Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Alsace, France: A Weekend of Wine

Kaysersberg, France

      "You want to taste some wine?  I am coming down."  At least that is what I thought I heard the man say to us in French.  We were standing in the courtyard of a very old home.  It didn't look like a winery but the sign on the gate promised  that we could have a "degustation".  This was the last stop of the day and we had determined earlier that some of the better wines houses were the smaller ones located off the main street of town.
     We were a bit perplexed when we walked up to the door and realized that the tasting room was locked.  Then, as if there were sensors around us, a man popped his head out of a window and started speaking French.  He emerged from his house, crossed the courtyard to where we were standing, shook our hands and unlocked the door to the tasting room.  The man looked like Santa Claus with the brown hair.  He stood over 6 feet tall and was massive.  He also reminded me of a sailor or someone who worked twenty years on the docks.  On the top of his head sat a red stocking cap.  His burly beard covered his face and left only twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks.  At first glance, there was no way this guy could make wine.
     At second glance, we wondered that thought again as he took us through a rather large room that looked basically like a junk room.  Old bicycles, tires, pieces of wood and various tools were scattered around the dark, damp room.  He led us through another door and down a small flight of stairs and then we realized that we may have just found something very special.  This last room was immaculate and held ten to twelve giant barrels of wine.  He led us over to a small counter and took two small glasses out.  We didn't see the name of the winery etched in the glass as many of the other producers liked to do.  These were simple, traditional Alsatian glasses.
     "You want to taste a red wine?"  He asks again in French and then switches to German.  He asks us where we are from and after he learns that we are American, he informs us that his English is terrible.  Again, we are perplexed.  In the Alsace, white wine is king so why would we want to taste a red wine?  And why would we taste a red wine before tasting the white?  "Oh well, go with it and see where it leads."  We taste the pinot noir...not bad.  Then we move on to the Rieslings, which is the primary motive of this entire trip.  We spend the next twenty minutes or so, going back and forth with questions in a mixture of German and French.  If I cannot understand him in French, he repeats in German.  If I cannot think of the word in German, I say it to him in French.
     The winery has been in his family since the 1600's and he has been in the business for 35 years.  He has just small parcels of land scattered around the town and produces only several thousand bottles of each wine per year.  He is a man who is passionate about his work and it really shows in his enthusiasm and his desire to share all of this with us.  His Riesling is the best we have tried thus far.  However, the best is yet to come.  He pours us a sample of his Grand Cru Riesling.  It has a mellow, honey color to it unlike any other Riesling I have ever seen.  It is not sweet but has a tang of sweetness.  It isn't thick but has heaviness to it.  It is not a wine to throw back in your mouth.  It is a wine to savor.  Now, this is something special.

     In English, I ask Dear Husband if he wants to get three bottles of the Riesling and three of the Grand Cru. We are already over budget. "Twelve." Did I mention that we were over budget?  "Twelve" was again the response.  So we walked out with two additional cases of wine.  It was one of those visits that creates a lifetime of memories.  "A prochaine fois", I call out to him as we leave.  Until next time.

     This was our third visit to the Alsace and the area is one of our favorites. The wine route meanders 170km, through picturesque villages and vineyards.  The Vosgnes Mountains provide pretty mountain views and lots of opportunities for day hikes and exploring.  During our first visit, we stayed in the village of Riquewihr and the medieval town is so perfect that it seems plucked from a  Disney set and not hundreds of years old.  Last year, we stayed south of Colmar in Eguisheim and this village with its concentric streets is fascinating to explore.  However, I think this year's trip was the highlight.  We selected Kaysersberg and it was a delight.  We had a quaint two bedroom apartment within the old city walls.  We took walks to the old castle high above the town, picnicked in the vineyards (of course), bought wine and cooked typical Alsatian meals for dinners.  While we were gone only for the weekend, it seemed so much longer.  But with seven new cases of wine, I think I will be able to have a bit of the Alsace every once in a while. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Vent, Austria and Dinkelsbuhl, Germany: What a difference the sun makes...

     It was as if the cocoon opened and the catepillar exited as a butterfly.  In this case, the cocoons were our homes.  While our winter was not that fierce, it was rainy.  It was dreary.  It was cold.  The lack of sun is common around here and the use of Vitamin D is popular among Americans in order to possibly combat seasonal affective disorder (or SAD).
     The weather dramatically changed.  Days and days of sunshine and mild temperatures.  Our lawn is dotted with primroses (which I never knew were perennials).  The daffodils are blooming and the bees are buzzing.  Over the weekend, nearly all of our neighbors were out, sprucing up their tiny yards.  Older couples strolled around the neighborhood streets, stopping frequently to have conversations with old friends that they had probably not seen in months.  The cheerful noises of children riding bikes and playing outside sounded like music.
     The pasture behind our house was mowed and the farmer came by inspecting the fence.  We are sure that soon "our" cows will be back.  However, will Frances, our favorite, be one of them?  In all of this euphoria, there is still an overwhelming question poised on the lips of anyone who has spent at least 24 hours in Belgium.  "How long will it last?"  "Is this our summer?"
     Last week was one of our Spring holidays.  Not only do we get a week "Pre-Lenten" holiday, we also get two weeks in April for Spring Break.  Given that it is still ski season, we headed back to Austria and back to the village where it all started for us 15 years ago.
The Wildspitz
     To go back to Vent is a homecoming of sorts.  There are rarely surprises.  We fall into a comfortable routine.  We chat with the waiter who has been there for 21 years and always welcomes us with a schnapps.  There is our favorite pizzeria, whose owner always remembers Dear Daughter's name and is quick to pull out her IPhone to show us pictures of her two.  We stop in the bar where once an Olympian served us beers and told us stories of life on the World Cup circuit.

     We skied a bit.  We took a few mountain walks.  We ate at our favorite restaurants.  We totally relaxed.  Just before our departure from home, we had learned that we will be here one more year, so our stress levels plummeted.  We enjoyed each other's company and gave each other space.

A view of Vent
Taking a break...

A walk in the snow

     On the way home, we took a detour in Germany and stopped to visit an old medieval village, Dinkelsbuhl, which is on the Romantische Strasse.  Twenty-five years ago, I lived fifteen minutes away from this beautiful village, yet Dear Husband and I cannot remember much about it.  To see the area again through the eyes of a 48-year old was completely different from seeing it as a 23-year old. Oh, the biking we could have done or the picnics we could have had.  As I mentioned this, Dear Daughter just rolls her 12-year old eyes.  I am so glad that we have been given another chance to experience Europe but I also understand that my daughter eyes are quite different from my own.

Think she will live there one day?

I lived in Crailsheim 25 years ago and I do not remember a Schloss...
     I love the travel and we will head back on the road tomorrow. However, I am also eager to be at home.  I want to start a garden, eat dinner on the terrace and hopefully, name the new cows and look for Frances.  I will miss the cozy fires but I love hearing the chirping birds each morning.

     Now if I could just get someone to mow our lawn???