Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Guess who's coming?
My first trip to France was in March of 2003. It was a twenty five day trip that I was dreading, terrified of taking and was in no way emotionally prepared for. So how better to ready yourself the night before such a trip? Pack maybe? No, too practical. Spend quality time with the family you will be away from for the longest time you have ever been apart? Nope, too touchy feely. Organize your carry on, fill it with things to keep you occupied for a eleven hour flight? Yeah, not that wise. No this ever stable chick got stinking drunk, drank a bottle and a half of Champagne by myself….on a too-nervous-to-eat stomach. So imagine my puffy, head thumping dismay the next morning when I found that the clothes that I was packing…for the twenty five day trip to chilly France, would not fit in the two bags I had. Hubby made a quick dash to Target and got me two slightly larger bags that I was able to stuff my fat girl winter clothes in…yay.
To try and quiet the spinning and pounding, both anxiety and booze induced I opted for the only sane cure…more booze on the plane of course. Sipping, nodding, slurping, squeezing my chunky ass in and out of my seat, more sipping and I managed to finally drift off to sleep….about twenty minutes before we landed at Charles De Gaulle, awesome. Stumbled off the plane and immediately lit a cigarette in the airport, this was France they all smoke here….um, yeah not so much. I stood there with my fearless leader Michael Sullivan looking at me like I must be “challenged” as I puffed away while leaning on a No Smoking sign. Found the nearest trashcan and after a final, “Oh my Gawd I needed that” puff I extinguished my cigarette and made my way to the baggage claim with the rest of my group.
As the plane booze and sleep deprivation retardation set in I began my first bout of insecurity based paranoia that would visit me often during that trip. I tried to steady myself, stand straight and act as if I had not been saturated for the past twenty four hours, these fancy pants wine folks were eyeballing me…wondering what I was doing on such a trip, (ya know because I was their biggest concern…fuck insecurity is kind of arrogant no?) wondering if I was drunk or just goofy. I watched as they hoisted their sizable bags from the revolving belt and felt my heart race when I didn’t see my bags comin’ round the bend. I felt the first trickle of sweat slip down my lower back after ten minutes and was in a full on flop sweat after the next ten…where the hell were MY bags?! “You sure those aren’t yours Sam?” Michael asked after watching like four bags roll around on the belt for the umpteenth time. “Um no. I know what my bags look like and those aren’t them” I snapped in a “shit my buzz is gone and I feel like ass” tone and began looking around for the little office where you go when your shit is missing. I was near tears when Michael stepped up to the orphan bags and checked the tags, that was the first time of many I would see the head cocked “Are you serious?” face from Michael. He pulled my bags off the belt and gave me a long stare before saying, “This should be fun”….fantastic start.
After one night in Paris we were off to our one stop in Champagne, Agrapart. I was still hazy as hell, not from booze but from pure physical and emotional exhaustion when we stepped into the cellar at Agrapart. My eyes glazed over as Michael and Pascal chatted away in French, my heart just wasn’t in it and my bits were beginning to freeze. My nose felt like it was stuffed and I watched as big plumes of white air came huffing warm from my lips and into the icy air, I was mesmerized as I watched them drift away from me and seemingly disappear into the frosty air that surrounded me. After tasting through the base wines used to make their lovely Champagnes we were escorted to the much warmer tasting room to taste some finished wines. I shuffled behind my group and found a small area of the tasting bar to rest my notebook upon so I could take proper notes. I brought that first glass of much wanted, long awaited Champagne to my nose and took a deep, powerful sniff….so here’s the thing, not as cold there in the tasting room and the force with which I took that first sniff…the kind of sniff that was required in the icy cellar….with the base wine, tad too aggressive. I literally sucked bubbles and wine right up my nose which induced a couching, and gagging fit that had me hunched over and fearing I was going to bring up my breakfast baguette or wiz myself, not sure which would have been worse. Day two and Michael face number two…rad.
Couple of days in and we are in a tiny little bistro in Beaune for lunch. I was feeling more rested and a bit more comfortable in my skin. I was sporting my “No one told me not to” white sneakers and they were wearing the splatters from me spitting some of the world’s most amazing wines on the cellar floors from whence they came…Clos Vougeot, I had Clos Vougeot stains on my kicks. So this afternoon I thought it was time to try and take my lunch ordering into my own hands, I didn’t read a word of French but figured that everything I had so far, (blood sausage that was forced on me that first night in Paris not withstanding) was pretty damn good, how hard could this be? Thankfully there was plenty of Raveneau Chablis to wash down my sliced pig snout with a side of lentils….dude.
Had two shining moments while visiting Eric Bordelet who arguably makes the world’s finest Ciders. “Eric is running late so feel free to take some time to decompress and just relax” Michael told us as we mulled around outside the car at the Bordelet estate. As we all wandered off to find a place to chill Michael called out, “Be sure to watch out of you should choose to sprawl out on the grass, the stinging nettles around here are pretty fierce”. Not sure what it was I heard, maybe it was just, “Grass” that sent me to a nice sunny spot of lush green where I set about stretching out, lacing my fingers behind my head and resting my travel weary body beneath the sun. After about four minutes the burning started and from there…it just got worse. “Um, Michael…if someone were to stumble upon some of that nettle junk what would it look like?” I asked trying desperately to conceal my flaming hands, “The skin would be all red, bumpy and burn like hell” he answered. I flipped my hands out in front of him to hear, “Yup, just like that. Nicely done”…Michael look number fifteen.
Later in the evening that same day, my hands somewhat healed we met Eric Bordelet for dinner at the restaurant that was located in our rather swanky hotel. I was in full on party mode at dinner seeing as we didn’t need to travel to far to make it back to our rooms and still recovering from the sting of my idiocy I figured what the hell. That was until I felt that brick wall of “Holy shit, I’m hammered” fall upon me and I decided it was time to say goodnight. Now I’m not sure if I have ever mentioned my direction deficiency before but I was born without a sense of direction….seriously cannot find my way out of a paper bag, add a bunch of wine and Calvados and I’m basically fucked. But I was a world traveler now, been weaving my way, (led that means I had been led) throughout France surely I could find my way to my damn room…..sigh. After slinking around in the belly of the hotel, winding up back in the restaurant for the third time my fellow female road buddy took pity on me and helped me find my room. Got the call in the morning, “Shall we send a Sherpa or will you be able to find the car?”….sigh.
I left for that trip ten years ago, begging, kicking and screaming because I didn't want to go...spent my last night in Paris, 25 days after I arrived, tears once again carving rivers into my made up cheeks, nose stuffed and heart racing as I dressed for my final night in the country, with the people that would change my life forever. Michael's cocked head, snarky smirk and willingness to press his palm into the small of my back and lead me down the path that I still find myself skipping along today. Finding a sweetly supportive stare and a slightly snarled nostril right above the lips that uttered "You are a peer Sam" and, "You wanna drive past the Eiffel Tower? It's midnight..." words and reflective moments that are with me each and every day, still. Michael helped me step into my skin, used his acceptance to pry this trap of mine open....made me feel, distinctive and most importantly, talented. If it weren't for Michael Sullivan I can't imagine there would be a me, least not this me, and for that I am never sure if I should give him a thump on his head or one of those whole soul hugs. He and Randy Kemner are the reason I get to live and love in this life of mine, they taught me wine but also conspired to push me, stretch me, pull me, inspire and love me in ways that this shy girl had....has never really known. The things I've seen, felt, touched and tasted because of those two men, humbling is far too tiny a word.
So guess who's coming for a visit? Coming to do two tasting events at The Wine Country which for me translates to two days with my heart full. Full of Michael's particular brand of relaxed education, the kind the washes over you and sticks without pretension or dogma. Me in the store that broke my life wide open, with the two men that conspired to rip the three inch armor off me. Helped, encouraged, demanded I find this voice of mine and have been behind me each and every step of the way. Their love for me a burst of life in the balls of my feet, their voices in my ear, their trust and belief in me the finger on my chin I've waited and hoped for my whole life. The one holding my chin high.....
Michael, My Michael Sullivan is coming and I hope with my entire big dumb heart that some folks will come, see him, support him and the amazing wines he shares with us. October 18th and 19th....save the date, come visit us and one of our most adored importers. Loire on Friday night, (Dagueneau, Rougeard and Chidaine...that's gonna suck) and Burgundy, (Montille, Lafon, Camus-Brouchon, Chandon de Briailles, also going to blow) on Saturday afternoon. If you dig me, loathe me, find me adorable or profoundly annoying this is your chance to blame one of the two cats that made me.....well, me.