As I was reflecting the other day over the fact that my very first shipment of the Domaine de La Bousquette had arrived from France into Oakland on a cold January day, thirty years ago, I went down and visited my wine cellar. I was so moved by the sight of all these bottles and their meaning to me that in that moment I decided to bring my team together, share with them those treasures and do what’s called a vertical tasting.
We pulled out some twelve bottles of different vintages from my La Bousquette collection. The first vintage was from 1986, can you believe it? Our sommelier Ron popped the cork with a measure of trepidation: what were we going to find in that bottle? As I began to twirl my glass, a swirl of scents came up to meet my nose and mouth and I was enchanted. Tears came to my eyes and I said to the team, “Here guys, smell this, you have just been transported across time on a magic carpet of sorts. To the Languedoc, and very specifically to that garrigue on which Domaine de La Bousquette sits, where my grandparents and their grandparents before them, all the way back to the French Revolution have grown grapes.”
If you have ever wondered what the famous garrigue smelled like, there you had it, in that bottle of 1986 Bousquette. It’s an exquisite tapestry of scents mingling together in a completely unique way. It’s the thyme, the rosemary, the lavender and the pine trees being brought together by raucous winds whistling through the red hills. Within this matrix grow the grapes Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache in nooks and crannies and hills never watered by man, totally dependent on the God-given weather of the region. This is a harsh life for those plants, they have to dig very deep into that challenging matrix, really pull themselves by the bootstraps. What you end up with is a fruit full of passion and depth, that reflects the harshness and the dedication of these plants to grow and flourish no matter what.
In my childhood, the harvest was really a celebration, vendangeurs (grape pickers) came from all over and camped out in various places on the Domaine, they roughed it out for a couple of weeks and sang and joked as they picked the grapes from four in the morning until late at night. It was a joyful happening. I remember participating in one of these vendanges when I was eleven with my mother and brother… it was very hard work. The women cut and the guys carried the heavy barrels on their shoulders and to the rickety chariot pulled by my friend, the horse, Bayard who had the patience of a saint, shaking the flies away from his face and walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth from the vineyard to the cellar all day long where the grapes would be dropped in the cuve. These were the good old days.
As we opened this bottle of ’86 it all came back to me, amazingly enough the quintessential spirit of the land was still alive in this bottle, bringing sights and sounds dancing with each other just like Baudelaire described it in his famed Les Fleurs du Mal : “Les parfums, les couleurs, et les sons se repondent.” You see, wine is like that, it’s like a tapestry. It’s a gathering of sights, sounds and smells harmonizing together, involving all of your senses. This is particularly true when you drink organic wines, by which I mean wines that are made with certified organic grapes and to which the strict minimum amount of sulfites have been added, just enough to ensure the wines keep their backbone across time. These are authentic wines. These are wines that have character, gut and structure. They talk to you, they nourish you. . Thanks to a number of valiant pioneers, we are all lucky enough to be able to bring to our table wines of this quality, wines that will reflect their place of birth, the artistry of their maker and their intention to do good by you and by our Earth. These are wines worth drinking and they will feed your heart and soul.
So, yes, I felt a sense of immense pride as we traveled from ’86 all the way to 2000, 24 strong years. A couple of bottles had been corked, that happens, a couple of the wines were a little thin, that happens too, but overall the wines were remarkably enjoyable and filled with their unique life-giving spirit. It was a memorable experience, one that really filled all of our hearts with warmth, appreciation and a great sense of connection to a different continent and my homeland.