catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 12 :: 2012.06.08 — 2012.06.21


The tasting room

Years ago, my family and I took one of those family trips that lives on long after the return home — one of those trips that is retold year after year and eventually takes on a life of its own. We were travelling through France, spending days in wine country. One afternoon we were searching for a certain chateau, one that we read about in a book.

But we couldn’t find the tasting room. We drove to the location on the map, but there was no tasting room. On the road there were no signs for it. Actually, there was no indication it existed aside from the map. After driving around in a few circles, we pulled to the side of the road, in frustration. We stopped in front of a large house that was close to the right place, unmarked, but near where we should be.

So here we are, an American family knocking on the front door of a long sought-after chateau. A man opens the door, with a nice “bonjour.” “We are looking for the tasting room. Could you tell us where it is?” The man replied in English, “It is here,” he said. “Follow me.”

And so we followed the man whose name turned out to be Robert (pronounced “row-bear”), as he brought us through a room that looked like a living room; sofa and chairs, a television in the corner. He walked us through a kitchen with a coffee percolator on the stove and dirty dishes in the sink. He sat us down on a nice patio out behind the large house with one wrought iron table, six chairs and an umbrella to block the sun.

We looked around as Robert went to the kitchen. There was no wait staff in black aprons carrying trays. No displays of wines to pick up, no crowds, no cash register. It was just us.

Robert returned with two white wines and found a red. He then made a second trip to bring back some plain crystal glasses. He pulled a few corks and began pouring the first wine.

It began to dawn on us, that this was not exactly the tasting room we’d been looking for.

Robert, with enthusiasm, invited us to lift our glasses, and he welcomed us to the winery, then with a smile offered a hearty “salut.” Cheers. We’d found the winery all right, but the winery was his home. It was a place that does not do tours, has no tasting room. Here we are, a family of American tourists, who find themselves on the patio of a French winemaker, uninvited. Here is Robert, showing us a generous act of hospitality all for the joy of his life: wine.

What should have been an awe-inspiring affair created the sudden aroma of anxiety. We had interrupted his day. We intruded on his house. So with apologies we began to explain. “We’re sorry to interrupt you. We’ll leave you alone.”

But that was not Robert’s way, “Relax, relax. You Americans are always in a hurry. Tell me where you are from.” And so we did. The conversation carried on as we told stories of who we were and how we found ourselves in Robert’s home as strangers uninvited and yet welcome. We asked about him and his family as we tried another wine. He told us about his winery and explained that winemaking was the occupation for most of his family.

It had been an hour or two, and then discomfort returned. “We’d like to buy a few bottles and be out of your way, you must be very busy.”

“Relax, relax, always such hurry.” Robert then reminded us, “You are in France. You are on vacation. You have nowhere else to be. Stay. Relax.”

And Robert opened the next bottle, pouring out more conversation, and more stories. After several bottles, we were winding down and the sun began to cast large shadows across the trees. “I have one last thing to show you,” Robert said.

We walked with him across his property to a building that looked half underground. He showed us to a door in the ground. It opened to an underground cellar filled with barrels. It was cool, dark, and humid. It had dirt floors and rows of barrels that went as far as the eye could see. He took the stopper out of a barrel, and with a wine thief (a long glass tube for drawing wine out of containers), he pulled wine from the barrel and put it in several glasses.

Handing us the glasses he said, “This wine comes from my uncle’s vineyard up the hill.” He replaced the stopper, and walked us up the row of barrels, and drew wine from another.

“This is from my brother’s vineyard,” he said.

He did the same from his father’s, and his sister’s, and at the last barrel, he said, “This one is me. This is where you are.”

Robert was at home and he was at home in himself. When we find ourselves at home, God must truly be near.

He explained that they would eventually blend the different wines together for a particular taste in a single wine. And that was his family. 

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