“We can meet down here around 12:30” I just caught the tail end of Aline’s comment as the elevator doors closed with a ding. Aline, the beautiful, funny and as we would come to find out, incredibly patient woman was the importer that had asked us all to join her on this escapade and she, on our first night, had already negotiated an extended hour on check out time at the hotel in Angers, (stunning city in the Loire Valley) because we would only be in our rooms for a few hours.
It was nearing 4:00 in the morning, and I’d left my tiny band of fellow travelers in the hotel lobby, the ding and lilt of the a French accented start time bouncing around in my head as I drug my overweight luggage, and self, down the hall to my room. I’d been up for over 24 hours, hadn’t washed my face or even brushed my teeth in just as long and I’d already managed to get a stain on my new tie at dinner. Groggy, not sure if I fit in, already gravy soaked and somewhat pitiful I stuck the plastic card dealie in the lock and pushed myself through the tight frame of my oh-so-welcoming room. I couldn’t tear into my luggage fast enough to grab my new travel jammies, still sweet and floral with the smell of dryer sheets, as my fingers began tugging at my Converse Chuck Taylors. Tie up over my head and tossed on the floor, shoes deposited with an inappropriately loud thud and I was shimming out of my airplane saturated garments and groaning as the warm water swished about in my hair and sputtered across my skin like the softest and most loving pair of hands I’d ever known.
I plugged in all my drained electronics, logged on to the interwebs to let those that gave a rat’s ass the, “I made it here alive” email and felt that bite in my eyes that assures me, my seconds are numbered. I could hear the crank of another shower on the other side of the wall and by the gentle thuds I could tell it was the dainty and equally in need of washing soft hands Aline, also getting her internets on and washing off the travel grease to prepare for the next day. Our first real day. The big roll of white duvet pulled back, my hair cooling and curling at the ends the way it does when it’s wet, the droplets of freshens like tiny kisses along my collarbone as I folded beneath the weight of belonging, learning, travel and drifted off to sleep.
I woke to what would become the incongruous whining of my cell phone’s “Wake Your Ass Up!” call, eyes puffy, tummy rumbling with hunger and tangoing with the anxiety of things to come…took my ass right back to the shower for more soothing hands, the ones I secretly hoped might hold me just a bit taller as I packed my barely aired out luggage and headed downstairs to meet my crew…and down a tummy settling, nerve building glass of just past noon Pastis in the very empty bar.
Aline took us into the center of Angers with its white stony buildings and slate peppered roofs, the bustle of mid-day walkers, the bone warming of the sun that would become our fifth traveler for the duration of the voyage. A tiny French woman shoveling flan in her face as couple stumbling Americans handed over their three euros for paper wrapped baguettes stuffed with sweet butter and thin shavings of pink ham. My tummy not quite sure where we were or how to feel I tilted my still weary head back and let the earnest sun seep into my flesh….took deep breaths of air that smelled and tasted of visits long ago. We climbed in the car with the laughter already beginning to take ahold of us all and headed south to Savenieres. Our first official visit and one that would set the tone for the rest of the trip.
Our minivan pulled into the little rest stop in the village of Savenieres and we all climbed out of the car to stretch our legs and brush the tiny airy crumbs of French bread from our laps, me stopping to check for bits of butter that I was sure were stuck in the sides of my mouth in the reflection of the car window. Wasn’t but a few seconds before we heard the crumble of pebbles beneath car tires and felt the brush of freshly disturbed, powdery soft soil flit past us, “Hi! I’m Wendy” a big slightly accented voice booming from the thin but tall frame of Wendy Paille. The south African born blonde had volunteered to drive us all about, walk us through the vineyards and share the story of Pithon-Paille, both because she was free to do so, and because she craved speaking to Americans. Turns out she and husband Joseph Paille, (very French by the way) had met in Virginia where they both worked at a winery. “He claimed I was the first “American” woman she ever hated after I refused to pour him wine but he was only 20! What was I supposed to do?!” she said with a laugh that filled the cavern of the car and took up all the space our travel loggie bodies puddled in. We collectively drew to her flame and seemingly perked up just being near her energy.
We walked the vineyards with their old gnarled Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc vines. Saw the very distinct difference between the 50 hours of soil turning work that team at Pithon-Paille put in as opposed to the ill looking yellow stained soil of the chemical soaked vineyards of their neighbors. Listened as Wendy talked of the past 3 vintages and, somewhat terrifying, shortages and expressed her impassioned frustration about having to lose a couple rows of their organic vines, in order to keep their certification, because of the runoff of pesticide poisoning by those adjoining soils. Her voice as warm and welcoming as the pink flesh that began to glow beneath our sleeves and her love for her family’s work effusive, addictive, and inspiring.
As our little caravan puffed along the dirt roads, the rows of vineyards speeding past my window so strong and erect that it was like looking through the teeth of a comb. We pulled up to a tiny cottage of sorts to find a man that looked three times his size, mutton chops, big tough-skinned palms rested upon the worn knees of his black slacks, iconic hat dusty and barely sitting upon his head. I could just tell, this man, this was a man I was meant to meet.
Jo, this was Jo Pithon a man that had spun my head years ago without ever having to leave is gorgeous village of lush green and succulently textured goat cheeses. A Chenin Blanc made by Jo Pithon was poured for me around six years ago, it lit my fire and ignited something. Been on a “Chenin is badass” campaign ever since and now, here I was, face to mutton chopped face with the reason why….