I sometimes wish I’d been a wine buff.
The problem is, for ‘buff’ read ‘snob’, and I’d hate to think I was snobbish about anything. (Well, apart from inappropriate behaviour in public; expressing one’s opinions too loudly; loud bassy music emanating from cars whose drivers really should know better and – let me see – oh yes, people who know a lot about wine and can therefore combine the words licquorice, blackcurrant, legs, apricot, lingering, tobacco, nose and vanilla in one sentence without ever being challenged or thought of as a bit odd.)
But if I had been a wine buff, the French countryside through which we’ve been travelling would have had far greater meaning – because it is undoubtedly wine-country. Our travel-guidebooks had all provided lightweight insight into what we should expect when we entered the regions around Bordeaux. Vines, mostly. Acres of them. Sorry. Hectares. Delightful rolling fields full of vivid, lively green rows, all combed neatly across the landscape at a surprisingly uniform height, and bearing – at this September harvest time of year – cluster upon cluster of dangling black grapes.
Their volume and accessibility – growing mostly in unfenced fields alongside major highways – are clearly a temptation to passing motorists, as we witnessed at a brief pull-in stop to consult our roadmap. By pure chance, it seems we were in the vicinity of the Rothschilds’ estates – whose famous labels of Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau-Lafitte are bywords for high-end wines, so we can only assume their grapes are also highly prized as we witnessed an amusing act of highway robbery.
A small Peugeot hatchback with French numberplates pulled into the layby just ahead of us, driven by an aging Madame – with a similarly aged female passenger, both of whom were sporting oversize sunglasses hinged beneath giant and heavily bouffanted fin-du-siecle hairdos. These, perhaps inevitably, were offset by twinsets and pearls, although the passenger’s were disguised beneath a trendy silver-grey padded jacket. As the car came to a stop, the passenger slipped nimbly out, casually entered a row of unfenced vines and emerged, smiling conspiratorially at us with a large bunch of grapes now comically and theatrically semi-hidden beneath her overwear. With a flamboyant gesture appropriate to her age and apparent station (as a grape-buff, perhaps?) she slipped back into the Peugeot which then graciously fishtailed its way back onto the carriageway and away into the sunset.
We could just imagine the two Madames cackling like naughty schoolchildren at their audacity as they sped off and then – after a moment’s or two amused contemplation – decided what-the-hell; got out and did exactly the same (but minus the fishtailing departure, obvs!)
*I know, I know, I couldn’t come up with a witty rhyme for ‘Wrath’ – but I’m hoping Paulliac at least provides a little geographical context so I should be forgiven.