Imagine my delight when I was invited to join a group of our closest friends to go to a wine tasting! Hooray! Because not only would I be spending time with people that I adore but in a setting that I had long hoped to experience: The Domaine du Grand Fontanille.
I had been told that the domaine was one of the most beautiful in Provence, quite a claim in this neck of the woods and it most certainly did not disappoint. Formal gardens dotted with fountains and trellis-covered walkways descended beneath the chateau.
If it was slightly intimidating to climb the long stone staircase, all hesitations evaporated when the front door was flung open and we were welcomed into the entry hall. Remi was quick to point out, after a deep inhale, that the air was redolent with the perfume of wine and a crackling fire. "All the things that are good in life!" I added with a laugh.
I also caught my first whiff of sapin de Noël! Wreathes created by Valerie Bertrand, an artisan fleuriste, were for sale as part of the open house and certainly helped to set the mood.
But after all, we were here to taste the wine! There is an interesting story behind the domaine's current incarnation. Despite the fact that vines have been growing on the property since the 14th century, they had been sorely neglected in recent decades. "Twenty years ago this house was in ruin! It was a squat!" whispered one of our friends. It certainly is hard to believe. Fortunately, Fred Leuschner, a German businessman who had made his fortune in pharmaceuticals had a coup de foudre and decided to restore the estate to its former glory. All of the vines were replanted so as to become an entirely organic. Three years ago, Jorg Schmitt and his wife Sabine were brought onboard to further shape the wine's style. Their efforts have been met with great success, including two of their wines being granted medals at the prestigious Concours Agricole de Paris. Remi and I were particularly taken with their 2009 Syrah, so yes, there will be a few bottles on hand to open as the holidays progress.
Afterwards, we were all invited back to our friend's wonderful home in the Alpilles, where we gathered around a large table to feast on oysters, gigot d'agneau and the finest chocolate mousse (spiked with orange peel, insane) that I had ever tasted. But most importantly, I was just thrilled to spend a long afternoon with such a group of loving friends--and if that isn't in the spirit of the holiday season, then I don't know what is!