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Generosity of spirit (and wine)

Posted: 28th Oct 2016

I finally got a chance to get out of the City last Sunday when we took a day-trip to Beaujolais. It was organised by an international group which is run by a group of lovely older couples who enjoy meeting visitors to the city and introducing them to French culture. So an intimate group of 140 got on a couple of buses in the centre of Lyon, and drove out to Beaujolais.

The buses dropped us off at the top of a biggish hill/small mountain covered with vineyards and dotted with wineries, and we walked down on trails and dirt roads. We had views out across the valley, although in the late morning, it was still a bit cloudy-hazy, so the promised vistas towards the Alps and even Mont Blanc didn’t materialise. But still, looking across the Beaujolais valley of small villages surrounded by vineyards in patterns of autumn foliage isn’t too shabby!

As we walked, we got the opportunity to chat with these lovely older French couples who were very patient with our stumbling French, and helped us find the right words when we struggled. We met one lovely lady and her husband, and learned about their son who is in a similar academic field to Pete, now living in Germany. We spent an even longer time chatting with Max and Maryelle, with whom we exchanged email addresses and they promised to invite us for dinner. They are somewhat quiet in their conversation but warm and so generous of spirit – glowing with kindness and curiosity that comes through immediately and we were touched by their interest in maintaining a correspondence. We have since exchanged emails – another hurdle for me!

The nicest bit was the fact that they were all so patient with our stumbles and efforts, and happy for conversations to move slowly and with no agenda. Unlike in a shop, with people waiting and watching, the pressure to ‘perform’ in French was off, and with less to worry about, it was easier to find the words. So in contrast to last weeks drama trying to communicate and failing miserably, this weekend I felt as if I was almost having real conversations (OK, maybe at the pace of a slug, but at least somewhat beyond ‘je voudrais deux baguettes, svp’).

After awhile, we arrived at a small family-owned winery (http://www.barondelecluse.com/photos-exploitation_vin.html#site) where we were given a talk about how wines are made, what grapes are grown here, and lots more information that I didn’t understand, in part because there were so many people we couldn’t hear, and in part because it was all in French. But our guide was a gregarious Rob Lowe-looking chap, and clearly loved the topic, so was very animated and it was fun to watch him, even if we weren’t catching all the meanings. I did follow at one point when he explained that whether one likes any particular wine is very much influenced by the company you are with, the atmosphere of the room, and the overall enjoyment of the experience you are having when you are drinking the wine. I rather liked that interpretation!

Once it was time for the tasting, we discovered that generosity of spirit was not limited to our genial hosts of the walk: our winery hosts were also very generous! Unlike our experiences in California and English (!) wineries, there were none of the small samples for ‘tasting’ with a lot of swirling, explanations of the colours, nose, the aromas and the mouth feel, and then spitting out. Nope, we got full glasses of each of the three types of wine, plus more if you wished!  Before each new variety was poured, we were given a short explanation of the type of wine, how it was made, and where the grapes were grown (pointing to the hill, ‘over there’, or ‘down the hill by my parents house, just there’); after that there was no further talking, only the enjoyment of the wine. We were also given generous portions of fresh bread, a local cheese, and saussiçons cooked in wine (Pete had those). We had also been told to bring a picnic so there was plenty to eat and drink!

By this time the sun was trying to break through the clouds, and we were encouraged to forage for remaining grapes left on the vines, and in general enjoy the grounds of the vineyard after we finished eating and drinking. This part of the trip at the winery lasted a good 3 hours. In true French fashion, as we are coming to learn, lunch time is a honoured break in the day, and it is expected to last at least 90 minutes. Maybe not eating and drinking for the entire time, but there is no rush, and one should enjoy the time with good food and drink, and talking with friends and colleagues.

Yes of course: this is what we came to France to enjoy! Now we just need to learn to practice it ever day.

Here is more information about the winery in English: http://www.vinogusto.com/en/wine/410258/plaisirs-de-pegase-beaujolais-villages-2013


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