What the hell fairyland did we just fly over and land in? – Un Nouveau Chapitre – Burgundy

Early July 7th Jessica and I hopped to LA on the Skywest puddle-jumper and on to Houston, to catch our long Flight to Paris. Pounding the Pavement in the name of Stolpman Vineyards paid off once again, and we were able to upgrade ourselves to first class on hard-earned miles.

On our layover in Houston, I texted back and forth with Rajat Parr while enjoying a cold beverage or two in the former Continental Club. It turned out Rajat had already arrived in Burgundy, when I had assumed he’d still be celebrating his birthday in Champagne or Paris. We agreed to meet for lunch the next day, fresh off our red eye. Stuck deep in my Rhone obsession, I had previously planned on taking the Peage Autoroute right past Beaune and through Lyon to my promised land, Cote Rotie. We would no doubt have to stop for lunch somewhere, and the chance to relax and catch up with the great Rajat Parr seemed to be the most awesome of coincidental opportunities.

Once safely landed and caffeinated at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, the woman at the Hertz counter informed us that because we were returning the car in Italy, the only vehicle she had for us was an SUV. My first reaction was “Ugh, NO!”, imagining paying all those Euros for hundreds upon hundreds of liters of diesel on our planned trek, let alone not getting the sporty manual compact I had envisioned! But then I looked down at our big red Wine Check bags and remembered that we were not only planning on picking up a few cases of research bottles along the way, but we were also going to collect my Sister and Brother in law a week later in Italy; I happily snatched up the keys and towed our bags over to the ugly white Chevy Orlando.

A quick screaming haul down the wide highway (yes, the Chevy could move!) and we exited towards Mersault and right into the town square on the beautifully bright Sunday. The green tiles glowed on the City Council office as we walked over to the outdoor restaurant. A group was already tasting through some stupendous Chardonnays, including a 1996 Domaine Roulot Meursault Boucheres Premier Cru. Burgundy winemakers Marc Roulot and Alix de Montille joined Rajat Parr’s friend Raj Vaidya of Daniel, New York as well as two of our favorite Texans, June Rodil and Natalie Vaclavik all at one big table. I also finally got the chance to meet industry veteran Whitney Woodham, formerly of Evening Land Vineyards.

Amazing Chardonnay flowing; great company of old friends and new connections all wine-crazy, let alone the beautiful weather, Jessica and I exchanged looks with one another “what the hell fairyland did we just fly over and land in?” Almost on sensory overload, the white Burgundy alone would have made my day, let alone lunching with these famous winemakers, AND meeting up with friends halfway around the world; I hoped this would be a sign of great things to come for the two week trip!

High plumes of white clouds contrasted against an intensely blue sky as the food started to arrive. June ordered enough Escargot for the whole table to try a snail or two, definitely the best Escargot I’ve ever had, which stands to reason, as I had never eaten the dish in its homeland!

Jessica and I were commanded to order the chicken for two. Chickens around Burgundy are known for their exceptional quality and can be told apart from Chickens from less prestigious areas by their black feet. Thereto, the chicken is served with the feet still attached to the drumsticks, just to make sure they’re the genuine article!

All of the dishes served were top notch, and the whole group at the table jokingly teased us that this would be our best meal in France, as once we left the Nobility in Burgundy, we’d be eating among the peasants of the Rhone. I didn’t believe them for a second!

Being the fresh-off-the-plane American tourist, I demanded a group shot in front of the restaurant as we departed for a quick vineyard tour with Rajat. Jessica, Natalie, and I all crammed into Mr. Parr’s Peugot coupe and we made a bee-line to Grand Cru-ville, where we checked out the spacing and soil of Chevaliers Montrachet.

Between Rajat’s passion for Burgundy; the energy in the air as a storm front blew in; and the freedom and excitement of finally being in France after the pent-up Cross Atlantic flight; Burgundy felt like a magical place. The perfectly manicured, tightly spaced vineyards on the gentle, rocky slopes seemed to be fit for Kings’ consumption.

And Rajat and the crew were only in Burgundy to drink the best of the best Kingly Pinot and Chard. Apparently, the whole group was headed over to Domaine Romainee Conti the following day. Jessica and I didn’t even try to invite ourselves along for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to taste the most prestigious wine in the world, although we were both very impressed and maybe just a tad bit envious! But we had flown to France on a mission to explore the motherland of Syrah, and we said our goodbyes to Natalie and Rajat, swiftly returned to the southbound Peage through Lyon, and exited towards Ampuis. Along the way our friends Lauren and Lee Gonzalez texted us as they had seen our photos posted on facebook showing off our first class digs. It turns out the sisters were driving home to Barcelona from Paris, and their route took them straight down the Northern Rhone River gorge. So another wonderful surprise meeting took place when Lauren and Lee joined us for dinner on the beautiful outdoor patio overlooking the wide Rhone River at our hotel in Condrieu, the Beau Rivage.

After beautiful cuts of duck, a fantastic cheese cart, and impeccably presented deserts, we retired to our room, both of us in disbelief that we had only been in Europe one day! To have such an adventure was a total bonus, as our planned itinerary wasn’t set to begin until the next morning at 10AM with Renee Rostaing!