How many of them are there?
Perfect days? Too few just lately.
How to recognise one? It is to be transported to another place, another time, another life; where all those niggles that come in the night, the daily irritations, the ceaseless concern about the future are sloughed away. Instead the present is all – it is full and joyous and demands one’s complete attention.
Such was yesterday – a perfect day.
We were off to lunch in the Beaujolais hills. Beaujolais is indeed very hilly and the small settlements of ancient houses nestle either deep in its folds or high, high, on the very tops, just below the tree-line. The ground is mostly granite, but outcrops of schist, basalt and limestone are found here too. This is grape-growing country and the grape of Beaujolais is Gamay. Not so prestigious as neighbouring Côte d’Or’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but still they make very fine wine here notwithstanding. Somehow the spirit of Beaujolais seems warmer and more inviting than that of the Côte d’Or – maybe because life for the grower is harder here, a little more precarious perhaps. I don’t know, but the vignerons are always warm and welcoming and happy to share something of their lives with us. Much of the land is simply pasture though and small fields of grazing cattle intersperse with the vineyards. Places are not easy to find and the GPS refuses to acknowledge the address fed into it – we settle on just Leynes and hope all will be revealed when we arrive.
Tam says, ‘I think from the map, it must be right on top of one of those hills’. Mmmm…the hills here are high – mini-mountains more like – and the roads narrow and very windy (that’s spelled with a long i!). I spot a sign saying ‘Clos Sauvage’ – yes, that’s the place and off we go – heading up and up and round and round into the hills of Beaujolais.
We are going to heaven. I can feel it. Whoever would make wine up here? Angels perhaps?
The parking for cars is in a field on the side of a precipice – we park with aplomb and look over at what seems like the whole of France laid out before us.
It’s warm but cloudy, threatening rain, but for me, welcome after the oppressive heat earlier in the week. We walk into the courtyard of Clos Sauvage – it is breath-taking. Here, in one sweeping glance, is all you might ever dream of as being the perfect spot in which to settle, the perfect house in which to live, the perfect view to wake up to each morning and the perfect place to make your wine. I think I did literally stop breathing for a moment, overcome, as I glanced around at the setting for our day.
We are welcomed by friendly people, offered cool water lightly flavoured with a few crushed lemon slices, much needed after the long drive, and invited to write our first names on a sticker and attach it to ourselves. This was a nice touch, making it easier to approach strangers and just chat. It is rare to find non-French people at these events. Numbers are limited and most who attend share a common interest in wine. We soon found ourselves talking to others who were intrigued by the presence of a couple of English amongst them. There were around 45 people. We divided into two groups – one to visit the vines, while the rest headed towards the cellar, led by host David. We followed his wife, Sophie, into the vines, there to hear how, as a young couple with no experience of growing grapes or making wine they had come to settle in this wild part of the Beaujolais. She told us a little about their philosophy and approach to their wine-making. She spoke about the toughness of the life and how in their early days when they had no return on their newly planted vines, they kept cows and grew fruit as well. We made a short walk into a distinctly wild looking field of vines – not here were to be found the tidy manicured lines of vines one has come to expect. This was the ‘biologique’ way, and and our hosts were still young; keen to experiment and find more environmentally friendly ways to grow their grapes. They are brave – the weather here is not kind – cold springs that deter growth, terrible hail-storms that can destroy years of work overnight or freezing winters that kill everything. And isolated too, up here, just them at the end of a narrow, tortuous track winding its way up the hill. Yet, even as she describes those hard times, it’s clear that there is nothing else she and David would rather be doing.
We head back to the cellar and a tasting of the wines they make. David describes each in detail as he serves us and tells us how they have a parcel or two of vines within the St. Amour appellation and another at St.Véran. Now they are true vignerons producing a small range of interesting wines – even one that is naturally bubbly!
We move back outside, into the shade of the two ancient plane trees, the sun has come out, the rain clouds gone. There is the sound of music and looking up to the terrace of the ancient house in which they dwell we see a solitary violinist. She plays while we all take our seats at the tables laid out for our meal under the trees in the courtyard. A lovely lunch with an Italian twist is served, Clos Sauvage wines are poured and we look for common ground with our fellow diners. They are interesting bunch; few have come far – up from Lyon mostly – we share stories and listen. They kindly make allowances for my French and forgive when I occasionally lapse back into English.
Our young Italian chef, who has a restaurant in Macon, explains each course of the meal and David tells us why he has matched a particular wine to it. The musicians play Mozart and Bach during the intervals between courses, joined by Sophie, we learn that they are three sisters. What a family – youthful, hardworking, intelligent and talented. Later, as the pressure to serve and entertain eases, their several young children come out from the house to meet the guests and play.
This was a remarkable day, not least because it was day when there was absolutely nothing to worry about. The world looked so very good from this vantage point. The air, clear and pure; the land stretched out before us – no chemically homogenised agri-industry here – just small pastures, rocky vineyards, and forests of sweet chestnuts up on the high ground. We spotted Southern White Admiral butterflies in the hedgerows of wild honeysuckle and chickens wandered free, scratching for food around our feet. Heaven truly, in a place on earth.
Well, we are grown-ups, we know that life, even here, is a struggle at times and our young family just as beset with worry over the state of the world as we are – but – just for today – we had a taste of how life could, should, really be and we thank our hosts for that.
Should you ever be planning a visit to the region or just making your way south down the A6 Autoroute do make a detour to Leynes. Take a look at the Clos Sauvage website to find out more about them: https://clossauvage.com/
Plan too, for a lunch stop in Mâcon at our young chef’s restaurant, La Dama. Best to book though – see: https://ladama.fr/