I've just come back from a rather indulgent and highly educational trip to Burgundy, home to the some of the finest vineyards on the planet, at least until climate change makes it impossible to grow grapes there. I'm currently going through millions of photographs, mostly of Snuffi perched on the various village road signs. The highlight was a bike ride starting in Beaune, and winding through the vineyards to Pommard, Volnay, Meursault and finally to Puligny-Montrachet, where I had lunch accompanied by wines labelled with the names I had just cycled through. If you know or like wine, some or all of these places may be familiar to you, and if you don't I did find a Brambling in Meursault just south of the main square.
I love good wine. I especially like drinking it of course, but I also enjoy learning about it, and there is no better way to learn about particular wines than by going to where they are made. Certainly that slow pedal through the vines taught me more than any book could about the soil, the slopes and where individual plots lie, and by talking to vignerons as I passed by I got a far better idea of what was happening. Some of the vines I cycled past I will never in a million years be able to afford, it is likely my whole life will pass without so much as a sip of Le Montrachet. North of Beaune, just outside the village of Vosne-Romanée I took a side road to the west and suddenly found myself next to possibly the most exalted patch of earth in France being ploughed by a horse, and from where a single bottle can cost £20k. Who buys it and nonchalantly pops the cork I cannot say. Not I.
There are a few wines from the area still just about within reach however, and I took great pleasure in tasting as many of them as I could at the domaines, shops, bars and restaurants from Gevrey in the north to Chassagne in the south. Post Brexit the duty free allowance is only 24 bottles, but from a place like Burgundy that is probably for the best and I didn't manage to reach it. I'll do a photo essay in due course. Between squandering my children's inhertance and chowing down on calorific goodness I also managed a morning of birding in Picardie, and an afternoon around the lakes in the Forêt d'Orient - in a single scan at the Lac d'Amance I counted over 200 Great White Egrets. It was mindblowing.
France is and remains excellent. Despite another large wad of paperwork required to get there and get back, nobody asked me for anything at any point, and my fears of the french authorities taking excessive pleasure in ensuring that UK visitors have everything "en ordre" with their cars (and frankly given our Government's shameful rhetoric I don't blame them) were unfounded. The cooking was fabulous and many of the wines were wonderful, but above all it was a pleasure to speak French from morning until night without really skipping a beat. I learned when I was eight years old, and whilst it does become rusty without use it has never left me and comes back relatively quickly. And in France it helps to open doors that might otherwise be closed, which can at times be very helpful indeed.