Margaret and Dick   


August '08: I met my vine at Flandry

I met my vine at Flandry.  His name is Georges, specifically Georges Blanc #21.  He lives between vines 20 and 22 and is Chardonnay.  He cost 160€ and will give me a bottle of wine each year for nine years, with my name on the label.  And I get to party in the vines once a year with other vine-owners.  We are the Compagnons de Flandry.

The people who run the big Sieur d’Arques winery in Limoux are masters at marketing – “mediatique” They cooked up this vine ownership scheme as a fundraiser to restore their run-down chateau de Flandry at the center of these vines.  The chateau looks nice from the outside but is a wreck inside.   It looks authentic enough, though the building only dates to the 1870’s.  It will provide a place for entertaining wine clients, and having a chateau as part of the domaine gives Sieur d’Arques the right to market a wine with a Chateau label, which looks upmarket.  So now several hundred of us own ‘vine-shared’ property in Limoux.

Who is Georges Blanc, and why are they naming vines after him?  Twenty years ago, the Sieur d’Arques winery established an annual event, a major wine auction and dinner called Toques et Clochers (T&C):  toques (chefs’ hats) for a star chef who is invited to prepare the deluxe dinner for the professional wine trade, and clochers (church bell towers) for a village church that will benefit from the wine auction.

Next to Georges Blanc’s row are rows of vines named after star chefs of other years.   Beginning with Pierre Troisgros in 1990, Sieur d’Arques brought (and paid well) Michelin star chefs like Paul Bocuse, Joel Robuchon, Pierre Ganière, Georges Blanc, Marc Haeberlin, and the twins Jacques and Laurent Pourcel to cook a fabulous dinner for the world’s wine buyers at the annual T&C auction.  Georges Blanc, for whom my vine was named, came to cook in 1997 from his 3-star restaurant (“a jewel of French cuisine” per Michelin) just north of Burgundy.

I got the real story about the chateau de Flandry from talking with our realtor at the party.  He found us our house and did the same for most of the North Americans in town.  Of course he knew the history:  he brokered the sale of the chateau to Sieur d’Arques in the 1970s.  The chateau was built from wine wealth accumulated in the late 1800’s when the rail link between Paris and Limoux was completed.  Suddenly the huge wine market of the north opened up to wineries of the south, as a bumpy wagon transport of two weeks became a smooth day or two on the train.  With prices much lower than more famous regions, the Languedoc became the source for France ’s VCC – “wines of current consumption”, cheap wine sold by the gallon.

As money poured into the region, more vines were planted, and the nouveau-riche vineyard owners built chateaux, pretentious buildings with no architectural connection with the region.  The money continued through World War I as lots of wine was needed to motivate the soldiers fighting in the trenches.  The boom ended when even cheaper wine started to flow in from Algeria and a generation of consumers died in WWI.  When a scandal erupted over chemical altering of wines, the bottom fell out of the Languedoc wine market.

The chateau fell into disrepair and acres of vines were ripped up.  Our area remained a source for cheap wines, but no one made much money.  That changed in the 1970s as winemakers realized that the Languedoc could follow the California model, producing respectable inexpensive wines from huge acreage in the sunny south.  The region was replanted with classic grapes of Bordeaux and Burgundy, replacing grapes that had been chosen for high volume.  Sieur d’Arques, a cooperative of grape growers, soon took on more ambitious aims.

Fast-forward to today’s event at Flandry.  Our long day started at

Soon other juices started flowing as well.  With tasting glass in hand, we tried Limoux’s sparkling wines and then did a comparative tasting of the famous T&C Chardonnays from the four regions around Limoux with distinctively different sun, soil, and weather.   Yum.

Our neighborhood butcher, larger-than-life Jean-Louis Garcia, was in charge of roasting eight pigs on spits over a slow charcoal fire.  “We filled the pigs with a couscous-vegetable farce , with cucumber in it to keep the pork moist.  We stuffed them yesterday to let the onion and herbs flavor the meat.   But it’s the first time we ever tried to roast eight pigs at once.  It’s tricky to maintain even heat across the coals to cook eight pigs uniformly.”  His helpers raking hot coals with long-handled rakes could attest to that.

We partied with 20 friends around three big tables.  One young woman, pregnant, was not drinking.
    “Do you know the sex of the baby?”
“Yes, it is a girl.”
“Do you have a name for it yet?”
“No, but it will be a simple common name.”  Understandable; her name is about as common as my daughter Cybele’s.
    “When is the baby due?”
    “End of December – we hope before the first of the year.   If the baby is born before end of December we get a full-year’s allocation (government supplement to encourage having babies).   We’ll do anything to make sure the baby is born this year.  Marche, marche, walk around…”

    Others suggestions followed.
“Try Chinese food.   It works wonders to bring on the birth.”
“Try sex,” said our doctor friend.   “Orgasm helps bring on contractions.”
The father-to-be smiled, liking the idea.  The mother-to-be looked bemused.

The cooking team trotted out a pig’s head on a silver platter to our table, to raucous laughter and some uncertainty about what to do with it.  After hours at table, after lots of food and lots of wine, it was time to go home.  Luckily we were walking, and it was all downhill.  Goodbye, Georges Blanc #21.   See you next year.  Thanks for the wine, by the way. 

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