A Brief Taste of SummerPosted: March 29, 2013
Persistence of the infamously cold weather continues to inhibit the reconstruction of Serial 19 of The Fading Margin. Work is confidently expected to be finished during the next few days; meanwhile, as a reminder of what summer used to be like, we are reprinting a nostalgic piece from the not-so-distant past.
WALKING FROM KINTZHEIM TO RIQUEWIHR left me with the conviction that nowhere that I know more closely resembles the popular idea and the romantic ideal of wine country than the wine country of Alsace. Except for one short diversion through forest, and for the villages themselves, hardly a hundred continuous yards of the path were not bordered by the growing vines. From time to time, wishing to go higher up or lower down the slope, I would simply walk between the rows, glad of the shade.
It was easy walking: rarely so steep as seriously to test limbs or lungs; rarely demanding careful attention to either map or compass; to my right was always the guiding line of the Vosges; to my left, the wide plain and valley of the Rhine. Village succeeded village, always within sight of one another, never more than a mile or two apart. Unadventurous it may have been, but never dull. Not unless sunshine and birdsong and a woodpecker and a brace of hares and the wild flowers and the scent of summer are dull. Not unless it was tedious to see village squares and streets innocent of litter and almost all other ugliness, bright with geraniums (everywhere geraniums), tempting with invitations to dégustations in timbered and cobbled courtyards. Not unless it was dull to look up at the ruins of castle and watch-tower on the forest-covered heights and think of the centuries of war and turbulent peace that they had seen.
Recommended to Charles Koehly & Fils, a winemaker in the village of Rodern, I took a path across a verdant little valley that led down from what must have been all of 28 degrees Celsius into a brief but delicious fraîcheur, then up again into the noonday glare. Fearing the approach of lunch and with it closing time, I hurried along, almost trotting down the last short slope before the village, then toiling briskly up the other side to arrive breathless and perspiring in the attractive Koeberlé-Kreyer courtyard as the church clock struck twelve. Nobody was about, but an electronic alarm had sounded as I entered the courtyard, and now a bespectacled, grey-haired head appeared at an upstairs window.
‘Bonjour madame. Je voudrais acheter du vin, si ça ne vous dérangera pas trop.’
‘Pas du tout, Monsieur. Pas du tout. Je serai avec vous dans un petit instant.’
In a cool and spacious ground floor room my hostess took bottles of Riesling and Pinot Blanc from a refrigerator and poured generously. Both wines, but the Riesling in particular, seemed to me exquisite. Here was the lovely, clean, cool freshness of a summer morning. Buying a bottle of each, I wrapped the Pinot Blanc up well inside my rucksack and went out again into a village abandoned to the heat and a tabby cat asleep on an upturned cask. A few hundred yards took me up a forest track into the trees. Another mile or so led down into the wooded valley of the Bergenbach stream; yet another up and out on to the edge of the wide, sweeping, vine-covered Kirchberg slope overlooking Ribeauvillé.
On a little knoll, I found a lone walnut tree for shade, closely hedged in by vines on three sides but commanding a view of the plain. Luxuriously extended in the long grass, boots off, shirt unbuttoned, rejoicing in a gentle, heaven-sent breeze, I poured myself a glass, and then another, of what seemed to me at that moment one of the most delectable Pinot Blancs in one of the most desirable picnic places in the world.
NEXT FRIDAY, 5 April, The Fading Margin Serial 19: Chapter Twelve, Going Up Late, Part One.