jeudi, mai 17, 2007

07.05.17: Pilgrims, pelerins, pinot noir, past and present

In the middle ages, apparently there was a lot of sin. There was also a lot of anxiety about how to get absolution. Depending on income bracket and political connections, there were options for re-arriving in a good state of grace, before, well you know, an accident happened and you were standing at the gates for a final accounting. Wear clean underwear, you know.

One popular method, open to all income brackets, was to make a pilgrimage. One very efficient pilgrimage route was to make the trek to San Juan de Compostelle (or St-Jacque, if you are still in France, headed towards the Spanish border). For those with the fortitude to make the journey, all sins (up to that point in life, at any rate) were absolved. Starting over. Clean slate. Guaranteed by the Pope.

All of this was based on the fact that St John (allright, english version name) the apostle's body washed up at this spot in Spain, after having drifted at sea for like 400 years, and so the miracle happened, we have a church, and we have the promise from the pope that if you make the pilgrimage, all sins are wiped clean and a ticket to heaven is tucked safely in your pocket.

The pilgrims returning home would bring a seashell with them as a remembrance of the trek to the Spanish coast (and perhaps a reminder about their state of grace). The route is now marked with bronze shells embeded in the roads along the route throughout France, and you can usually encounter a few folks walking along the route most days.

Vézelay was an important stop along this route of pilgrimage. The day I visited, there were two men on a tandem bicycle who were making the pilgrimmage from eastern France and planned to make Compostelle a few weeks later. Don't know if you get full marks for taking a bicycle instead of the foot path. There was also a guy walking down the highway in the rain, red poncho, seashell necklace, heading west, 1500 km to go. Vézelay also makes the UNESCO list, as the orgin of the highly successful 2nd crusade, launched from here in 1146 by St-Bernard, and the launching point for Richard the Lion Heart for the 3rd crusade in 1190, the town continually providing alternate paths to forgiveness.

If you drive down the highway about 120 km east and south, you can find a modern day pilgrimage of another sort in full swing. Arriving in the heart of the Burgundy region, France's answer to the question: What to do with some Pinot Noir vines? Make Burgundy wine. Lots of it.

Divide up the land into very tiny parcels of mini-hectares; give each hectare a different fancy french name, and then invite the California pilgrims to traverse the Route de Vin. Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-St-George, Morey-St Denis, Chambolle-Musigny - all grand crus.

The pinot pilgrims, nicely tanned from sunny californie du sud, travel the route in BMWs, driven by their french drivers/guides, with their long hair, speaking impeccable english, smoking Marlboro Lights, and retaining enough of their strong french accent, so you always know just whose country you are in. Make some appointments at some of the grand crus, superior class wine houses, deguste a little wine here and there, pack up some cases at 600€ per, discuss shipping to the US, and seek coronation back home by having the well stocked cave. This pilgrimmage is not open to all income brackets. Not so obvious you leave in a state of grace, but you can certainly arrive at an altered state of consciousness with enough degustations.

Me ... I bicycled a little along the côtes (steep, dry, scenic) and bought a few bottles of Gevrey-Chambertin for the cave from a very pleasant vignoble, whose son is living/working in California in the field of software.

To each, their own pilgrimmage. To each, their own salvation/salivation.

Bonne route.