Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Apocalypse...and Organic Wine

This week in Angers has pretty much consisted of language and culture classes, as well as various visits around the city—the last two days have been particularly interesting. Yesterday we went to see the Chateau (Castle) d’Angers (the photo is the view of Angers from the top), and we had a great guide who gave us a detailed historical overview of the castle’s purposes over time. Definitely the most interesting component of that visit was seeing the Apocalypse tapestry. It’s from the 14th century and it’s the longest tapestry in the world—truly incredible. They only have about two-thirds of the original, yet it is still overwhelming in size. Our tour guide did an excellent job of explaining it and answering our many questions about various symbolic meanings in the images. For example, we noticed that a lot of things were represented in sets of seven, and he told us that seven is considered a perfect number, religiously, because it is the sum of four (as in the four gospels, the four elements) and three (as in the trinity), etc. There are also various qualities about the tapestry which suggest that it was meant to be displayed in the open air; for example, the images can be seen from both sides, and the ends of the threads, which are typically exposed on the back, are all neatly tucked in and hidden. Unfortunately we couldn’t take any pictures inside the room in which it is displayed. The tapestry is not supposed to be exposed to any light, and they don’t trust people to really turn their flashes off when taking pictures, which I understand. Overall, truly a fascinating visit.

After class today, we went to an organic vineyard. Organic products, called “bio” in French, are becoming increasingly popular here just as they are in the US. It was incredibly cool to go to this little tiny vineyard, run by a couple—Olivier and Emmanuelle—who produce their wine in a really authentic, rustic way. They only own a little bit of land compared to the surrounding vineyards, but it is manageable by their very high standards. They do absolutely nothing to treat the soil or the grapes themselves, so they look completely different from the neighboring, chemically treated vineyards. Their soil is a lot rockier, with lots of plants growing throughout. The grapes themselves are smaller, and taste better. The leaves are presently turning yellow, which is natural in the fall, whereas the treated ones are larger and still green. He uses old-fashioned equipment to get the juice from the grapes, and he does a lot of the work himself. What takes him nine hours could be done in about three with a more up-to-date machine, but it means a lot to him to maintain his process as it is. He doesn’t produce a whole lot of wine each year, and he doesn’t sell it to huge commercial vendors (though he does provide the wine for a very upscale restaurant in Paris), but mostly to individuals who like his wine and his approach to winemaking. We got to sample a few different types, which were really fantastic. We tried some sweet white wines, because he had explained to us how he waits for the grapes to get to a certain state before they are harvested, in order to produce natural sweetness. He gave us the same wine from 2003, when there had been a heat wave, and 2004, which had been a normal year, in terms of weather. The weather from 2003 made the grapes ripen really quickly, and expedited the whole winemaking process, giving the wine the flavor of exotic fruits. It was absolutely incredible! He doesn’t sell it, however; I think what is left of it is his family’s stash, so it was really cool of him to share it with us. We learned some vocabulary beforehand for describing wine, and it’s kind of hilarious. The appearance and texture of wine is described in the same terms one uses to describe a woman. For example, one can describe a nice color as “une belle robe”, or a beautiful dress. It was a really nice thing for us to do, certainly to think more about the French appreciation for wine, but also to learn about how people maintain “bio” products. We all left quite impressed with the wine itself, but moreso with Olivier’s commitment to the manner in which he prepares and sells his wine. In the world of commercial retail, it’s refreshing to see a small, authentic business thriving.

1 comment:

madeleine.lapenta said...

sounds lovely! you know i love all things organic :)