We Taste Some Wine And Cycle To St. Emilion

B2A1EE30-DD8F-4B70-AB8D-4BBC71289523Readers of my generation will likely recall with childhood nostalgia the work of Oliver Postgate (1925-2008) whose naively innovative animated children’s TV programmes included Noggin The Nog; Clangers; Pogle’s Wood and Bagpuss (with whom – despite his undoubted popularity – I never really got on.) As far as I can recall, the Pogles were an aged and ageless couple of shuffling diminutive woodland folk totally dedicated to each other and who lived in a forest, where they ambled about looking after the flora and fauna therein.
I mention this by way of introduction simply because yesterday evening, we attended a ‘degustation’ of local wine at a vineyard run by Monsieur et Madame Pogle themselves. Arriving alongside several other Knumptying motorhomers during the late afternoon, we were all invited – nay, commanded – by M. Pogle himself, to attend said tasting at ‘six heure aujord’hui’, emphasising this appointment time by much tapping on the back of a bony wrist which presumably should have borne a watch, but didn’t.
So it was, at the appointed hour, a motley assemblage of Knumpties Of The World convened in M. Pogle’s homely kitchen, to be welcomed by himself (accompanied by his wizened, diminutive but bustling wife) to both their home and to their wines. We awkwardly – and with the greatly enhanced politeness attributable to a mix of people who find it difficult to understand one another – settled around the kitchen table and M. Pogle took his place at the head, perched on a slightly elevated stool. Meanwhile, Mme Pogle, God bless her, bustled in and out with huge black knotted knuckles of vine wood, which she fed into a gentle fire burning in the grate of their ‘open plan’ lounge.This was incongrously decorated with a very 80’s and therefore very faded full-size Habitat photo-wall graphic of a sunny woodland glade – which I guess enhanced the sense of being in Pogle’s Wood even further.
With a triumphant and slightly impish smile to her husband, Mme Pogle approved his commencement of the ‘degustation’ and we surrendered ourselves to an animated but incomprehensible description of each of four bottles of red wine, which were sloshed out with alacrity into all our sampling glasses, the gentlemen’s measures being notably grander than the ladies.
It turned out that our immediate neighbours at the table were Welsh, so having indirectly insulted them by whispering how crap the English were at learning other languages, we established a sort of mutual interpretation service, each couple exchanging with the other whatever we thought M. Pogle might be talking about.
During these desultory exchanges, we were able to establish that M. Pogle was a heritage octogenarian of some 88 years, his crystal-eyed, fire-fuelling wife a couple of years his junior, and that they’d been married (and making wine) for over 60 years.
As the session progressed, we all became (perhaps inevitably, given the measures now being poured) far more voluble. Fractured Franglais began to be exchanged across the table and there was much uproarious laughter, at what we sadly had no idea but joined in nonetheless, in the forlorn hope that it wasn’t directed at us. At one point, our host began flailing his arms about and making drinking gestures, which we decided was how he kept himself fit, as these exertions were accompanied with a very interpretable ‘trois bouteilles par jour’ and a glint in at least one of his rheumy eyes.
Yes, of course, we all signed up to buy some wine, one couple quietening the room as they asked, just like Oliver Twist, to taste some more, then promptly ordered three cases of the stuff, while the Brits looked at the floor and muttered that they might manage a bottle or two.
Job done, we staggered with our genuine Chateau-bottled St Emilion booty back to the van, now fired up and fuelled with sufficient bravado to attempt a pre-planned 15 minute cycle ride into the nearby town of St. Emilion itself.
So, off we set and as we approached we realised that many more cars than normal were parked and cluttering the grass verges some way out of town. Our curiosity was consolidated when our access was impeded by the road being barred to all vehicles (including cycles) and guarded by good-natured Security operatives, who smiled benignly as we locked up our bikes and wandered down a cobbled street into Wineville itself.
St Emilion was a truly beautiful – and quintessential – French village, it’s major difference with many of the others we’d passed through being that it appeared to be well populated by humans wandering around its cobbled streets. And what cobbles! The Health & Safety Brigade would have enjoyed concreting over them all to provide a stable and accessible surface, but we managed to hobble gamely over them and into the heart of a bustling small, aged and homely town. The honey-grey church tower had just been illuminated from within as dusk was falling, and we stumbled by accident into its bowels, literally, as the arched monolithic cavern beneath the church tower had been carved out of solid limestone in the 12th Century.
Looking out from a vantage point at the base of the tower, a delightful public (and well restauranted) square lay beneath us so it was towards this location which we then clambered down a precipitous cobbled alleyway, and stumbled around unpretentious narrow lanes to explore the rest of this amazing UNESCO World Heritage site.
Homage to the grape and to wine abounded, and when we eventually found ourselves a restaurant table a deux under the spreading plane trees, we each enjoyed a verre du vin to accompany our one and only dinner en plain aire – under a thankfully clear and darkening sky.
Our visit had accidentally coincided with some form of annual celebration called the Journee du Patrimoine, a country-wide celebration of French heritage where over 17,000 historic monuments open their doors for free. As such, the town was buzzing with activity including a march of the wine-tasters, dressed in ceremonial robes and concluding with a firework display.
It was, however, getting slightly chillier than comfort allowed as we finished dinner, so we decided to return to our bikes and thence to the warmth of the van, in the hope that we might get a glimpse of the later fireworks from afar.
In that we’d been able to eat outside for the first time in our two week trip so far, our timing could only have been bettered had we taken the decision to leave 10 minutes earlier. As we cycled back towards ‘home’, it began to rain. And then it poured down. And then it absolutely sheeted down. So much so that it became virtually impossible to see through the rain, especially as we had our heads down as we stood on our pedals and hurtled into the blackening night. Drenched on arrival, the bikes were simply dumped alongside the van, and we drip-dried ourselves before ending our St Emilion evening with a reviving glass of cognac.
And then the fireworks started. Mon Dieu! If only our line of sight from the sheltered interior of the van to the town hadn’t been blocked by an enormous pear tree, we would surely have enjoyed a spectacle of the festival, as the display went on for a full – I kid you not – 40 minutes, non stop, noise, smoke, a massive pyrotechnic spectacle the likes of which we didn’t get to see at all; retired to our beds and were lulled to sleep yet again by the noisy drumming of the rain on the roof. Bon nuit.

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