbon; next to that Sherry, next to that Calcavallo: but still a good quality of the latter would be preferable to an indifferent quality of the former”.
The remaining labels will be commented on in my next blog, together with an insight into the life and times of Mrs. D’Oyly, the widow highlighted in the sale poster and the late owner of these wines.
More to come…
Reference: Dr. Richard Wells www.drrwells.com
Various references to the wines and to Thomas Jefferson.
Last month’s blog featuring the beautiful 18th Century Cyprus enamel wine labels generated more fascinating information. It is so interesting when wine intersects with social history!
18th Century enamel wine label of Cyprus wine, Commandaria
Photo of Mr. Christie’s poster advertising Choice Old Wines by auction in 1822.
Dr. Richard Wells, whose labels I included in my last post, kindly forwarded a photograph of this La Comenderie enamel label from his collection. This is a late 18th Century English label, made possibly for the French market or to use the French translation of the word. This label demonstrates how broadly the Cyprus fortified wine Commanderia was exported over the centuries and in this case in the late 1700’s.
Following the publication of my last blog post, a friend kindly sent me a photo of this fascinating poster that they have had for many years, of a wine auction to be held on Thursday, February 7th, 1822 to be conducted by Mr. Christie in Pall Mall, London. Yes! 199 years ago next week! Careful review of the list of, “excellent and well-flavoured Old Port” to be auctioned, identifies Cyprus among the 125 dozens to be sold, even though Commanderia isn’t technically a Port, but a fortified wine. It’s also worth noting that the wines are sold in Pint quantities, as that was the measure for wine at the time. A pint is 0.5 litres. The decanters used to serve these wines in the 19th Century would have been much smaller than those made today.
In the 18th and 19th centuries Port was a very popular drink. This was influenced by the Treaty of Methuen in 1703, which was a military and commercial agreement between Portugal and England, resulting in the import of various wines from Portugal including several listed on the auction poster, for example: Madeira, Lisbon, Calcavella.
During this period, Port became known as a drink with medicinal virtues, in particular for gout. Presumably, similar fortified wine was swept up in this popularity and Cyprus’s Commanderia wine benefitted from this fashion.
It was common at the time to drink these wines heavily every day and people became known as a ‘Three Bottle Man’ or a ‘Four Bottle Man’. A bottle contained 350 millilitres. Therefore, a Three Bottle Man drank slightly less than 2 pints of Port a day, or just over 1 litre in today’s terms.
An example of a Three Bottle Man in British history is William Pitt the Younger, who was the youngest Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1783. He suffered from poor health and to address this problem, his physician recommended that he drink three bottles of Port a day!
Commanderia has been recognized as a popular wine since mediaeval times. Today, sadly,the market for Cyprus’ Commandaria wine has diminished, whereas Port continues to be widely enjoyed, even if far less than in the days of Three Bottle Men!
The beautiful La Comenderie enamel label together with the intriguing wine auction poster provide a fascinating glimpse into the past.
References: Thanks to Dr. R. Wells, drrwells.com Enamel Wine Labels
With thanks to Suekatunda for permission to include the photo of the Christie’s poster.
These beautiful late 18th Century enamel labels for Cyprus wine illustrate that the wine industry has a long and elegant history.
Late 18th Century enamel labels for Cyprus wines, courtesy of Dr. R Wells
The four enamel labels most likely are for Commandaria wine, which is a Cyprus sweet dessert wine, sometimes fortified but always with a high alcohol level. The label marked Malvoisie de Chipre refers to ancient grape varieties, known as malvoisie, used for dessert wines. Commandaria wine dates back to approximately 800 BC and was popular during the time of the Crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries and subsequently exported widely within Europe.
I wrote about Commandaria wine in a 2013 blog and described it as follows:
‘As a fortified wine, Commandaria travelled well and was exported throughout Europe. It was popular in England, for example, not only in the 13th century but later and was a favourite of the Tudor Kings including King Henry V111.
Commandaria is made only in a defined region of 14 wine producing villages in the Troodos foothills about 20 miles north of Limassol. The wine production for Commandaria has remained true to traditional methods. The production is small and it maintains its ranking among the world’s classic wines. In 1993, the European Union registered Commandaria as a protected name and geographic origin.
Commandaria is regarded as an eastern mediterranean equivalent of its western mediterranean cousins, Port and Sherry. We found it had both similar and different characteristics and was more refreshing and lighter with higher acidity. ‘
For a fuller description of this fortified wine please look at my earlier blog post:
The various spellings of Cyprus on the four enamels in the photograph suggest a robust export of Cyprus wines in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Chypre is the french spelling for Cyprus and this label is early French in origin and the Chipre and Malvoisie de Chipre are early English. The Cyprus label is more recent.
2020 will surely be remembered as an extraordinarily difficult year for wine makers. From my conversations with several over the years, including members of Confrèries, I realize that they are used to overcoming a variety of challenges including weather, soil and pest conditions as well as market changes. This year they have again demonstrated their ability to tackle a new challenge with innovation and creativity.
These exquisite and historic Cyprus enamel labels, shown courtesy of Dr. Richard Wells, help to remind us of the longevity and resilience of the wine making industry and the pleasure it brings to so many people: past, present and future.
I wish all wine makers and their families everywhere a successful year in 2021.
Happy New Year!
Reference: http://www.drrwells.com Enamel Wine Labels: refer to Dr Well’s blog for a full description of enamel labels.
The sense of wonder I feel when I look at antique mosaics made in Roman times; around the 2nd Century AD or about 1,800 years ago, and that they have survived,
The artistry in the designs, whether geometric, non figurative or figurative – which still appeal to the modern viewer and are influential in today’s decorative styles,
The craftsmanship in making polychromatic illustrations from tiny cubes – 1 cm each side – of natural stone (called tesserae); usually limestone or marble of different colours which remain as vibrant today as the day the stones were laid. In particular, the skill in applying the stones to the mosaic design in such a way as to provide perspective, texture, and nuance of colour, size and scale,
The size of either floor or wall mosaics, which provide the opportunity to tell a story in stone; reflecting contemporary interests in nature, flora and fauna, spectacle, myths, gods and goddesses,
The way in which mosaics inform us about the lifestyle, the social and economic standing of the people who lived so long ago in houses and communities decorated in such beautiful ways; where beauty was a value they appreciated.
In other words, antique mosaics are masterpieces of the ancient world.
In today’s world, Sharen Taylor is inspired to help people appreciate the mosaic art form and also create mosaics with modern materials. While this is her focus, her creative approach is grounded in the depth and breadth of her knowledge and experience of art history and archeological conservation that she brings to her modern expression of an ancient art.
Illustrations of Mosaics made by Sharen
Sharen Taylor with her mosaics
Sharen making us coffee in her studio
Sharen Taylor in her studio demonstrating how to cut tesserae
Sharen graduated from Exeter University with a BA in Fine Arts with a specialty in sculpture. An interest in antiquities and conservation work led her to a job with the British Museum in London. While working there, she was sponsored for a Diploma in Archeological Conservation at the Institute of Archeology, London University.
Coming to Cyprus in 1987, she worked on the excavation work at Lemba, near Paphos. She conducted the conservation work on the cult bowl and figurines found at Kissonerga, which are on permanent display at the Archeological Museum in Nicosia. During a recent visit to that museum, I took this photograph, thinking how fortunate I am to know the person who did the conservation work on these important artifacts dating back over 4,000 years.
The Lemba cult bowl and figurines on which Sharen conducted conservation work. On display at the Cyprus Archaeological Museum, Nicosia
Following this exciting work, Sharen stayed on in Cyprus and worked for the Department of Antiquities as a consultant, including with the Leventis Museum, focusing on metal work and mediaeval pottery. She also worked for various foreign missions coming to Cyprus on archeological expeditions. Through this work, Sharen joined the Getty Conservation Institute as a Consultant and Coordinator for Site Conservation training, which focused on conservation on site; important for the integrity of archeological expeditions. Because of Cyprus’s location at the centre of the Eastern Mediterranean with major archeological finds throughout this geographic area, site conservation training was centred in Cyprus.
Sharen’s professional interest shifted to mosaics when she was asked to conduct a historical survey of the wine harvest mosaic in the atrium of the House of Dionysius at the Nea Pafos Archeological Site, a World Heritage Site, adjacent to the Paphos old Port. She analyzed each stone in that mosaic! In this photo, she shows her detailed mapping and analysis of those mosaics.
Sharen explains the historical analysis she conducted of the Roman wine harvest mosaics at the House of Dionysius, Paphos Archeological Park.
Sharen presented her findings at a conference of the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics in Arles, France in 1999.
She started her mosaic workshop in 2000 and moved to the beautiful, light and airy new building in the Hani Ibrahim Khan Centre near the Municipal Market in Paphos in 2018. As soon as we entered to workshop to meet with Sharen, I could feel the good energy there. She focuses on commissions for organizations and private individuals and also teaches children and adults mosaic making, which is how I first became aware of her work.
Coincidentally, in 2013, I wrote about the wine harvest mosaics in a series of 5 posts about Cyprus in which I made the connection between my interest in wine expressed through my wine blog and the wine harvest mosaics! ( See: Cyprus Wine Making – the ancient world meets the 21st Century: Part One)
Earlier in this post, I outlined the main reasons that ancient mosaics fascinate me.
A visit to the Nea Pafos Archeological Site illustrates all these aspects. Each time I visit Cyprus, I take time to enjoy these mosaics, both those in the open air and those in the various excavated houses, including the House of Dionysius, where the wine harvest mosaics pave the atrium.
Nea Pafos Archeological Site, Paphos
Imagine welcoming guests to your house if you were the prosperous citizen of Paphos living in this Roman villa. Your guests would admire these and other mosaic illustrations as they walked across the floor.
Sometimes, I wish I could be a time traveller to quietly observe these scenes!
Any visitor to the Nea Pafos Archeological Site is privileged to be able to see these world heritage mosaics in situ.
Prior to the 1960’s, geometric and non-figurative mosaics were frequently considered of little importance. Generally, there has been ongoing deterioration and loss of mosaics. There was a view that there are so many antique mosaics in the Mediterranean region where mosaics are numerous that conservation wasn’t important.
Now there is recognition that cultural heritage is increasingly threatened by rapidly changing physical and geopolitical currents around the world and this emphasizes the need to protect antique sites.
Under the authority of the Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus, systematic excavations started at Neo Pafos in 1962. In 1980, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. Nea Pafos continues as a centre of excavation and research by many foreign archeological missions from universities and schools.
As mentioned previously, Sharen presented her paper on the Paphos wine harvest mosaics at The International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM) Conference in 1999, entitled: Mosaics, Conserve to Display. The ICCM, founded in Rome in 1977, is a voluntary organization registered in Cyprus as a legal entity. Their role and objectives are, “promoting the broader evolution in the philosophy and practice of heritage conservation in the field of mosaics”. It is an organization that brings together conservators, archeologists, art historians and architects. I am grateful to Sharen for making me aware of this organization and its work.
Experiencing antique mosaics connects us to the ancient past at various levels: physical, emotional and at the level of beliefs and values through the stories they tell and the designs they illustrate.
Sharen Taylor, through her knowledge, experience and creativity pays that cultural heritage forward by teaching children to appreciate and create mosaics. The Hani Ibrahim Khan colourful and imaginative wall mosaic created by children with aged 7 – 11 is a great illustration of this.
Past, present and future: the cultural tradition of mosaics continues…
Mosaic made by children aged 7-11 years for the opening of the new Centre in Paphos.
Sharen Taylor Mosaics, 15 To Hani Ibraham Khan, 40 Konstantinou Kanari Paphos
Accessible Website via Facebook Google Sharen Taylor Mosaics.
Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus www.mcw.gov.cy see this site for lots of relevant information including the Neo Paphos Archeological Park
International Committee for Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM)
By chance, I am at Westminster Abbey in London on Saturday, November 9th around noon, meeting some school friends. We come across all the small cross memorials for the individual fallen service men and women from British, Commonwealth and Allied forces. We follow the long line of people and hear many languages spoken softly as everyone quietly absorbs the reality of loss of life and reads the names and messages on the crosses. In particular, I look for the Fallen of Canada.
Memorial for the Fallen of Canada, Westminster Abbey grounds, 2019
An open air service takes place and when it ends, I notice the number of young men and women wearing their service medals. Overhearing snippets of conversation, I hear people remember their colleagues who died in service and how they will soon go and raise a glass in their honour and memory.
Westminster Abbey 2019
Westminster Abbey 2019
Westminster Abbey 2019
Words feel inadequate. It’s a solemn and important occasion that touches the heart.
References: Lest we forget Phrase used in an 1897 poem by Rudyard Kipling called “Recessional”.
The Isle of Wight (IOW) s one of my favourite places in Great Britain. I love being by the sea and there’s lots of opportunity for that on this island off the south coast of England.
View from Colwell Bay, IOW
We arrive by ferry from Lymington. After a 40 minute mini cruise during which we meander past the Lymington Yatch Haven with the many sailboat masts gently swaying in the breeze, we cross the strait and reach the Isle of Wight.
Ferry arriving at Lymington from Yarmouth
We dock at Yarmouth, where we visit the 16th Century Yarmouth Castle, one of King Henry V111’s defensive castles built to protect England from invasions from the Continent (!)
Yarmouth Castle, 16C with Tudor Royal Coat of Arms above.
History of Yarmouth Castle
We’ve come to spend a few restful days on the Island and have no expectations other than chilling out in the relaxed atmosphere of a place that seems moored to an earlier, less frenetic era. Part of the chilling out process is to enjoy seafood at The Hut at Colwell Bay and also to explore Isle of Wight history by visiting Queen Victoria’s seaside home at Osborne House in East Cowes.
The Hut at Colwell Bay is our gastronomic beachside destination located right on the edge of the sea. We visit several times! Sitting out on the deck enjoying the view is all part of the pleasure of the place. Lobster, sea bass, crayfish, prawn, hake: it’s all freshly available.
The Hut seafood restaurant, Colwell Bay, IOW
Lunch at The Hut, Colwell Bay, IOW
The Hut features rosé wine, which they like to offer in large bottles such as magnums and jeroboams!
Enjoying provençal rosé at The Hut
If Miraval Rosé Côtés de Provence rings a bell, it may be because it is owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in partnership with the Perrin family. It’s not clear if this ownership structure is still the case. It’s a crisp and dry wine with a good rating among the top 10 rosés from the area. Côtes de Provence is the largest appellation of Provence wine in south-eastern France. 80% of Côtés de Provence wine is rosé and the relevant grapes are Grenache and Cinsaut, standard for the area.
Domaine de Saint Mitre Rosé Côteaux Varois is highly rated as a dry rosé and is a blend of Syrah which gives the wine structure and colour with Grenache and Cinsaut which add the aromatics. This is a classic Provençal blend of grape varieties that work well together. Côteaux Varois is a key Provençal appellation in the far south eastern area of France.
Rosé is now such a cool and crisp characteristic of summer gatherings of families and friends and seems more popular than ever.
To follow up on our interest in local history, one day we drive to East Cowes to explore Island royal history.
Queen Victoria, on the British throne from 1837 to 1901, made Osborne House in East Cowes her seaside home with Prince Albert and their children. Prince Albert died in 1861 and Queen Victoria continued to visit Osborne for the rest of her reign and died there in 1901.
Osborne House was built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert between 1845 and 1851 by the famous British builder Thomas Cubitt, whose company also built the main façade of Buckingham Palace in 1847. The grand design of the house in the style of an Italian Renaissance Palazzo was the brainchild of Prince Albert.
Visitors can tour the house, walled garden and other parts of the property. I enjoy seeing the private sitting room which the Queen shared with Prince Albert with adjoining desks and from where she wrote her diary and much of her voluminous correspondence. The walled garden also celebrates their relationship with entwined initials part of the garden trellis.
There’s a lot to explore!
One of the façades of Osborne House, East Cowes
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s sitting room/study at Osborne House where the Queen did much of her writing.
Walled garden at Osborne House, East Cowes, showing V and A initials on trellis
Another view of the walled garden at Osborne House, East Cowes
We leave the Isle of Wight after a few days feeling refreshed by the sea air and slower pace of life. Perfect for a summer pause.
Sketch of Totland Bay
References: The Hut at Colwell Bay firstname.lastname@example.org
Osborne House, East Cowes, IOW Managed as a tourist venue by English Heritage: english-heritage.org.uk/osborne
Walking through Green Park in central London, between Piccadilly and the Mall – think Buckingham Palace – I discover an elegant, powerful yet somber memorial to Canadians and Newfoundlanders who fought alongside their British compatriots in the First and Second World Wars.
Canada Memorial, Green Park, London, made of Canadian Shields Granite with maple leaves in bronze.
I’ve walked through Green Park many times over the years. For whatever reason I have not discovered this memorial before made of Canadian Shields granite, water and bronze maple leaves. It radiates a sense of calm underneath a canopy of horse chestnut trees.
The description of the memorial says:
”Designed by Canadian sculptor, Pierre Grenache and unveiled by Her Majesty The Queen in 1994, this memorial pays tribute to the nearly one million Canadian and Newfoundland men and women who came to the United Kingdom to serve during the First and Second World Wars. In particular it honours the more than 100,000 brave Canadians and Newfoundlanders who made the ultimate sacrifice for peace and freedom.
The monument, made of polished red granite from the Canadian Shield is inset with bronze maple leaves arranged in a windswept pattern. Set at an incline.”
A quick catch up on Canadian history explains why the description differentiates between Canadians and Newfoundlanders. Newfoundland joined the Canadian Federation in 1949, four years after the end of World War 11. As the description also states, the military forces going to join the two world wars left from the port of Halifax in Newfoundland.
The easiest way to find this monument which hugs the ground, is to locate the Canada Gate, which is marked on London maps showing Green Park. If you are facing Buckingham Palace, the Canada Gate is on your right towards Piccadilly. The monument is ahead.
Canada Gate, The Mall, London
Canada Gate, The Mall, London
I find this memorial very moving, particularly as we approach the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings, centred around the date of invasion, 6 June, known as D-Day.
Another opportunity to walk through Green Park presents itself when I stand in line outside Buckingham Palace to photograph the formal announcement of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s baby. Lots of young people are queuing, excited to be in London outside the gates of the Palace and connecting in some way to Prince Harry and Megan’s baby. On this particular day, it is a public holiday that day, so schools are out!
The formal announcement placed outside Buckingham Palace to announce the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s baby.
The line up outside Buckingham Palace to read -and photograph – the formal birth announcement. I joined the queue!
We take advantage of this time in London to catch up with some friends for lunch at one of the Côte Restaurants; known for good value and convenient locations. The one we eat at being near Trafalgar Square. Imagine our delight at discovering a Bergerac Region wine on their list! Needless to say this is what we order and all enjoy. It is a classic Bergerac white wine blend made from mainly Sauvignon Blanc with Semillon grapes. Both varieties well established in South West France. The refreshing acidity and citrus flavours makes this aromatic dry wine an excellent pairing with our fish entrée. Château Laulerie, part of the Vignobles Dubard operation started in 1977, is situated in the Montravel area of the Bergerac Wine Region. In London, this is competitively priced at an average price of £9 (15.37 C$ or 10.21 Euro).
Château Laulerie, Bergerac Wine Region
Bergerac Wine Region and adjoining wine areas
One of the many things I enjoy about visiting London is the mix of culture, history, food, wine, and events. Always something to engage the spirit and imagination.
References: Chateau Laulerie, vignoblesdubard.com
Canada Memorial – Green Park – The Royal Parks www.royalparks.org.uk
Looking at these beautiful silver condiment labels, I wonder about their history. “What is their history?”; ” Who used them and where? “Tell me more…”
Oude sauce label made in 1841
These sauce labels are part of a wine and sauce label collection managed by the Hampshire Cultural Trust in collaboration with the Allen Gallery in Alton in Hampshire and were viewed in October. I wrote the story of the Bronte wine Label in my last post.
Allen Gallery, Alton, Hampshire
Silver labels for sauces, herbs and spices such as those illustrated for Tarragon, Oude, Cherokee, Cayenne, Anchovy were made by silversmiths in the 18th and 19th centuries in England to be used to identify the contents of glass condiment bottles on the dining tables of the growing middle class in Britain.
Of those shown, the Tarragon label was made in1798, the Cherokee label made in 1780 and the Oude label made in 1841. We know this because the hallmarks on each label identify the date in recognized and regulated letter code.
Tarragon label made in 1798
Anchovy, Cayenne and Cherokee silver labels
Apart from the craftsmanship demonstrated in the making of these single pieces of silver, these sauce, herb and spice labels represent different approaches to cuisine in this period of history and the diversity that came from their origins.
Herbs such as Tarragon, one of the four herbs named as “fine herbes” (parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives) was home grown and was, and is, used in classical French cuisine. Spices were more exotic and imported from many areas of the world and brought different culinary inspiration. Both approaches to cuisine represent the march of history, global exploration and the corresponding impact on cuisine.
The history goes back a long way, including ancient times. More recently Marco Polo, the great Venetian 13th century explorer mentions spices in his travel memoirs. He wrote about sesame oil in Afghanistan, he described plantings of pepper, nutmegs, cloves in Java and cinnamon, pepper and ginger on the coastal area of India.
When Christopher Columbus set out on his second voyage in 1493, he revisited the West Indes and Americas, still hoping to go on to China, and brought back red pepper spices and allspice.
All the sea-faring exploration, military actions and colonization around the world over many centuries affected food tastes and cooking styles when people returned to their home countries with their new found food and flavour experiences..
The availability and access to spices in particular was often a function of economic wealth. For example, the price of pepper served as a barometer for European business well being in general.
As is always the case, language reflects culture and how people live. The phrase “peppercorn rent’, an expression used today to indicate a nominal amount, reflects the fact that pepper was used as a currency to pay taxes, tolls and rent. Similarly, in 1393, a German price list identified that a pound weight of nutmeg was worth seven fat oxen!
Researching sauce names reveals some interesting information! I found Cherokee recipes from the southern United States referring to chicken recipes with chilies. Béarnaise Sauce, the famous tarragon flavoured derivative sauce of Hollandaise, was referenced in 1836 culinary materials.
Oude was more difficult to track down. I did find a reference to a Crosse and Blackwell’s Oude Sauce used in a sausage pudding recipe from the 1800s. Crosse and Blackwell, a British company making sauces since 1706, no longer make this sauce although they continue to make other condiment products.
Oude sauce has also been referred to as King of Oude sauce. For example, an 1861 list of supplies included Crosse and Blackwell sauces: Essence of Anchovies, and King of Oude sauce, as well as Lee and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce, Mushroom Catsup etc.
Looking further into the Oude reference, my research indicates that the Oudh State (also known as Kingdom of Oudh, or Awadh State) was a princely state in the Awadh region of North India until 1858. Oudh, the now obsolete but once official English-language name of the state, also written historically as Oude, derived from the name of Ayodhya.
Joining the dots, I assume then that Oude Sauce would be spicy in a Northern Indian cuisine style, possibly with spices such as chilies, cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, coriander.
Sauce recipes, then as now, are typically not divulged.. While the ingredients for the generic Worcestershire sauce are known and include such items as barley malt vinegar, molasses, anchovies, tamarind extract, garlic, spices, which may include cloves, soy, lemons, the precise recipe for Lee and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce from 1835 is still a closely guarded secret after more than 200 years. Tabasco Sauce, another well-loved spicy condiment, has been made in Louisiana in the United States since 1868 by the same family business. The spice business and extraction of flavours from herbs and spices has been commercially active since the 18th century in line with the illustrated sauce labels.
McCormick is another maker of condiments in the United States that has been in this business since 1889. The company has established a McCormick Science Institute (MSI). “The MSI research program sponsors research which is focussed on advancing the scientific study of the health enhancing properties of culinary herbs and spices in areas which are considered to have the potential to impact public health. MSI released a research paper in March 2018 identifying how herbs and spices increase the liking and preference for vegetables among rural high school students.” Marco Polo and other early explorers would be pleased!
Thinking about the silver sauce labels on the condiment bottles on the 18th and 19th century dining tables, I wonder about the wine selection in those days to accompany foods using these sauces, especially the spicy ones.
No doubt the advice would be similar to that offered today. For example, with a curry dish, I might consider a chilled white wine such as pinot gris or perhaps a gewürztraminer: among rosé wines, I might consider a lightly chilled wine, but not too floral, a Côte de Province appellation comes to mind. Among red wine choices, considering a lighter red wine and staying away from too tannic a wine would be a good idea to complement the spicy notes of the food. Côte du rhône, Gigondas come to mind or perhaps an Alsace Pinot Noir. I could apply these considerations to wines from other parts of the world in making a choice of wine to accompany a spicy food dish.
Viewing these 18th and 19th century silver sauce labels opened up a Pandora’s box of questions for me, as the unknown name of Oude particularly caught my eye. So much history and information evoked by a small, beautiful example of silver craftsmanship from over 200 years ago.
References: websites for: McCormick and the McCormick Science Institute, Hampshire Cultural Trust/Allen Gallery, British Library. Christopher-Columbus.eu, Lee and Perrin, Crosse and Blackwell, Tabasco.
I love a good story, especially one that involves wine! Who would have thought I would stumble across a story that involves not only wine but Sicily and the British naval hero, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson when visiting the Allen Gallery in Alton, Hampshire a couple of weeks ago.
Bronte silver wine label, made by Reilly and Storer, London, 1830
It all began as I looked at a silver wine label marked “Bronte”…
This label is part of a wine and sauce label collection managed by Hampshire Cultural Trust in collaboration with the Allen Gallery.
Allen Gallery, Alton, Hampshire
Silver and enamel wine and sauce labels were used in the 18th and 19th centuries by the growing middle class in England when wine was decanted from barrels into glass decanters and the identity of the wine was described by a silver label. Condiments or sauces for food were also served in glass jars or bottles and similarly labelled.
So what is the connection between this Bronte silver wine label, Sicily and Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson?
The latter part of the 17th century and early 18th century was the time of the Napoleonic Wars (1793 – 1815) between Britain and France and involving many other nations in Europe. It was a time of major land and sea battles, which are still commemorated.
The Napoleonic Wars ended with the great victory of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. The Napoleonic Wars include the mighty naval battles of the Nile (Aboukir Bay) and Trafalgar under the leadership of Admiral Nelson. It is the history of Nelson that relates to our Bronte wine label.
As part of the naval battles in the Mediterranean, Nelson protected Naples from the French. At the time, Naples was incorporated into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies of which Ferdinand 1st was King. In 1799, King Ferdinand rewarded Nelson’s services to his kingdom by granting him a title of Sicilian nobility, the Duke of Bronte together with an estate in Bronte, an agricultural area in the shadow of the volcanic Mount Etna.
Bronte community in the shadow of Mount Etna, Sicily
A famous wine from Sicily is Marsala, a fortified wine similar to sherry which became popular in Britain in the 18th century. This popularity was partly due to the trading activities of the 18th Century importer John Woodhouse and the British Royal Navy, which became a big consumer of Marsala wine. Vice Admiral Lord Nelson used Marsala as the official wine ration for sailors under his command. A manuscript exists, dated March 19, 1800, and carrying the signature of the importer John Woodhouse and the Duke of Bronte, Nelson’s Sicilian title, stipulating the supply of 500 barrels, each with a capacity of the equivalent of 500 litres for the fleet stationed in Malta.
After Nelson’s victories, especially at Trafalgar and his death there, Nelson was held in great esteem by the British people for saving Britain from possible invasion. Many landmarks were created in his name, including Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square in London.
The British people were keen to taste the wine that had so fortified Nelson and his sailors’ spirits in battle and this added to its popularity.
Back to the wine label marked “Bronte”. This fine piece of craftsmanship was made in London by the silver makers Reilly and Storer in 1830. It was just fifteen years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The label would have been used on a decanter of Marsala wine, possibly produced on the Bronte estate in Sicily or elsewhere on the Island but called Bronte in recognition of Nelson’s Sicilian title.
The Bronte estate remained in Nelson’s line of descendants, now called Nelson-Hood until 1981 when the last remaining lots of land were sold to the Municipality of Bronte. There remains a Nelson Museum in the town of Bronte, which is now known for its pistachio nut harvests and the delicacies made from them..
Marsala wine is grown in the region DOC Marsala in Sicily and produced from three white wine varieties. It is a fortified wine usually containing around 17 % ALC – alcohol by volume. The ‘in perpetuum’ process used to make the fortified wine is similar to the solera process used for Sherry produced in Jerez, Spain, in which old wines are blended with new wines and the barrels never emptied. Marsala wines are classified on an eight-point scale according to their colour, sweetness and duration of their ageing. Usually served as an aperitif, Marsala can also be served with a cheese course. It is often used in cooking and this is how I remember it being used by my Mother. Dry Marsala is used in savoury cooking. One of the most popular savoury Marsala recipes is chicken Marsala. Sweet Marsala is used in the preparation of delicious desserts such as tiramisu and zabaglione.
Every story has an ending. Our story about the Bronte wine label ends with our visit later that same day to Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, about two miles from Alton.
Jane Austen’s house, Chawton, Hampshire
For most of Jane Austen’s ( 1775 – 1817 ) life, Britain was at war with many countries including America, France, Spain, and others, including the Napoleonic Wars. Many of her books include characters with a naval or army background. While jokingly hoping to see Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice fame walk through the garden in Chawton, we did in all seriousness read the stories of Jane Austen’s brothers, who both rose to a high rank in the Royal Navy and were contemporaries and admirers of Admiral Nelson.
The Herculaneum Funerary Dish which commemorates the death of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson
A fitting end to our visit was to see on display in Jane Austen’s house, the Herculaneum Funerary Dish in memory of Admiral Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte, immortalized for me in that silver Bronte wine label.
Victoria, British Columbia offers that mix of Western Canadian history and urban charm itself. This is why we enjoy our summertime visits there so much.
Iconic Empress Hotel, Victoria
Munro’s Books, Victoria
Elegant 19C architecture: Union Club, Victoria
Rogers Chocolates : Delicious chocolates since 1885
Only in Canada: moose humour
Inner harbour, Victoria
Captain Cook who sailed into Nootka Sound in 1778 with MidShipman George Vancouver
These photos represent all the things we look forward to when visiting Victoria: browsing and buying books at Munro’s books, always a highlight of our visits; sampling delicious chocolates at Roger’s Chocolates, and generally taking in all the small town charm of British Columbia’s capital city. Each visit, I re-read the history of the early explorers on the statues around the inner harbour; quite often there is a seagull perched on Captain James Cook’s head.
On our most recent visit in June we discovered a restaurant new to us: 10 Acre Kitchen, one of three 10 Acre restaurants in downtown Victoria. This enterprise offers local farm to table imaginative cuisine and serves interesting wine. A definite recommendation for future visits.
We enjoyed beet salads and Dungeness crab cakes – light and delicious with a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend white wine from Lock and Worth Winery in Penticton, British Columbia; also new to us!
10 Acre restaurants in Victoria BC
Lock and Worth Winery, BC : a new discovery
Lock and Worth Winery: Sauvignon blanc and semillon
I particularly enjoy this Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend. To me, this is the classic Bordeaux White wine blend that I am familiar with in SW France. It’s another opportunity to think about the wine related connections between SW France and Western Canada! What I enjoy about this blend and find very drinkable is that the Semillon gives depth and gravitas to the acidity of the Sauvignon blanc. At Lock and Worth, the winemakers produce wine that is un-fined and un-filtered so the wine is slightly cloudy. The winemakers say they make wines without pretense and this approach is behind their plain label bottles I will definitely plan to visit this winery on a future visit to the Okanagan Valley and taste more of their wines.
It’s always fun to discover new restaurants and wines and incorporate those experiences into familiar venues. I am looking forward to a return visit already!
References: 10Acres.ca Group of restaurants, Victoria BC
lockandworth.com. Lock and Worth Winery, Penticton BC
It’s mid November, on a cool yet hazy, sunny day when we navigate our way through Pessac on the outskirts of the city of Bordeaux to find the entrance gates of Chateau Haut-Brion. We have a 3.00 p.m. appointment for a visit to the wine estate.
Chateau Haut-Brion, looking out to the vines, Pessac, Bordeaux
The whisper of history murmurs to us as we enter the Chateau Haut-Brion driveway. Saying nothing, we listen to the echoes of nearly five centuries since wine has been made at Chateau Haut-Brion. Wine has been produced on this land for centuries before that. Before finding our way to the parking area, we stop and take photos of gnarled vines in their closely planted rows.
November scene, vines at Chateau Haut-Brion
Gnarled vine at Chateau Haut-Brion
The whisper of history tell us that:
In 1533, Jean de Pontac, by purchasing an existing noble house in Haut Brion united it with the vine growing land, leading to the birth of the Chateau Haut-Brion.
In 1660 – 1661, the cellar records of King Charles the Second of England, who was known to be a bon-viveur extraordinaire, note 169 bottles of “ Vin de Hubriono” (sic) are held for guests at the royal table.
In 1663, Samuel Pepys, the famous English diarist, wrote that he had drunk at the Royal Oak Tavern in London: “…I drank a sort of French wine called Ho-Bryan (sic) which had an especially good taste that I had never encountered before. “
In the 17th century, writers were commenting on the nature of the soil in the area of “white sand with gravel” and the particulars of the terroir.
In 1787, the American Ambassador to the French Court, Thomas Jefferson, later the third President of the United States, visited Chateau Haut-Brion. A wine connoisseur, he also commented on the nature of the gravelly terroir. In his writings, he identified four great wine houses of the area including Chateau Haut-Brion. In this, he anticipated the identification of Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Lafite, Chateau LaTour and Chateau Margaux in the official classification system of 1855, as Premiers Grands Crus wines of the Gironde. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was reclassified to Premier Grand Cru in 1973 and added to the prestigious list.
Chateau Haut-Brion changed hands several times during the centuries. There is an apocryphal story about one of the owners in the Pontac family in the 17th Century. It is said that he lived to over 100 years, an age almost unheard of at that time. This gentleman attributed his longevity to his daily glass of Chateau Haut-Brion!
The present owners since 1935 are the Dillon family. The current head of the Domaine Dillon is Prince Robert of Luxembourg, who is a great grandson of Clarence Dillon, the New York financier and purchaser of the property. Since the purchase, the family has invested significantly in the property through a program of continuous renovation, innovation and improvement both to the historic chateau building and to the winery facilities.
Entrance Hall at Chateau Haut-Brion and portrait of Clarence Dillon
On this particular November afternoon, after ringing the intercom bell at the visitor entrance, our guide, who was informative about the estate and interested in our visit, joins us. Following an introduction to the past and present owners through the medium of their portraits, we are given a detailed look at the topography of the vineyard and its proximity to the neighbouring estate, also owned by the Dillon family, which is Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion; a story for another time.
During our visit, the wine making process is explained to us. At Haut-Brion, our guide explains, traditional approaches are employed while at the same time using modern and efficient equipment with a program of regular reinvestment and improvement. For any aspiring wine maker, an opportunity to work at Haut Brion would seem a great privilege. My impression is that wine making at a wine estate with such a historical context would be more a vocation than an occupation.
The Cuvier or vat room at Chateau Haut-Brion
The Chai at Chateau Haut-Brion where young wine is aged in barrels
One of the things that I appreciate at Chateau Haut-Brion is that it has its own cooperage service or barrel maker on site. Supporting and fostering these artisanal skills such as barrel making in the wine industry is important for their continuation. This on-site barrel-making workshop is “the fruit of a partnership between Haut-Brion and Séguin Moreau” and has been in place since 1991.
The barrel making workshop at Chateau Haut-Brion
All wine starts with the soil in the vineyards, the selection and management of the vines and the choice of particular varieties for individual parcels of land. The high standard of care of these vineyards to produce grand cru wines has been consistent over the centuries.
The conclusion of most wine tours is to taste the wines produced on the property and our afternoon at Haut-Brion is no different. We are guided to the 18th century Orangerie, which was renovated in 2001 and is used as the tasting room.
The Orangerie at Chateau Haut-Brion
We are offered the 2011 vintage wines, which our guide tells us, are just being opened now. Haut-Brion records indicate that 2011 was a very good year for their wine. It was the driest year registered since 1949. With enough rain in the summer to allow the vines to work their magic, the harvest took place from August 31 to September 27. All this data and more are recorded by Chateau Haut-Brion and available for review.
Tasting the 2011 Chateau Haut-Brion
The typical blend of grape varieties in the red wine at Haut-Brion is Cabernet Sauvignon 45%, Cabernet Franc 15% and Merlot 40%. These wines are created for laying down and building a cellar for future enjoyment. The Haut-Brion recommended life of the 2011 vintage is from 2020 to 2035. In 2017, we are tasting this wine in its teenage years; in the process of ageing and developing its full expression of the terroir and all the wine making expertise that has gone into its production.
Standing in the Orangerie, tasting these magnificent wines and looking out at the garden and the old Chateau itself, has to be a memorable wine moment. So much so that when I look back, I remember hearing the whisper of history and at the same time, tasting the richness of the red wine, the deep black fruit, the chocolate aromas with developing smoked tones and that sensation of enjoying a beautifully crafted wine.
A December 2017 article in the British weekly magazine, Spectator, written by their wine writer, Bruce Anderson, summed up this sentiment well when he wrote about “wines of a lifetime.” Coincidentally, in that article he also refers to a Chateau Haut-Brion wine, in that case a 1959 vintage that he enjoyed with a friend.
In preparing to leave, we thank our guide for our visit.
For me, the visit to Chateau Haut-Brion will be up there in my list of chateaux visits of a lifetime.
Bordeaux wine areas – see Graves and Pessac-Leognan and Saint Emilion
Note: A point of appellation detail: Chateau Haut-Brion retains its 1855 Premier Grand Cru classification although it is not in the Medoc area. It is in the Pessac Leognan appellation, which was previously part of the Graves appellation. (See the attached map of Bordeaux and the Neighbouring Regions.)
Not in the same way I like dogs and not as pets. More as a metaphor for Cyprus as I remember it when I first starting visiting 16 years ago. Then goats sometimes jumped into our garden, which was on the edge of farmland and goats were herded between pastures near us. Goats and sometimes sheep were a common sight but less so now. The sound of their bells is a wonderful auditory memory.
Goats grazing in Cyprus
“There are two goats in the garden!” I remember exclaiming, being quite startled and delighted at the same time.
The mountain sheep, called a Mouflon, is a protected animal that technically is a sub species of the wild sheep called Ovis Ories but looks more like a goat to me. It is the emblem of Vouni Winery, situated near the village of Panayia, which is our destination for the day of sightseeing with friends visiting from Switzerland. The Vouni Winery bottle labels all feature a distinctive image of the Moufflon.
Mouflon are important because they are an endangered species, rarely seen. The Cyprus Mouflon, also called Agrino, is found mainly in the Paphos Forest, which is an area adjacent to Panayia.
From Paphos on the southwest coast, the drive to Panayia is all-uphill as we climb the foothills of the Troodos Mountains to 1000 metres, increasingly among loosely woven pine forests so different to the seemingly impenetrable wall of west coast forests in British Columbia.
We decide to show our visiting friends a different perspective of Cyprus, away from the usual attractions of beaches and archeological remains, beautiful and interesting as they are.
Vouni Winery, a family run enterprise, makes both red and white wines including Alina, from Xynisteri grapes and a recent red wine discovery for us, Barba Yiannis, made from Maratheftiko red grapes. Both Xynisteri and Maratheftiko grapes are indigenous grape varieties. Vouni Winery makes wines from other indigenous grapes such as Promara and Spourtiko white varieties and Yiannoudi and Ntopio Mavro red varieties.
Together with several other Cyprus wineries, Vouni Winery is steadily gaining greater recognition for its wines, including winning several awards and the only gold medal for Cyprus wines at the Decanter Wines of the World 2016 competition.
Vouni Winery benefits from a unique high altitude terroir in the shadow of the Troodos Mountains. Xynisteri grapes seem particularly well suited to the high altitude and produce a white wine of floral and fruity aromas, minerality and enough acidity to make it refreshing. The Vouni Alina wine from Xynisteri is one of our favourite white wines in Cyprus. The Barba Yiannis red wine is made from Maratheftiko, which is generally regarded as the best red wine variety in Cyprus. This wine is another of our Cyprus wine favourites: a rich wine with soft tannins, so it’s easy to enjoy with its aromas of cherries and black chocolate. Something I particularly appreciate at Vouni Winery is that the back labels on the wine bottles provide all details of the wine production.
Award winning Xynisteri white wine from Vouni Winery
Xynisteri wine from Vouni Winery in Panayia
Barba Yiannis from Maratheftiko grapes
The entrance to Vouni Winery, Panayia, Cyprus
Leaving Vouni to drive into Panayia village, we see signs for the birthplace and childhood home of Archbishop Macharios (1913-1977), the first President of the independent Republic of Cyprus from 1960 until his death in 1977. The opportunity to visit these places is an added bonus of local history as we haven’t realized or maybe we have forgotten that Panayia was the birthplace of Archbishop Macharios.
We park the car and first enter the small museum to Archbishop Macharios and see a collection of many photographs and memorabilia of his remarkable life. Then, we walk around the corner and enter the small courtyard and the house where he was brought up as a young child. Evocatively furnished with simple furniture and pottery, the earthen floor and attached animal barn of the stone house speak to the humble early life of this man who rubbed shoulders with world leaders and took his prominent place in the history of Cyprus.
Archbishop Macharios, first President of the independent Republic of Cyprus, outside the Macharios Museum, Panayia.
The doorway into the courtyard and childhood home of Archbishop Macharios
Archbishop Macharios’ childhood home in Panayia, Cyprus
The family home of Archbishop Macharios
The family home of Archbishop Macharios
Inside the Macharios family home
The door opening into the animal barn: childhood home of President Macharios.
As a young person growing up in the United Kingdom in the 1960’s, I remember hearing Archbishop Marcharios’s name frequently in the news. Little did I imagine that one day I would visit his family home.
Wine tasting and learning about local history always seems to create an appetite!
We adjourn to the nearby Oniro restaurant, which we remember from a visit several years ago. Its early February, cool yet sunny. Perfect winter weather. Wearing sweaters, we sit on the patio and enjoy home made fresh lemonade: an Oniro specialty. We order a meze lunch, meaning a progression of local dishes which are presented as they are made: grilled halloumi, hummous, sun-ripened black olives, pita bread, fava beans in tomato sauce, arugula salad, feta with drizzled olive oil and oregano, aromatic sliced tomatoes, calamari…
Simple, nourishing, healthy: delicious.
At the end of our sightseeing day, we drive back to Paphos the long route, enjoying the seemingly remote countryside on our way. In one area that we pass, I hear that charismatic tinkling, jingling sound of small bells and know a shepherd with his goats and sheep is nearby.
It’s early morning and I am vaguely listening to the CBC news. My concentration is suddenly focused on the announcement of the earthquakes in Italy and the tragic loss of life and destruction of the mediaeval town of Amatrice, north west of Rome.
In my mind, I am visualizing the towns and villages that we saw on our recent trip to Italy and in particular, the area around Cassino, where the famous World War 2 battle of Montecassino took place in 1944.
Frosinone Province, Lazio showing Cassino and Anagni
Modern town of Cassino
Our visit was to pay homage to a relative who died at the battle of Montecassino in 1944 and whose final resting place is in the Cassino War Cemetery.
Cassino War Cemetery
Beneath a clear blue sky, crisp lines of cream coloured gravestones softened with plantings of yellow and red roses stop us in our tracks and bring a lump to our throats. Here lie thousands of young war heroes: their names, biographical and regimental details etched on the gravestones. Small family groups of visitors, like us, quietly walk around the Cemetary, touching the gravestone of their family relative in silent respect. An atmosphere of calm and peacefulness pervades this place which lies in the shadow of the Abbey of Montecassino that is situated on a hill top high above the town of Cassino.
Cassino Cemetery graves
Canadian war graves
Canadian war graves, Cassino
We spend the day with Dr. Danila Bracaglia, a local historian and licensed, professional guide. She is very knowledgeable about the WW2 Italian campaign and we visit relevant areas in the vicinity including the Abbey itself. We feel as though we are re-living the history as we stand in these places and absorb the surroundings of mountainous terrain, valleys, rocks, trees and plants, rivers and bridges and listen to Danila recount details of the campaign.
The view from the Abbey
Abbey of Montecassino from the Gari River
The intense day is followed by a restful stay at a small family run hotel in the middle of Cassino. At dusk, we hear church and Abbey bells ringing out and look up to the Abbey above the town, both completely rebuilt after the war and now very much alive and vibrant.
Abbey of Montecassino
The Abbey from the town of Cassino
Across the street, our hotel in Cassino
The Abbey from our hotel
To regain our equilibrium after our unforgettable pilgrimage, we spend the following day visiting mediaeval towns, including Alatri with the ultimate objective of lunch in Anagni at the Ristorante Del Gallo.
Ristorante del Gallo in the 19th century
Fortunately, our reservation at this family run, generations old restaurant, was booked well in advance. The restaurant is packed with locals for Sunday lunch. We are the only foreigners having lunch there that day. It’s just as we prefer it: no other tourists in sight.
The atmosphere is lighthearted, exuberant, loud with laughter, smiles and warm welcomes and chat in broken Italian and English as we are asked and we respond about where we are from. Vancouver seems a long way away.
We anticipate a good meal accompanied by local wine. The experience doesn’t disappoint and exceeds our expectations for a memorable occasion.
The piece de resistance, the starter course, is the specialty of the Lazio region. It is wheeled out of the kitchen on a waiter’s trolley and taken to each table for examination and appreciation. Il Timballo alla Bonifacio V111, named for a Pope, is a fettuccine based pasta dish enveloped in prosciutto ham. It is prepared and baked in a mould then served upside down and freestanding. The Timballo is irresistible with its aromas of cooked cheese, tomatoes, prosciutto. Inevitably, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs as we enjoy this taste of Lazio, made according to the Ricette TRadizionali. I have looked at a number of Timballo recipes in Italian and have the general idea of what’s involved. At some point, I will make a brave attempt at creating this very Italian dish.
Il Timballo alla Bonifacio V111 is the traditional pasta dish of the area, and Cesanese is the local wine. The grape variety and wine by the same name has its roots deeply planted in this area. Cesanese is indigenous to the Lazio region with very old origins and may have been used by the Romans in their wine making activities. Cesanese wine has long been associated with the ancient town and commune of Anagni where we are having lunch.
Cesanese wine from Lazio
Cesanese Del Piglio
The bottle of Cesanese Del Piglio DOCG, DOCG being the highest classification of Italian wines, is perfect for the occasion. The Cesanese grape variety produces a red wine which we found paired perfectly with the regional food: soft, velvety, light bodied wine yet rich in flavour. A very drinkable and enjoyable wine.
Sadly, winemaking in the Lazio area is in decline due to the urban sprawl. We feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to enjoy Cesanese wine on this visit as it is not readily available outside the area.
When I attempt to make make the Timballo, I will serve it either with a Sangiovese wine since this grape is widely grown in the area or my preference would be a Montepulciano d’Abrozzo DOCG from nearby on the Adriatic coastal area. This wine is made from the Montepulciano grape variety. While each of these wines is generally richer in colour and texture than the Cesanese, I think either would complement the Timballo.
Our time in Cassino visiting the grave of our relative and other war heroes, together with the WW2 sites and the mediaeval towns and villages in the area will always have a special place in our memories. And, how could we forget the Timballo alla Bonifacio V111 accompanied by Cesanese wine?
Back to the present and our historian, Dr Danila Bracaglia emails me that fortunately her family were not in the area of the Italian earthquakes. However, they heard and felt them and knew this would mean tragedy for those involved.
Our thoughts are with those affected by the earthquakes and aftershocks.
I hear the buzz of conversation before I see the people. Mid morning chat is at a gentle hum as people from across London and elsewhere greet each other and settle down to the serious business of a portfolio tasting courtesy of Davy’s Wine Merchants established in 1870.
Davy’s Portfolio Tasting
I have been thinking about historical context quite a bit recently, so I am distracted by considering the age of this business and thinking about what was going on when Davy’s Wine Merchants was established. A time of upheaval and change in Europe with revolutions in the mid century and the unification of Italy a year later. Queen Victoria was well established on the English throne and the Victorian writers: Trollope, Dickens, Elliot, Hardy were writing books that have become classics of English Literature. I admire the skill and tenacity required to build and sustain a business over that length of time: 146 years. Certainly, it speaks to the ongoing public interest in enjoying quality wines.
So back to the business at hand: sampling some of the wines presented by wine producers and/or the Davy’s Team. It’s an impressive sight in the Hall of India and Pakistan at The Royal Over-Seas League house in St. James’s, London. 31 Tables with over 250 wines presented representing all the classic wine growing areas of the Old and New Worlds and developing wine growing areas such as England itself.
It would take a great deal of time to do justice to the large selection of wines at this tasting. After walking around the room and looking at all 31 tables, I resolve that the only way to take advantage of this opportunity is to be selective in my approach.
I taste a number of wines presented by Jean Becker from Alsace in France. Their Pinot Gris 2013, soft, with peach fruit aromas; Gewürztraminer 2013, violets and very floral aromas, Riesling Vendanges Tardives Kronenbourg 2009, smooth, honeyed, acidic, and excellent for sweet and sour dishes.
I move on to Bodegas Miguel Merino Rioja, from Spain and really enjoyed the Miguel Merino Gran Reserva 2008, a beautiful rioja nose on the wine, smooth and long.
Vini Montauto, Maremma, Tuscany
Italian wines from the organic wine producer, Azienda Agricola Montauto, in Maremma, Tuscany are something new and stand out wines for me. Their winemaking philosophy is to make wines that support food, not overpower it. I particularly enjoyed their white wine: Montauto Vermentino Malvasia 2014. There is considerable length to the wine, with deep and balanced fruit aromas. At 13% alc./vol it is a very drinkable wine. Vermentino and Malvasia are grape varieties typical of this area in Tuscany along with Trebbiano and Grechetto. Sauvignon Blanc from neighbouring France has found a natural home in the area too. The Maremma area of Tuscany looks like an area worth visiting for its natural beauty, historical interest and microclimate supporting viticulture and the organic wines themselves.
As a final tasting experience, I can’t resist the Fine Wine Collection hosted by Davy’s staff and in this instance by wine consultant, Martin Everett MW. I look at the line up of wines and notice that a Monbazillac AOC wine, a late harvest botrytized wine from the wider wine region of Bergerac is included; a Monbazillac Chateau Fonmourgues 2009.
Fine Wine Collection
The red wines at this Fine Wine Collection table are Bordeaux classics, both Left and Right Bank.
I focus on the right bank, Pomerol and St. Emilion. Château du Tailhas, Pomerol 2012, located near Château Figeac, and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, Grand Cru St. Emilion. 2006 – a special vintage- and taste these wines.
When I look at my notes, all I write is “ Beautiful”.
It says it all.
When I taste these top of class, prestigious Bordeaux wines with their full and satisfying flavours and aromas, I am always transported back to other occasions when I have enjoyed them.
On this occasion, I think back to 2009 and a visit to both Château Figeac and Château Beau-Séjour Bécot. What struck me at the time was not just the quality of the wine but the accessibility and congeniality of the proprietors, in each case with family members at a multi-generational helm. I remember at Château Figeac, Madame Manoncourt, the co-proprietor with her husband, rushed up to meet us as we were leaving. She had just driven back from Paris, a considerable distance, yet insisted on taking the time to welcome us to the Château. In reading the history of Château Figeac, the Manoncourts were one of the first Châteaux owners many years ago to open their doors to general public or non trade visitors. That sincere interest in the consumer is what good customer relations is all about.
Similarly, at Château Beau-Séjour Bécot, which we also visited in 2009, Monsieur Bécot joined us on our tour of the Château and the cellars and went to great lengths to explain their approach to making their wines.
It’s always the people who make the difference.
Peeling back the onion rings of memory, these experiences make me think of teenage visits to Bordeaux with my parents many, many years ago, when the proprietors always took the time to show us around yet the visits had to booked then by correspondence some time in advance. I remember at that time we visited Château Palmer and Château Margaux among others.
All these thoughts and memories come flooding back as a result of attending the Portfolio Tasting of Davy’s Wine Merchants, an organization with a long history and family lineage.
Enjoying wine, especially excellent wine, is always an evocative experience for me of other times, places and people. It’s a time machine in a bottle.
We’re back in Cyprus, land of mythology, of Aphrodite rising from the waves. The goddess of love, known as Aphrodite to the Greeks and Venus to the Romans, was believed to have risen from the sea foam near Paphos at Pétra tou Romioú.
Could this be Aphrodite’s sea foam?
I remember seeing Sandro Botticelli’s renowned painting of the Birth of Venus (mid 1480’s) at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and am delighted to think I have seen both the painted interpretation and the physical site of the legend.
In this ancient land of Cyprus, where there are records of settlement at the site of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Kouklia, site of Old Paphos, dating from the 15th century BC, and where it seems that often the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea merge into one, the imagination can take flight and anything seems possible.
Kouklia Archeological site
Kouklia Archeological site
Kouklia Archeological Site
Kouklia Archeological Site
Kouklia Archeological Site
Kouklia Archeological site
Cyprus is a treasure trove of archeological sites with their ancient history. We enjoy visiting these places, and stand in awe of the work and artistry of the people who accomplished so much in those ancient times. In January and March 2013, I wrote about the history of wine making in Cyprus and the mosaics in New Paphos at the Archaeological Park by the sea and those posts are in elizabethsvines archives.
Pafos Archeological Site – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Entrance to Pafos Archeological site
Pafos Archeological site – site map
Well preserved and in situ, the Paphos mosaics provide insight into life on the island mainly in the Roman period although there are also examples of pebble mosaics from the much earlier Hellenistic period. Not only do the mosaics illustrate flora and fauna, they also illustrate work related to wine making.
I am so interested in mosaics as an art form that I am learning the basics of mosaic making with Sharen Taylor, a highly skilled mosaic artist and conservationist resident in Cyprus. First coming to the island to undertake professional conservation work, she subsequently conducted a two year historical research project of the Paphos mosaics. Now she dedicates herself to the “cultural heritage of mosaic making” working on commissions and teaching students at her studio in Paphos.
I have been spending hours practising the seven most used cutting techniques for tesserae ( a small block of stone, glass or wood used in mosaic making) and making a sample board, in much the same way my grandmother would have made a sample project of various needlework stitches. My grandmother was an accomplished needlewoman, as I think the expression goes. I won’t make the same claim for my tesserae/glass cutting skills but it’s fun to learn and try: more importantly it’s humbling to appreciate the immense amount of skill required to make the mosaics of people, animals, and life scenes evident at the archeological sites.
Mosaic tesserae/glass cutting techniques
Work in progress – learning mosaic making
All this thinking about mythology, archeology and mosaic making hasn’t dulled my interest in local wines and the local grape varieties of Xinisteri, white grapes and Maratheftiko, black grapes. We will be visiting some local wineries to see how wine making is progressing on the island. In keeping with the art of the possible, the wine industry in Cyprus is enjoying a renaissance and I will share Cyprus wine experiences next time I write.
Mosaic artist and conservationist: Sharen Taylor. www.sharentaylor.com
We are in the in-between zone, that time between Christmas and the New Year: recovering from the wonderful festive time and not yet in the grip of New Year resolutions. Sometimes, these few days can provide an opportunity to catch up on outstanding items. For now, it’s a time for reflection.
This includes reflecting on elizabethsvines. I look back at my 10 published postings over the year. My aim is always to write about wine in the context of art, music, literature, science, recipes for cooking, history, restaurants and about wine as an expression of culture, as in the Confréries in France.
In 2015, my wine repertoire includes the Bergerac Wine Region in SW France, a specific British Columbia wine and references to particular South African wine, to Champagne, Port and hot punches (aka the Dickensian Smoking Bishop). It’s a personal focus.
Here are a few updates related to wine stories I have written about in 2015.
JAK Meyer of Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls in British Columbia has mentioned to me that their Pinot Noir is now available in 169 stores across the United Kingdom with Marks and Spencer, the food retailer. This is an exciting development for this British Columbia winery. Last February, I wrote about their wine in: “ From Terroir to Table: Meyer Family Vineyards wines from Okanagan Falls, British Columbia to Mayfair in one leap”.
Klein Constantia Vin de Constance and Warre’s Port which I wrote about last January in “The Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past (with a toast to Charles Dickens)”, were featured in the menu for the October 20th State Dinner at Buckingham Palace for the President of China, Xi Jinping. More specifically, the Palace menu includes Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2008 and Warre’s Vintage Port 1977.
In April, when I wrote, “Bergerac Wine Region – Chateau Le Tap addresses customer interests”, I jokingly referred to Bertie Wooster of P G Wodehouse fame and his apparent love of “half bots” of wine and commented on a noticeable consumer interest in smaller bottles of wine. This consumer interest was brought home to me again the other day in a supermarket in Paphos, Cyprus when I saw on display a large selection of wine being sold in small wine bottles between 187 ml to 200 ml.
Small bottles of wine meet consumer interests – Paphos , Cyprus
I hope you have found the 2015 posts informative, interesting, perhaps entertaining. I am always interested to know.
In the spirit of Robbie Burns 1788 poem, Auld Lang Syne, let’s raise a cup of kindness. Best wishes for 2016.
A visit to London before the Christmas holidays and I like to check out the decorations. Snowflakes, pine trees and feathers, with lots of colour and dazzle, seem to be some of the motifs this year. My camera isn’t poised ready for them all but here are blue snowflakes and red and green vertical pine tree decorations:
Christmas lights in Mayfair
Christmas holiday decorations
Another stop along the way of special places is the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation in the forecourt creates a powerful image for me of fluid shape and colour, enhanced by a brilliant blue November sky.
Royal Academy of Arts – Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation
Walking along Pall Mall one morning I hear a band playing and drawn like a magnet to the sound, I find a small ceremony with a military band at the Yard entrance to St James’s Palace.
Ceremony at St James’s Palace
Towards the end of that day, I head towards Berry Bros and Rudd, wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century. Another favourite haunt, this time combining history and fine wine where I have enjoyed Berry’s Own Selection of wines and wine events.
Berry Bros and Rudd – wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century
Berry Bros and Rudd – part of their own selection
In general chit chat with the wine consultant, I ask about Canadian wine and Bergerac wine region offerings. The Canadian selections focus on ice wines from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia including an ice cider. While I haven’t tasted this selection of Domaine de Grand Pré, Pomme d’Or, I have tasted other ice ciders and they are worth every sip of nectar: delicious. Nothing from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.
The wine selection from the Bergerac Wine Region is limited to Chateau Thénac and no Monbazillac or Saussignac late harvest wines are listed.
In reflecting upon these gaps in their wine list, I realize that these geographic areas of interest to me typically have small production volumes and that this can be a challenge for both wine producers and wine importers considering new markets.
I am pleased to see that a Maratheftiko red wine from Zambartas Wineries in Cyprus is still offered together with a Commandaria.
After all this exploring in London’s St. James’s area, a post-jet lag treat seems in order. What better than a glass of champagne. I enquire about the Bollinger selection, one of our favourites. A half bottle of Bollinger Rosé fits the bill.
This champagne is dominated by Pinot Noir which is known to give body and structure. The Berry Bros and Rudd employee suggests it will go well with game in a wine and food pairing and I take note for future reference. We enjoy it solo, with a handful of home roasted nuts: characteristic tight bubbles, crisp and dry, subtle fruit nuance yet savoury, refreshing. A champagne that really stands on its own.
We are having coffee with a friend in Vancouver; sitting outside at our regular haunt putting the world to rights as usual. Our friend comments, “ Well, you know the big thing nowadays for organizations is “reaching out”. We talk about this “reaching out” and what it means or implies: communicating, engaging with interested parties.
Later on, I reflect on “reaching out” and my thoughts turn to the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in South West France and the efforts that they make to reach out to many groups in the course of their activities during the year.
I wrote about the history and current role of Confréries in France and in particular about the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès in the July 2014 article on my website. In summary, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès is one of a large network of confréries or organizations of men and women across France whose objective is the promotion of their local area and culture as well as gastronomic products.
UNESCO has recognized the gastronomic heritage of France as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the confréries are included in that recognition.
Tourism plays a major role in the French economy and the Confréries, with their links to the past and involvement with the gastronomy of the area are usually associated with a tourism organization in the vicinity.
In some ways, this feels like a lot of words on a page and high-level policy. On the ground, what is the value proposition? It’s about promoting the local area, culture, food and wine to residents and visitors. Aside from the annual major event for each Confrérie called the Chapitre, and attending the Chapitres of other Confrèries, local events are organized that reach out to others.
The magic of the work of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès of which I am so fortunate to be a member, albeit from a distance much of the time, comes alive for me in particular ways.
One way is in walking with people who take part in the summer time Confrérie organized hikes, which focus on the discovery of the local countryside. I pass the time of day with other hikers: why do they come? What’s it all about for them?
Hiking in the Dordogne with the Confrérie
Consistently, the response is that they love the countryside, the opportunity to explore the area with other people with similar interests. They appreciate the fellowship offered by the Confrérie du Raisin D’Or de Sigoulès. Often they are people who live in Bergerac, the local main town, and sometimes they have recently retired there after a career in Paris or overseas. They want to connect with the soil, the trees, the birds, the mushrooms, the wild flowers; these things are important to them.
Hiking with the Confrérie
At the end of each hike, there is an opportunity to enjoy refreshment with others. On offer is a glass of local wine or juice and a savoury biscuit. Un pot d’amitié, a cup of friendship, to which participants are invited to donate a small amount to cover costs. All this is organized and brought to the assembly point by members of the Confrérie.
At the end of the hike: enjoying a cup of friendship
This is the magic of the countryside and fellowship.
Another expression of this magic is attending concerts organized by the Confrérie in local mediaeval churches.
How good can it get to listen to talented musicians in this kind of setting?
One example from this summer is a concert held at the church in Sigoulès featuring a flautist and guitarist playing music from both sides of the Pyrénées. These musical pieces are by composers who originated from different regions of the French and Spanish Pyrénées: Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, Georges Bizet, Pablo de Sarasate, and Isaac Albeniz. These are some of my favourite composers. Afterwards, we stand and chat in the shade of the plane trees and enjoy un pot d’amitié – a glass of wine from a Sigoules winemaker.
Concert with the Confrérie
Another example is a concert of young talented musicians from the Conservatoire de Bergerac. In this instance, two young guitarists. On the programme, which I have shown here, I circled the pieces I particularly enjoyed. At the end of the performance, as an encore, they played a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s famous song: “Isn’t She Lovely”. I loved the repetoire, the imagination and the skill of these two young people.
Concert with two guitarists
Afterwards, there is an opportunity to meet other concertgoers and enjoy a cup of friendship again: wine or juice with a slice of ham and cheese cake offered by Confrérie volunteers. We stand, smile and chat in the warm, early evening sunshine outside the church at Puyguilhem in the Commune of Thenac from where it is possible to see in the distance where the 100 years began and in another direction where it ended.
This is the magic of time and place, music and fellowship.
Who does all this reaching out? Committed members of the Confrérie who give countless hours of their time to promoting this region of France that they love and value, to engaging with local residents and visitors and to using their skills and talents in the interests of others.
For me, all this effort is about getting to the heart of matters in ways that people value. This is “reaching out” at its best. As our friend in Vancouver suggests, reaching out is a big thing.
We arrive at the Wild Honey restaurant in Mayfair on Monday around 12.15 p.m. with no reservation. It’s a spur of the moment decision to come here for lunch. This restaurant has been on our list for some time and suddenly the opportunity presents itself.
And here we are. We open the door, walk through the semi-circular red curtained area between the outer door and the restaurant, which protects the clientele from winter drafts, and step inside.
One look within the comfortable, well appointed restaurant with paneled walls resounding with lively lunchtime chat and I know we made the right decision to come here.
Immediately, we are ushered to a round table from which we can people watch in comfort. A favourite pastime. Through the window overlooking the street, we can see the elegance of the Corinthian columns of St. George’s Church, Hanover Square opposite. This church, built between 1721 – 1725 was a favourite of the composer and musician, Georg Friedrich Händel, (1685 – 1759) where he was a frequent worshipper in the 18th century. The church is now home to the Annual Händel Festival.
To digress for a minute, I am struck by the coincidence of being close to “Händel”s church” as the waiter described it and the other morning hearing one of his four Coronation Anthems, ‘Let thy hand be strengthened’ which Händel was commissioned to write for the coronation of George II of England and Queen Caroline in 1727. The anthem was performed the other day in the context of Accession Day, February 6, which this year celebrates the Queen’s 63rd year on the throne.
Back to our lunch at Wild Honey restaurant and the choice of wine.
The wine waiter approaches and asks us what we would like to drink. We look at the wine list and order two glasses of Meyer Family Vineyards 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay (which was offered by the glass when we visited. It is now available by the bottle).
Okanagan Falls, Meyer Family Chardonnay comes to London at Wild Honey restaurant, Mayfair
“ Oh! You will enjoy this Canadian wine”, he says.
“Yes”, I respond, “we’re from Vancouver. We know the wine and like it and have visited the vineyard. We’ve come today as we know you offer Meyer Family wine.“
This revelation is met with great interest.
The Chardonnay does not disappoint and we enjoy this with our selection from the working lunch menu: Amuse-bouche of mushroom purée on a small pastry round; Radicchio salad with orange slices and pomegranate seeds; grilled monk fish with small roasted beetroots and parsnips, followed by Wild Honey ice cream (home made) with crunchy honeycomb and pistachio pieces, coffee and petits fours. As a wine pairing choice, the Chardonnay is successful. We take our time to savour the different courses, flavours and combinations of this working lunch menu, which are served with great attention to detail and courtesy.
Wild Honey ice cream with honeycomb crunch and pistachio
While enjoying this lunchtime experience, we take a mental leap back to our visit to the Meyer Family Vineyard in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia.
Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC
It’s September and our second visit to the Meyer Family Vineyards where we meet JAK Meyer, Co-Proprietor. JAK tells us their focus is on traditional French burgundy style wine with small case lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, BC, Canada
We taste five wines: the 2012 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay, 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay, the 2012 Tribute Series Chardonnay, the 2012 Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2012 McLean Creek Pinot Noir. I enjoy them all in different ways. My notes from the visit indicate that I am impressed by the 2012 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay with its smooth citrus with a touch of melon flavours; a very accessible wine. This Double Gold and Best in Class winner at the Great Northwestern Invitational Wine Competition and Silver Medal winner, National Wine Awards of Canada wine is what we are enjoying at Wild Honey.
Chris Carson, the Winemaker/Viticulturist at Meyer Family Vineyards writes interesting and informative notes on each wine, its vintage, as well as descriptions of the terroir and winemaking process. He also suggests wine pairing ideas and we are on track with the Chardonnay and monkfish. The notes are worth reviewing. I appreciate this attention to detail, which seems to represent the Meyer Family approach to winemaking.
We chat with JAK Meyer about the lack of Canadian wines in the UK and he mentions that Meyer Family Vineyards wine is represented in London and their wines are starting to appear in different London restaurants. This is how we first hear about Wild Honey, the restaurant that opened in 2007 and was awarded a Michelin star in its first year of operation.
Wild Honey Restaurant, Mayfair, London
Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Falls, British Columbia
As we finish our coffee and think about heading out into the February afternoon, I reflect on how we are experiencing time and space. It feels like the present, past and perhaps future converge as we enjoy this wine from British Columbia in this historic area of London in the shadow of Hãndel and his music. Following a wine from terroir to table certainly opens the door to new experiences.
Christmas Cake is one of those classic symbols of the Christmas Season for me. So when I eat my last piece of celebratory cake each year, I know the Christmas holidays are truly over for another 12 months.
Warre’s 2000 Port
A week ago, we enjoy one of the best Christmas cakes I have tasted for some time: moist with home made marzipan and icing that is gentle on our teeth. And, to really put icing on the cake, we are sitting outside in a sunny sheltered spot in Cyprus sipping a Symington Warre’s 2000 Port. This is a perfect pairing: the rich, moist fruitcake and the almonds in the marzipan complementing the rich, dark fruit complexity of the Port.
December in Cyprus
If my Mother was still alive, she would savour every taste, sip and sunshine moment of this experience; enjoying nothing better than a late morning coffee with either a brandy or something similar while watching the world go by. In her nineties, these were pleasures that endured.
The role of British families in the Port trade has a long history. Warre’s was founded in 1670 and was the first British Port Company established in Portugal. The Symington family has been established in Portugal for over 350 years and 13 generations. Andrew Symington became a partner in Warre’s in 1905 and the Symington Family is the owner and manager of Warre’s today. The Warre history is worth reading on their website noted below.
Working backwards to New Year’s Eve, we enjoy another first tasting: a 2007 Klein Constantia. This is a natural sweet late harvest wine from Stellenbosch in South Africa. The dark amber, marmalade and honeyed wine with a medicinal edge and, as our wine connoisseur friend said, an acidic spine, is served with either Summer Pudding – that most delicious of English puddings – or profiteroles with chocolate sauce. We linger over each sip and mouthful to take in the full experience of wine and pudding flavours together.
The Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, was revived in 1986. With a pre-phylloxera pedigree, it was famous in earlier centuries. Charles Dickens wrote glowingly about the wine referring to: “…the support embodied in a glass of Constantia”.
The Klein Constantia land was originally part of “Constantia”, a vast property established in 1685 – about the same time the Warre’s were establishing their Port business in Portugal – by Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Cape.
It is an unexpected pleasure to taste this unusual wine that is reminiscent of but completely different to the late harvest wines we are familiar with in France: Sauternes; Monbazillac and Saussignac from the Bergerac Wine Region and the Muscat de Frontignan wine we have enjoyed on visits to Sète in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
Other “wine ghosts” from this past season are two wines from Cyprus. The Tsangarides Xinisteri white which is one of my all time favourite white wines because of its adaptability; great on its own or with a variety of foods, and the Tsangarides Mataro red wine which decants well and opens up to a smooth and velvety yet light and fresh wine. Xinisteri is a local Cyprus grape. Mataro is grown locally and elsewhere in the world where it is known also as Mourvèdre.
Tsangarides Mataro (Red) and Xinisteri (white) wines
The final “wine ghost” is another favourite I have written about before: Roche LaCour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose sparkling wine from Languedoc -Roussillon. A pale, delicate, refreshing sparkling wine. We enjoy this in a once -a -year Christmas cocktail.
Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé
The idea of a Christmas cocktail is a time honoured one. In Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge tells his clerk, Bob Cratchit that they would talk about his future and how Scrooge would help his family “…over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop…”. Scrooge’s ‘smoking bishop’ was in fact a sweet alcoholic punch.
We enjoy our version of such a drink with an assortment of canapés, including a cheese soufflé, which I make into individual servings. Using an online recipe from Epicurious, I recommend it as the best cheese soufflé recipe I have made so far and it holds up well to being made in small portions.
Mini Cheese Soufflés and other canapés with Roche Lacour sparkling wine cocktails
Baking tin for individual soufflés
When Charles Dickens died in 1870, he left a considerable cellar, evidence of his enjoyment of drinking in moderation, like many Victorians.
The question is: Would Charles Dickens have enjoyed our Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past? I think the answer has to be: Yes.
Walking through central London, we look towards Piccadilly as we cross the Haymarket, and there they are: the magical Christmas Lights suspended across the road. White bright, shaped liked antlers, and proclaiming this particular area of London: St James’s. As we gaze up the street, a double-decker bus turns onto the road and transforms the view into an iconic vision of nighttime pre-Christmas London. Out comes my camera in a flash…and click.
Christmas Lights, St. James’s, London, December 2014
A friend says this photo brings back nostalgic childhood memories when his Mother would take him as a young boy to London to see the lights and look in all the shop windows. Photographs have that power of recall.
Powerful images are what our afternoon and early evening are all about. The Rembrandt exhibition of Late Works at the National Gallery catches our attention and we spend one and a half hours towards the end of the December afternoon viewing the works of art.
In an age of instant, mobile phone camera generated images, we catch our breath looking at the detail, size and scope of Rembrandt’s masterpieces, trying to comprehend the extent of his talent and skill in capturing texture, light and emotion in paint and wondrous colours.
The poster for the exhibition shows a portion of his painting “The Jewish Bride”, painted about 1665 just a few years before his death. Rembrandt lived from 1606 to 1669. This exhibition covers the period of his life from 1650 – 1669.
We slowly make our way around the exhibition, headphones clamped over our ears, listening to the commentary about key works of art among the 91 on display. The paintings of faces, including the self-portraits, their complexions and eyes and the paintings of richly textured fabrics resonate with me. “An Old Woman Reading”, oil on canvas painted in 1655, particularly catches my eye.
To spend time lost in the contemplation of art in this way is a great joy and escape from the rest of the world.
We decide that when we come to the end of the exhibition we will head straight to the National Gallery Dining Room for a glass of wine with something to eat and take the time to decompress from this experience.
The food menu is comprehensive and contemporary with selections such as quiche, soups, salads, grilled sandwiches and many other options. We decide to have their plate of Artisan Cheeses, selecting Berkswell (sheep) and Tickelmore (goat) cheeses with apple chutney and crackers. These are good.
We examine the wine list, which is varied and all reasonably priced. There are no English wines on offer but English beers and ciders are featured.
The flagship menu offering for the exhibition is called the Rembrandt Special featuring a grilled sandwich and a glass of their red or white house wine, priced at 10 GBPounds.
I decide to try the white house wine, a Vin de Pays d’Oc, 2012, which I find overly acidic for my palate. My husband chooses a Pinot Grigio, Alisios from Brazil, 2013 and that is more to our liking: refreshing and with mineral flavours. This Brazilian Pinot Grigio, which is sometimes blended with Riesling, is a new experience for us. We like it and feel resuscitated after our wine and cheese interlude.
We step out of the National Gallery and to our surprise find winter darkness has already descended. We entered a different world for a time. Coming across those white bright Christmas lights as we cross the street intensifies our experience of London magic.
I am idly glancing at the Cyprus Mail newspaper one day earlier this year and come across an article about English sparkling wines. In a moment of quiet reflection, I realize that I am mainly writing about French, Canadian and Cyprus wines but not paying attention to what is happening with wines in my homeland! With United Kingdom wines now on my radar, I decide to look for an opportunity to try English and maybe Welsh wines on our next trip to the UK.
Such an opportunity presents itself this spring. A visit to a favourite place in London, The Royal Academy of Arts, established in 1768 and housed at Burlington House in Piccadilly, followed by lunch with a long time friend at their new restaurant, The Keeper’s House, provides the perfect occasion.
An example of exhibitions at the RA – Royal Academy of Arts, London
We each have a glass of Chapel Down white wine, a clear, shining white with good acidity and full of apple flavours as befits a wine from the great English apple growing area of South East England. This Pinot Blanc 2010 was a refreshing complement to our fish lunch.
Subsequent exploration of Chapel Down winery reveals that it is one of the top English wineries. It won several trophies in the annual wine industry 2014 English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition. This competition is organized by the United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA), and apparently is the only competition in the world judged entirely by Masters of Wine.
Chapel Down Winery – an English winery
The United Kingdom Vineyard Association (UKVA) website is a mine of information. In reviewing it, I learn an important definition when considering wines from the United Kingdom.
“English or Welsh Wine is made from fresh grapes grown in England or Wales and produced in UK wineries. All of the UKVA members grow grapes to produce this type of wine.
British Wine, however, is not the same thing at all. It is the product of imported grapes or grape concentrate that is made into wine in Britain. “British” wines are not wines as defined by the EU which specifies that wine can only be the product of fermented freshly crushed grapes.” (UKVA website)
An important distinction to avoid making an unintentional wine faux pas when either buying or ordering UK wine.
But I digress.
Back to The Keeper’s House at the Royal Academy. A conversation with an employee reveals an interesting twist to their menu preparation and wine and food selection. They not only design their menus to reflect the changing seasons but also in some small way to reflect the essence of Royal Academy exhibitions. Like most major art galleries, the Royal Academy restaurants take great pride in presenting good value food and wine selections.
The new seasonal menu is being developed and fine-tuned. Along with the seasonal change in food selections, comes a change in wine offerings which helps showcase different wineries.
The new wine selection includes two wines from Davenport Winery in East Sussex. The Davenport Horsmonden 2013, is a dry white made from a blend of 5 grape varieties. The wine notes indicate that there are nuances of lemon and nettles; I can’t wait to taste this!
The selection also includes the Davenport Limney Estate sparking wine produced from Pinot Noir and Auxerrois. Davenport is an organic winery and another prizewinner in the 2014 English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition with their sparking wine the first organic sparking wine to win a trophy.
Davenport Vineyards – an English winery
The next major Royal Academy exhibition runs from September 27 to December 14, 2014 and features the works of contemporary German artist, Anselm Kiefer who is an Honorary Royal Academician. Some say his art is rooted in his beginnings: the end of the Second World War and the start of the new era in which we are still living.
Regarded as a colossus of contemporary art, and “one of the most imaginative, original and serious artists alive” (RA Website/The Guardian), this exhibition of the work of Anselm Kiefer has all the hallmarks of an intriguing visit. A post-visit glass of quintessentially English wine will surely encourage a stimulating discussion.
So having had a brief introduction to English wines what about trying some Welsh wine I ask myself?
Our visit to the UK includes a brief visit to Wales and in particular to the wind swept beaches of the Gower Peninsular in South Wales.
The wine swept Rhoshilli Beach, Gower Peninsular, S. Wales
What better place to taste some Welsh wine! We do this at Fairyhill hotel and restaurant located in Reynoldston, Gower. A review in Moneyweek Magazine/The Guardian recently noted: “for foodies and wine lovers, delightfully informal Fairyhill is a Welsh institution”.
Fairyhill hotel nestled in the woods in the Gower Penninsular, S Wales
Fairyhill Hotel terrace garden
Fairyhill is famous for their deep-fried cockle canapés which are served in a small dish in the same way as one would serve peanuts. These are a favourite of mine not only because they are delicious but also because they remind me of my childhood visits to Wales. We enjoy the cockles as we decide on a wine to drink with dinner. To pursue the idea of sampling Welsh wines, we order a bottle of Rosé from Ancre Hill Vineyard, Monmouth, a more recent winery whose grapes were first planted in 2006. A light (11% ALC/VOL) wine with strawberry overtones, this Rosé could be a summer sipping wine.
Ancre Hill Vineyard – Monmouth, Wales
Fine Wines Direct UK, who represent Ancre Hill Vineyard, describes the winery as follows:
“The Ancre Hill Estate, which is situated in Monmouth has a unique micro/meso climate, on average it gets a quarter of the rainfall of Cardiff and plenty of sunshine hours to ripen the grapes. With huge plans to farm Bio-dynamically and with plans to build a state of the art winery, this award winning Welsh vineyard continue to grow from strength to strength, with the first vintage of the Pinot Noir now available on allocation.”
As we finish our visit to the UK, I realize my window on English and Welsh wines has been opened by a couple of inches only. There is clearly much more to learn and appreciate to get the full view of this industry.
History indicates that vineyards were first established in Britain during the 300 years of Roman occupation. Organizations such as the Royal Academy of Arts, Fairyhill and others are providing wine lovers with the opportunity to taste contemporary English and Welsh wines. They are increasingly getting the recognition they deserve.
Royal Academy of Arts and the Keeper’s House Restaurant
July is the month of summer celebrations, including in this corner of south west France. Advertising notices drop into my email inbox about wine promotions, new books – including Saving our Skins, the latest book by Caro Feely who I mentioned in my last posting, – firework exhibitions, theatre productions, jazz concerts. It’s all there on offer over the summer months. Organizers work double time to attract and welcome tourists and local residents to their events.
In the village of Sigoulès in the Dordogne volunteer members of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès prepare for their annual major event over the July 19 /20 weekend to coincide with the area wine festival. The wine fair and tastings are on Saturday July 19th, the parade of all the visiting Confréries and the annual general assembly or Chapitre on Sunday, July 20th..
A complementary series of guided walks and concerts organized by the Confrerie take place in the area during July and August. Adding to the excitement in the area this summer is that the Tour de France Stage 20 passes through the Dordogne and Bergerac the following weekend.
Invitation to the 2014 Confrérie du Raisin d’Or event
The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or is one of a large network of confréries or organizations of men and women across France whose objective is the promotion of their local area and culture as well as gastronomic products. The Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès particularly focuses on the wines of the area.
The origin of these confréries dates back to the Middle Ages to the 12th and 13th centuries when occupational groupings were more likely called companies/corporations or guilds. Possibly the most famous of these early organizations was the “La Jurade de Saint Emilion”, created in 1199 and responsible for controlling many aspects of the wine industry in Saint Emilion (Bordeaux).
Similar organizations of apprentices and masters existed until the time of the French Revolution when they were declared illegal in 1791 in the spirit of the free movement of labour.
In the 20th Century, there has been a resurgence of local organizations or confréries which, by reinstating traditional pageantry, costume and ritual are celebrating the gastronomic heritage in the many different regions of France. Their existence has increased since the 1960’s with the development of tourism. The Confrérie Saint Emilionnaise took the name of “Jurade” in honour of the earlier organization when it was recreated in 1948.
Confréries are generally linked to a tourism bureau, the local mayor’s office, local festival and/or agricultural initiatives as part of a broader promotional imperative. Not only are the confréries linked locally, they are also aligned regionally and nationally.
For example, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès partners locally with the wine fair organization and local wine-maker communities: Foire aux Vins de Sigoulès and the Communauté de Communes des Coteaux de Sigoulès; regionally it is a member of the Chancelleries des Confréries d’Aquitaine, plus the Union des Confréries du Périgord and nationally is a member of the Conseil Français des Confréries.
The Confrérie organizations
Sometimes, confréries twin with other confréries. By way of illustration, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or is twinned with the Confrérie du Pâté de Périgueux. I wrote about the pâté competition I attended last November in an earlier posting. Many different types of food and gastronomy are represented in the world of confréries: strawberries, cherries, pink garlic, fish, grilled food, mushrooms and so on.
The gastronomic heritage of France is so highly valued that it has been recognized by UNESCO as an expression of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the confréries are included in that recognition. The Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) identification is promoted by UNESCO as a counterpart to the World Heritage designation which focuses mainly on tangible aspects of culture.
The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defines the intangible cultural heritage or living heritage as:
“The practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith, that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage…”
A subtext of confrérie activities includes promoting economic opportunity in the areas through links to tourism. At the international level, some members of the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès recently facilitated and conducted a series of events with local wines for Cuisine et Chateau, a Canadian organization from Calgary, Alberta which brings groups of visitors to the area each year for a week of culinary and wine experiences.
Marnie Fudge, co-proprietor of Cuisine et Chateau mentioned to me that their experience was “fabulous” and they valued the professionalism and expertise of the Confrérie members they dealt with during their visit. As Canada works towards finalizing the details of its trade agreement with the European Union, it feels like we are making a small contribution to that effort!
A comment about the word confrérie whose literal translation is brotherhood. In a 21st century context, I translate this to mean a group of men and women who associate with each other in a congenial way for a common purpose. A confrère in French means colleague which underscores this broader interpretation. Collegiality and congeniality in support of cultural heritage are core confrérie values.
This all sounds quite serious, whereas the confréries and their events are also about the joyful celebration of culture with food, wine, music, pageantry and fellowship.
The colourful parade of confréries
This joyful celebration will be the cornerstone of the events in Sigoulès over the July 19 and 20th weekend and all the other events organized by the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès and community partners in July and August.
The confrérie events, whether this one in Sigoulès or similar events elsewhere in France are a wonderful way to learn more about the culture and history of France, local gastronomic products and, importantly, meet local people. I have attended several wonderful confrérie events where I’ve met delightful people.
The band accompanies the parade
Last year, I was delighted to be invited to join the Confrerie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès in the role of Ambassadrice, one of two from Canada at present. The Ambassador initiative includes Confrérie members in other regions of France as well as other countries including Australia and Canada.
My blog is about how wine opens the door to history, culture,food,science… For me, the Confrérie du Raisin d’Or de Sigoulès is one of those doors.
Bergerac Wine Region showing Sigoulès below Saussignac and Monbazillac
I arrive at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue to talk to the co-proprietor, Caro Feely about their winemaking and wine tourism business. On my way here, walking down the country lane towards their farm past the Saussignac Cemetery, dignified yet colourful with the many pots of commemorative flowers, I reflect upon the niche that Caro and Sean have carved for themselves in the highly competitive wine making business.
Sean and Caro have been in Saussignac, a small village in the Bergerac wine region in the Dordogne since 2005. That was the year they changed their life and moved from corporate lives in Ireland to become wine makers in the Dordogne. Their initiation to their new life is a compelling read in Caro’s book: Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France. It’s a page turning book and the reason for my sense of awe when I meet this low-key yet dynamic couple.
Autumn view from Terroir Feely
Always intrigued by the process through which people create major life changes, I read Caro’s book with this sense of enquiry in mind. Caro and Sean embarked upon a new lifestyle of considerable uncertainty: no wine-making experience when they started, language barriers, the burden of French bureaucracy, two small daughters to raise and a host of other challenges. Yet, they had personal qualities of perseverance, adaptability, optimism and drive together with experience in marketing and financial management. These personal attributes and competencies have stood them in good stead. On top of this, their passion for the life-style, the land and region, and organic, sustainable and now biodynamic farming has fueled their energy to make it all happen.
Learning to make good wine wasn’t enough to succeed. Caro has said that the transition to their new life was “beyond hard”. They soon realized that they needed to diversify in order to survive financially. This in turn led to the creation of French Wine Adventures with wine courses; wine walks with vineyard lunches, the Harvest Weekend, and the building of their ecological accommodation at the vineyard. Their brand new swimming pool opens this season. In other words, they have created a biodynamic virtuous circle of wine making and wine tourism.
Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue is a Certified Biodynamic farm of approximately 10 hectares under vines. Demeter, the internationally recognized biodynamic certifying body, certified Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue as biodynamic in 2011 following their organic certification from Ecocert in 2009. In addition, The Great Wine Capitals Network recognized Terroir Feely as the Regional Winner for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices in 2013. Their wines are also gaining recognition for quality.
Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award
I ask Caro what draws people to visit them at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue. She doesn’t hesitate to respond:
“ We are passionate about what we do and we create a personal experience for people. We share common interests with our visitors. We are eco-friendly; we make certified biodynamic wines; we have ecological buildings. People come to enjoy the vineyard and participate in our Harvest Weekend which is the first weekend in October.”
We talk about wine farming practices and their evolution from organic to biodynamic status in 2011.
Caro explains that it takes 3 years to convert to biodynamic status. Farming practices are introduced in which the vineyard is cultivated as part of a whole farm system. It involves making and using preparations for the soil and plants from plant and manure materials as well as caring for the vines and the soil according to the biodynamic calendar which suggests times to sow, harvest, prune in synch with phases of the moon. She tells me that since they have been following the strict biodynamic approaches that more orchids have appeared on the farm as well as greater biodiversity. She also believes these practices have benefitted their wines!
Caro says that until she saw the difference biodynamic practices made to their farm, she thought that biodynamics sounded like “dancing with the fairies”. To gain a better understanding myself, I subsequently looked up various sources and websites including: Demeter, various Rudolf Steiner sites, Berry Bros and Rudd Wine Merchants. There is a lot of material about the subject.
In brief, biodynamic agriculture originates in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and agronomist who lived from 1861 – 1926. He gave a famous agricultural series of lectures in 1924, which predate most of the organic movement. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual philosophy called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic and the spiritual dimensions in nature. One of Rudolf Steiner’s greatest admirers was Maria Thun (1922 – 2012) who created an annual biodynamic gardening calendar that Caro refers to on the Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue website.
The name Rudolf Steiner was familiar to me because of his influence in education. Waldorf Schools which originated from his humanistic approaches to education are in evidence today in about 60 countries.
From a viticulture perspective, biodynamics views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system. For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic by Demeter, the vine-grower must use the 9 biodynamic preparations described by Rudolf Steiner. These are all preparations made from plants or manure and applied to the plants and soil.
Biodynamics in viticulture is growing and is practiced by farmers in several countries including France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Chile, South Africa, Canada and the US. While organic and biodynamic farming doesn’t guarantee great wine, it appears that there is a tendency for wines made with these farming practices to be more highly scored by consumers with respect to expressions of terroir, balance and more vibrant tastes. Tasters indicate that biodynamic wines are more floral in flavour.
In general, there is a continuum of farming approaches progressing away from industrial practices that rely on chemicals towards using fewer chemical interventions and introducing more sustainable practices leading to organic and biodynamic approaches. Farming interventions are regulated in the EU, as elsewhere, including the use of mineral substances like copper and sulphur which are permitted in all approaches to wine farming along the continuum– it’s a question of degree.
Literature about biodynamic wine making refers to Certified Biodynamic wine making and also to wine makers who practice “broadly biodynamic” farming approaches. This implies that they subscribe to and follow many of the biodynamic practices yet do not pursue the biodynamic certification. From our observation visiting many wine makers, this translates into the ever-increasing attention to improved agricultural practices, which is positive for the land, the farmers themselves and the consumer. Caro and Sean have gone that step further in following the rigorous standards for their farm to be Certified Biodynamic.
Caro tells me that; “ …the Bergerac Wine Region has the highest number of organic wine producers in France after Alsace.”
All to say that the dialogue around farming practices is increasing and the interest in biodynamics is growing. In a competitive wine world, it’s worth noting that over the past 10 years there has been significant growth in the sales of biodynamic wines as consumers shift their interest to biodynamic and sustainable practices.
It’s 9 years since Caro and Sean made their major lifestyle and career leap of faith into wine making in the Dordogne. Since 2007, they have been practising biodynamic wine making, achieving their certification in 2011. I have tasted their wines several times over the years and I particularly like their Sauvignon Blanc, “Sincérité”.
Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation
Caro and Sean have been generous with their time talking to me about their vineyard adventures to date. I close my notebook and say my goodbyes. It’s time to let Caro and Sean get back to their work.
It’s a very rainy Cyprus day in February after a dry January. Highlighting the contrast between a wet today and many dry yesterdays, the heavy rain seems oppressive as we drive along the highway to the Limassol area.
We arrive in the village of Agios Amvrosios looking for Zambartas Wineries. I phone to check their location in the village and am told the person we are scheduled to meet had to go to Nicosia urgently. My heart sinks as we have been looking forward to this visit.
Map of Cyprus
Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries
Fortunately, all is not lost as the man on the phone invites us to continue with our visit. He will show us around. This is not only good; it’s fantastic when I realize that our host is Dr. Akis Zambartas, the founder of the winery. The stars have aligned to make this a memorable visit with one of the gurus of wine making in Cyprus.
Zambartas Wineries is a boutique winery founded in 2006 by Dr. Akis Zambartas in the Krasochoria Wine Region on the south facing slopes of the Troodos Mountains. The focus is on the production of quality wines while employing environmentally friendly practices. Akis has been joined in this enterprise by his son Marcos and daughter in law, Marleen.
Father and son are highly qualified scientists. Both are chemists with further degrees in oenology. Akis took his Ph.D. in chemistry at Lyon University in France followed by a degree in oenology from Montpelier University, famous for its oenology program. Not only is Akis a scientist he also has a wealth of business experience from a previous role as a chief executive officer in the wine and spirit industry in Cyprus. He has also been a pioneer in the discovery of Cyprus grape varieties. Marcos took a graduate degree in chemistry from Imperial College, London, followed by a degree in oenology from the School of Oenology, Adelaide University.
Dr. Akis Zambartas opening wine during our visit
After our mutual introductions, we tour the winery and meet Stefan another key member of the team. We move to the Tasting Room overlooking the winery and begin our exploration of the suite of Zambartas wines, which include several indigenous varieties. We enjoy them all. The ones that capture our attention are:
Zambartas Rosé. This is their flagship wine. It is a blend of Lefkada (a local indigenous variety) and Cabernet Franc. This is a ripe, red berry and strawberry style Rosé with cherry flavours on the nose, good acidity and freshness.