Notes from the Cellar: Styx and Stones, sort of

by Jeff Cox, Beer and Wine Merchandiser

This article was originally published in April 2010

It’s the stuff that keeps songwriters in business. I put the glass to my nose and the heady weave of fruit, earth and garrigues pushes the first emotional domino. Like a freight train, that sad, lonesome feeling that’s been hanging in the shadows for a couple days feels like it’s going to leap right through my chest.

My good friend and frequent partner in wine, Murielle Claudel, and I are tasting at a small domaine in Gabian, a village of about a thousand souls, a short drive west of Montpellier. The wines are brilliant, confirming what we’d begun to suspect as owner Emmanuel Pageot showed us the vineyards he tends with partner/spouse Karen Turner.

Their vineyards are a collection of small parcels of moderately old vines, scattered across the flanks of the low, ancient volcano that borders the village. They’re gorgeous, amazing vineyards. They breathe vitality, the gnarled, bare, late-winter vines almost palpably respiring the obvious love and passion that Emmanuel exudes as he shows us his terres.

Murielle and I exchange glances. We know that we’re onto something — not merely something good, but very special.

It’s my last day in the Languedoc, the end of an epic two weeks of tastings, meetings and visits with producers. Despite being beyond tired and missing the familiar comforts of Ballard, my cozy little domicile and the cool, hoppy six-pack that awaits my return, there’s been a small, but insistent ache in my soul as the last hours of my time here fall through the hourglass.

Wafts of enchanting aromas fill my senses, old vine grenache and carignan speaking the inimitable patois of the south. The ache crescendos from mezzo piano to fortissimo and there’s no denying the obvious. I’ve fallen hopelessly in love. It’s also obvious that it’s time to go. Or to stay.

A day later, somewhere over Hudson Bay, it occurs to me that this trip, both coming and going, is a kind of purgatory, a passing between worlds. It’s a 21st century River Styx, with Charon exacting his toll in terms of airfare, the “comforts” of economy class, and portals of security and customs on either shore.

Half an hour from atterrissage in beautiful Burien, the clouds part to reveal the North Cascades and I realize that my Styx isn’t the frontier between heaven and hell, but between two paradises. Best of all, for a wine guy, they’re two luscious paradises whose best wines are yet to be made. But more on that later. I have a beer to drink.

Also in this issue

Your co-op, April 2010

Notice of annual member dinner meeting, Make your voice heard — please vote, Meet the candidates and enjoy great PCC food, and more

Supporting biodiversity with heirlooms

Josh Kirschenbaum stopped in the middle of the field, bent over a tangle of leaves, pulled a bit at the vines, and uncovered a deep-green globe freckled with yellow dots. That Moon and Stars watermelon, an heirloom variety, was one of 1,200 vegetable and fruit varieties growing on the Territorial Seed Company trial farm.

Agave: considering the issues

Agave syrup (or nectar) is an increasingly popular sweetener used in drinks, nutrition bars and some desserts. It’s also increasingly controversial. Agave syrup has about the same number of calories per teaspoon as white sugar but its lower glycemic index doesn’t cause as great a rise in blood sugar.