Posts Filed Under on the road
When most people hear the name of a French Chateau, they conjure up in their mind’s eye a scenario that probably looks a lot like what
Féret-Lambert is like in real life: green hills punctuated by vineyards bulging with ripe, juicy Merlot grapes; a large, picturesque house dating from the 1700s, located a stone’s throw from Saint-Emilion in the French countryside.
But when I hear the words Féret-Lambert, I have near-instant recall of something else entirely; I think about… tomato pie.
[ I also think about the dog that tried to eat my water bottle. More on that little bugger later. ]
I think about the fourth generation family that now runs the show there, yes; and I think about some overachieving Merlot-based wine, too, of course. But the heart of the mater to me was the tomato pie we had at lunch when I visited Féret-Lambert in September, as a media guest of Planete Bordeaux.
For the uninitiated in Mid-Atlantic “Little Italy” cuisine, tomato pie is, essentially, margherita pizza without the cheese. But as with any cuisine, there are endless variations, and as a kid who loved tomatoes grown into an adult who loves tomatoes, I have tried just about all of them. Thin, flaky crusts with fresh baked tomato and a hint of sauce on top; thick, floppy, focaccia-style bread with a gargantuan amount of sloppy, garlic-filled red sauce oozing of the top; hearty dough that’s soft in the center, crispy on the bottom, and with a light coating of embedded, seasoned tomatoes and a thin layer of sauce that curls at the thick crust and bakes ever-so-slightly into the top layer of the bread (that last style is the equivalent of tomato pie mouthgasm for me). Inexpensive to make, but tough to do really well, and a little (literal) slice of luxury for a boy living in the “upper end of the lower middle class.”
So when it comes to tomato pie – from the utterly banal to the downright succulent – I’ve just about had it all.
And I can therefore tell you with at least a semi-educated opinion that Féret-Lambert makes a mean tomato pie; more pie-like than pizza-like, flaky crust and ultra-fresh tomatoes baked up together with enough near-perfection to give a Little Italy expat a deep sense of homecoming. And with the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that they’re pulling off of the thirteen-or-so hectares of vines that they cultivate there, Féret-Lambert is also making a mean, budget-minded Bordeaux red to go with it…
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In high school, I had a math teacher who used to tease us when we were timid in class about providing an answer that should have been obvious. He would hold out his lanky arms in the fashion of scales, feigning the weighing of agonizing choices, while muttering, “Sex? Or… death? Sex… or death? I can’t decide!!”
So when I was in Bordeaux this past September (a media guest of Planet Bordeaux), and oenologist Vincent Cruège asked my group if we wanted to meet André Lurton, I had a flashback to those high school days. Now near 90, Lurton – apart from being a near-legend in Bordeaux winemaking – has been Mayor of Grézillac, a WWII soldier, a Military Cross recipient, member of the Legion of Honour, a Knight of the Agricultural Order of Merit, and a collector of… tanks (not steel tanks, though there are plenty of those on the property, but the kind of tanks that shoot explosive shell rounds).
“Sex? Or Death?”
Hell yeah, I wanted to meet Lurton. I’d want to meet him by virtue of the tank collection alone, actually.
And so it was that our tour of Chateau Bonnet, headed by Lurton’s daughter Denise Moulle (whose husband, Jean-Pierre, was head chef at Chez Panisse for more than twenty years, but as far as I’m aware didn’t cook for us during this visit… the audacity…!) was to conclude with a visit from the tank-collecting legend himself, who basically heard that we were a group of bloggers and wanted to meet the new blood in the wine biz. It would also conclude with the popping of the cork on one of Lurton’s rarer Monbazillacs – something I didn’t know when we toured the grounds on a chilly, wet Autumn mid-morning, but something else I certainly wouldn’t have turned down if it had been offered (talk about “Sex or Death?”)…
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“We don’t make wine. We grow wine. We’re more like ‘sashimi style’ winemaking.”
On a cool morning that will later turn into a blustering day in the midst of a small August heat wave, Chad Melville seemed to be feeding me what ought to be a standard marketing line about winemaking. The kind that end in phrases like “optimal ripeness.”
Suuuure, you don’t make wine; it’s all about the special land upon which your grapes grow… the one that is kissed by col fog in the morning, and bathed in sunlight and warmth during the day. And he is the sales director for his family’s Lompoc, CA wine business, after all (businessman father Ron Melville founded Melville after getting bit by the wine bug in undergrad, and then setting up a grape growing operation in Knight’s Valley; brother Brent is the vineyard manager).
But there was a problem with Chad’s sales pitch about their by-hand fifteen thousand case production: it didn’t come off as a pitch. No references to optimal ripeness, no rococo-esque flourishes of over-endorsement or self-aggrandizement. Chad’s non-pitch was interjected with the firsthand knowledge of a guy who helped to establish and develop the vineyards and business that his family owns, and who previously assisted in winemaking at the estate (winemaker duties are now headed up by Greg Brewer).
In other words, I bought it, because my bullsh*t meter was barely registering a tick. And after I tasted through Chad’s family’s wines – which are high quality while also being almost fiercely unadorned – I’d say the BS meter had some hard evidence to back up its initial assessment…
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