A year on the Hill of Corton

Archive for January, 2014

In between banquets.

If anyone knows a reliable weather website, do let me know !
Amongst all the appointments and eating, I planned to have time on the Hill on Thursday and Friday to shoot the landscape and work, hoping the light might be interesting…
Thursday gave a little fog early but the rest of the day was unexciting and so I took an early lunch and explored Serrigny and caught up with some editing before things got briefly promising around 4 pm.

Remi Rollin seems happy enough in Charlemagne

Remi Rollin seems happy enough in Charlemagne

Electric secateurs rule in Charlemagne

Electric secateurs rule in Charlemagne

The local grouse seem quite tame

The local grouse seem quite tame

Sorry I missed this ! Fancy dress makes good pictures.

Sorry I missed this ! Fancy dress makes good pictures.

Château  de Serrigny, home of the Merode family.

Château de Serrigny, home of the Merode family.

Altogether it was the quiet day I needed after Wednesday and before Saturday. Friday was gorgeous for a while on the Ladoix side, then I had an appointment to talk pictures at Le Charlemagne restaurant in Pernand before lunch.

burning the prunings in Corton

burning the prunings in Corton

I decided to recce St Aubin that afternoon before Saturday’s procession, to see how the decorations were progressing and say “bon courage!” to anyone I knew. It may seem last minute but all the traditional paper flowers are put on the eve of the big day to avoid rain damage.
I found Olivier Lamy’s father, now retired, hanging his photographs of the vineyards and local cabottes outside his house. Hubert was, as always, a genial bear of a man with a permanent twinkle in his eyes and huge vigneron’s hands. Gerard Prudhon, the mayor, was everywhere, calmly checking this and that. Its St Aubin’s first ever hosting of the St Vincent but all was well and getting more attractive by the minute as more and more paper flowers went up. These flowers are a communal production as everyone, young and old, spends an evening once a week at the town hall throughout the preceding year creating what must be hundreds of thousands of them. The pride is visible if not tangible. Its great to see St Aubin looking so good, we just hope the rain stays away.
Its not all about wine

Its not all about wine

But you can't forget snails at Domaine Prudhon

But you can’t forget snails at Domaine Prudhon

Butterfies, that's a new one on me...

Butterfies, that’s a new one on me…

Its all too much excitement for one resident of St Aubin

Its all too much excitement for one resident of St Aubin

Running out of flowers - not yet !

Running out of flowers – not yet !

1611 and still standing in St Aubin

1611 and still standing in St Aubin

Friday evening was spent having supper with a friend, Marie-Luce Château, who tends the small parcel of vines she inherited in Perrieres and Charlemagne, selling the crop to a negociant.
It was a long awaited evening as the other guests were Tom Kevill-Davies and his girlfriend. Tom is renovating an old watermill near Auxey-Duresses to create the “Hungry Cyclists'” Lodge” as a base for cyclists interested in Burgundy’s gastronic delights. Having read the first chapter of his book The Hungry Cyclist, which recounts his cycle ride across the US and South to Rio in search of great food, I know he will succeed. I can recommend the book even to non-cyclists and non-foodies, it’s a really funny read and he will make a great host. http://thehungrycyclist.com/lodge/

St Vincent’s Day is a long day

It turns out that January to March is a quiet time in the tonnellerie world so my visit to Cadus in Ladoix-Serrigny had to be on a Wednesday, St Vincent’s day and they start toasting at 7 a.m.
This session was followed by a change of clothes and a dash to cassecroute at Domaine Marey around 9.00 with those of Pernand going to the Mass at Echevronne at 10.30 where their statue of St Vincent, along with those of Aloxe, Pernand and Ladoix are blessed. Aperatifs at 12.30 at Domaine Rollin, the new guardians of the Pernand statue. Banquet then at the Salle des Fêtes in Aloxe around 1.30 until 7.00 ( yes really ), finishing off with a Soirée Dansant at Domaine Maratray-Dubreuil, new guardians of the statue in Ladoix, laid on in their cuverie beginning at 8.15.
The earliest departure there was 1 a.m.

Bending the staves at Tonnellerie Cadus

Bending the staves at Tonnellerie Cadus

Barrelmaking is a fascinating process dependent on individual skill and experience. Here is not the place for dissertation on he subject but the choice of barrelmaker, wood and toasting level
is another unheralded skill the winemaker must have. If you ever in wine country there is probably a cooperage not far away, in deed some establishments make or maintain their own barrels and its well worth a visit if you can a winemaker to request one for you. Just be ready for the noise ! Its all very elemental, lots of water, fire and steam and hammering.
Eric Marey entertains at Pernand

Eric Marey entertains at Pernand

Of course I arrived in Pernand a little late due to the repositioning of large holes in the road in Aloxe. I knew where to go but there was no sign of activity until you stop and listen outside the right door ! The people you know are friendly but those who don’t know you are a little curious at the arrival of a professional camera at proceedings and its difficult to achieve an air of normality. But Domaine Marey’s wine and chevreuil pâté are a treat and its so warm with so many bodies crammed in that the camera lens has steamed up anyway!
Its a brief stay as I must get to the church of St Andoche in Echevronne before the crowds in order to see Father Jean-Paul who has a seat set aside for me.

Jean-Claude from Aloxe prepares St Vincent at the church in Echevronne

Jean-Claude from Aloxe prepares St Vincent at the church in Echevronne

In front of the altar is the Christmas crib still and in front of that is a Burgundy basket that is being filled with bottles from the winemakers as they arrive. Something to sustain the priest through the year ahead!
Father Jean-Paul welcomes the winemakers.

Father Jean-Paul welcomes the winemakers.

The church fills as the statues are brought in and I am surrounded by winemakers squeezed into this little 12c church to celebrate the biggest day in their calendar. Not a tourist, client or importer in sight and I’m trying to make myself as small as possible ! But I don’t need to worry, they know why I am there and are happy to see me.
After mass everyone crowds into the street to greet those from the other villages so there is not much room to work and the competition from everyone with a phone camera or a point-and-shoot is intense. But its their day, not mine.
A similar crowd awaits at Domaine Rollin who will host the statue next and are providing the aperatif before the village banquet.
Simon Rollin leads the procession back to the family's cuverie for the aperatif.

Simon Rollin leads the procession back to the family’s cuverie for the aperatif.

The next destination is the banquet at Aloxe where I am greeted enthusiastically by Mayor Maurice Chapuis and another winemaker Bruno Colin (no relation to the Colins in Chassagne and Gamay )
Bruno Colin shows his qualifications at the Aloxe banquet

Bruno Colin shows his qualifications at the Aloxe banquet

Soon the plates and wines are arriving but everything proceeds at a gentle pace and the time flies past with songs that might just be occasionally bawdy followed by stand up comedy by the Mayor’s wife . How I wish my French was better !

It seems we have to have a break between meat courses and take a digestif of sorbet and pear eau de vie. The "trou Bourguignon" seems to work !

It seems we have to have a break between meat courses and take a digestif of sorbet and pear eau de vie. The “trou Bourguignon” seems to work !

Its been a privilege to be there. Burgundy never ceases to provide new experiences.
Time for a lie down before seeing what is going on at Domaine Maratray-Dureuil, new guardians of Ladoix’s statue
Its a younger and boisterous crowd here but then they have already done a few hours celebrating and look as if they are ready to start all over again!
Ladoix's next generation serenade the diners

Ladoix’s next generation serenade the diners

Trouble is I could not force down another mouthful and I settle for Evian after the Ladoix blanc that greets me.
Without eating and drinking its difficult to join in so I shoot what I want and leave everyone to let their hair down in privacy. Its been a long day…

No fire without smoke

Tuesday was, at least, dry. No rain or fog but before dawn Bouchard’s Corton worker was making smoke below their red tiled…, well its hardly a cabotte, more a small house and major landmark on the hill from Aloxe and Ladoix. Anyway its always a choice to be made in the morning; to do a quicker circular tour of Les Bressandes on a good surface (now with small kerb stones to stop you driving into the large open concrete drain) or head through Aloxe-Corton and up betwen Perrieres and Pougets before swinging right to Corton or straight on to Charlemagne on tarmac that gives way to an increasingly rutted mix of soil and chunks of limestone. Not to good place to think about a three point turn !
Normally before dawn I head for Corton, its a very special place for a sunrise. I have yet to encounter any wild boar but I live in hope !
Today there is no panoramic dawn to photograph, just the smoke from a brouette with the occasional burst of flame.

What I’m really looking forward to are the visits later on to the men who have been guardians of their village’s St Vincent Statue in Aloxe and Ladoix. Monsieur Chevalier in Aloxe has just 10 rows of Aloxe village behind his house and we had a pleasant chat and a glass of his 2010.
I wonder how many other small part time vignerons there are producing good wine at good prices… On to the home of François Saguero and another guardian who may not sound a Burgundian but his hands tell me he is !

The trick is to know where the wind is coming from...

The trick is to know where the wind is coming from…

No fire without smoke

No fire without smoke

Jean-Claude Chevalier prepares Aloxe-Corton's statue of St Vincent for his big day

Jean-Claude Chevalier prepares Aloxe-Corton’s statue of St Vincent for his big day

Strong hands protect Ladoix-Serrigny's statue

Strong hands protect Ladoix-Serrigny’s statue

A visit to Coche-Dury

Jean-François checking the malolactic fermentation of his 2013 Charlemagne

Jean-François checking the malolactic fermentation of his 2013 Charlemagne

I was elsewhere when Domaine Coche-Dury harvested their Charlemagne so I arranged to photograph the progress of it’s malolactic fermentation. Jean-François did the job while Rafael his son was busy with visitors. He was in good form and preparing to leave for Japan. We were warmly welcomed and it made a great start to a busy and varied week. More of that over the next few days…

Unesco news

Time for a glass of Cremant !

The “Climats” of Burgundy

My review copy arrived this afternoon and I must straight away declare an interest in that it is by Glénat, the same publisher who will bring out my book on Corton Hill next year.
I won’t say much here as I must review it for the March issue of World of Fine Wine. I agreed to do it not realising it was so much more than a book of photographs. I may feel able to comment on the pictures but it could need more knowledgeable heads than mine to find fault with the rest of the contents.
I’ll limit myself here to saying that it is available in English and every Burgundy lover will want it, enjoy it and learn from it. Now I must set about earning my fee !

Small world

I was not planning a post for another two weeks until my trip to cover the two St Vincent celebrations. The tourist version when, over one weekend, thousands will descend on St Aubin, that underrated village hidden in the side valley that lies between Puligny and Chassagne but now home to a growing reputation. The other, the real one on St Vincent’s actual feast day, 22nd January, when the vignerons take their village’s saint’s statue to Mass and then enjoy a rather extended lunch. All without the desire for an audience.

However a blog does enjoy having an audience. But all I know about mine is their country of residence.
Still, that can be interesting enough; up until this week I had been viewed in 26 countries but was amazed today to add Afghanistan !
That’s the popularity of Burgundy. I’ll tell them at the St Vincent lunch just how far their reputation goes. I hope you come back again Afghanistan.

Happy New Year/ Bonne Année !

You make think I’m a little late with my greetings but I understand that in France there is still plenty of time to send cards and emails !

Truth is I have been waiting to announce news of a contract for my book from the publisher Glenat and an email arrived this afternoon with the good news.
So the book will be published in October 2014 consisting of approximately 220-240 pages, 70% of it will be my photographs with the text coming from local experts on History, Geology, etc. to make up the rest. All for around 50 euros.
Initially its published in France but I hope an English version will follow.

Because we are a group of relative unknowns no doubt the publishers will follow the time-honoured pattern of getting big names to write introductions and forewards.

So if any of you can suggest suitable names, do please let me know.

Aubert de Villaine already has two such appearances to his name in recent years so I imagine we’ll have to manage without him. That is a great shame since he has been a source of great support and encouragement, along with many of the estates working vineyards on the Hill of Corton.

Anyway it brings an end to over two years of hoping and wondering, discussions and uncertainty, so I’m off to have a small celebration.

Happy New Year indeed everyone!