Lucky me. Writing this from Burgundy, I can go to Paris this minute if I like, although not much of Paris is open. A few hotels are, though, and I had a notion to spend Valentine’s Day in an unfamiliar room with my husband and champagne, despite having always disliked Valentine’s Day (I hold the rose-tinted view that certain things should remain uncommercialised). But in 2021, don’t we all crave any excuse to go somewhere? I will stay where I am, because a demonstration of pandemic-induced dysphoria doesn’t seem reason enough to enhance my risk of catching Covid. But the temptation to move for movement’s sake remains.
The answer, surely, is to seek pleasure in stillness. After all, if the person and the wine are right, the location is secondary. And, while wine lovers glory in racing around as much as anyone else, we probably shouldn’t. Yes, there are distant vineyards and wine bars to visit and an international community with whom we wish to clink glasses, but savouring good wine is an activity that requires tranquillity, and there’s little of that to be had at present, even in our homes.
And if I am looking at wine even more than I normally do, and at very little else, an opportunity arises: to look with more dedication. This, after all, is what the winemaker does, studying the vines, watching leaves and then flowers unfold, grapes swell, change colour and ripen; shielding them from frost, pests, sunburn and more pests, and playing the exciting, potentially ruinous game of risk that is deciding when to harvest. Which is more of a gamble than it was, the north Burgundian winemaker Guilhem Goisot points out: “In the 1980s, we picked the vineyards in the same order every year, but with climate change, it’s unpredictable.” Careful concentration has become more crucial than ever.
[see also: Winemakers, like artists and musicians, know how to wring something bright from murky times]
In the cellar, too, observation is vital. Contrary to the claims of certain fans of so-called natural wines, doing nothing in the winery is not an option – but many winemakers intervene as little as possible, scrutinising their fermenting juice to gauge the optimal time to act. And that watchfulness finds an echo in the drinker, who must decide when to open the bottle, then give due consideration to the contents.
So I uncork two Goisots, since I love his wines and his vineyards are closer than Champagne’s to my home – they are in Saint-Bris, the only place in Burgundy where Sauvignon Blanc is grown. His Sauvignons are delicious, but my choices today are Chardonnays: Corps de Garde, rendered round and peachy by the river Yonne flowing past the vineyard; and Biaumont, on fossil-pocked hilltop clay, which has the perfumed elegance familiar from nearby Chablis. You can’t exactly taste those long-dead creatures enfolded in the soil, but a stony rigour lingers.
Goisot is certified biodynamic, and while the rites of biodynamism are peculiar – burying manure-filled cow horns in the vineyard, pruning according to the moon’s phases – they are surely no stranger than the rituals of Saint Valentine, and seem a lot more beneficial. Thriving soils nurture healthy vines, a symbiosis – and stasis – that human lovers can learn from. Let’s stay still, for now at least, and attend diligently to our wine and to each other. Isn’t careful attention, after all, precisely what love is all about?
[see also: Why Beaujolais wine – like the region’s forgotten princess – is woefully underappreciated]
This article appears in the 10 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, End of the affair