An Englishman crosses the Channel to spend a year in the vineyards of France. Overcoming the traditional Briton’s bewilderment at sunshine, he learns a bit about the quaint locals and an awful lot about oenology.
No, it’s not Peter Mayle, but erstwhile lawyer and first-time author Moon, who inherits Uncle Milo’s place in the southern region of Languedoc. The house is picturesque in a derelict sort of way, the vines neglected. The neighbors are sufficiently—as always—colorful to have been cast in an old Ealing comedy. Meet Manu, an imbibing, poaching rascal, and his fierce spouse. Waitress Babette is comely and bright. English historian Krystina teaches our pioneer some local history and seems quite eager to make some more with him despite his lack of enthusiasm for a bit of a romp. Virgile, the earnest winemaker, teaches the author what must surely be just about everything, from grape to glass, about the art and practice of viticulture. Virgile, in his cave, is immersed in wine—and at one point quite literally. He pulls out all the corks in relating the manifold tests and tribulations necessary to produce a product with exactly the right nose and body, a wine far different from Manu’s dreaded house red. Tastings include Virgile’s Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache Noir, then samplings of the local Picpoul, Mourvèdre, and Cincault. With truffles, trout, snakes, bees, and the Occitan language as adjunct studies, the author’s principal course in wine lore covers varietals, the vendange, and the sometimes baleful influence of the zodiac, the Romans, and the Appellation Contrôlée authorities. None of it is enough to faze Moon in his report on what he did on his vacation. With all the focus on French wine aesthetics, this isn’t designed for teetotalers or Francophobes (see John J. Miller and Mark Molesky’s Our Oldest Enemy, above).
Seasoned with wit, though, it has legs enough for enthusiasts who may be thrilled to learn that there’s actually a Grenache Blanc. (Map and line drawings)