Monday, 12 March 2012

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 1)

This article was published in the March edition of Flavours magazine, about my recent holiday to Burgundy. Make sure to pick up the next edition of Flavours to follow the adventure :) The pdf version from the magazine is here.

woke up this morning in unfamiliar surroundings.  I could hear the trills of joyous birdsong as sunlight filtered through battered curtains.  An antique doll, dressed in yellow chiffon, stared at me, cold and lifeless yet smiling.  Her four companions were equally nonplussed, their rosy-lipped grins completely at variance with their lifeless countenance.  Old wooden floorboards creaked and groaned under my weight as I got out of bed.  Outside, the yeasty musk of fermentation permeated the fresh, rural air.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Singapore anymore.

Pernand-Vergelesses: A view from the Belles Filles lieu-dit

I know the post is titled “A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy”.  We’ll get there eventually, but Burgundy is so village-oriented, so local in its outlook, that we need to know the characters and personalities who populate it and who will dominate my narrative.  So please let me first describe how the trip came about, and how I met the folks who would later be my kind hosts.

We first encountered Ludovic Belin, winemaker of Pernand-Vergelesses (, over a wine dinner with our mutual friend William Chong.  Ludovic, a scion of that quaint village’s prominent Rapets, was in Singapore for a promotional trip with his first cousin Vincent Rapet (proprietor and winemaker of Domaine Rapet –

It was a strange evening, as these so often are.  I was seated between my wife Emily to my left, and our dear friend Liz (who has since gone on to open the popular Praelum Wine Bistro on Duxton Hill), with Ludovic next to her.  Ludo is a rogue-ishly handsome red-blooded French male from central casting; tonight he played his role to perfection, so I ignored the blatant flirt-fest transpiring to my right and tried instead to focus on dinner.  As we were in an old-style giant garoupa restaurant, we were served a succession of braised garoupa cheeks, steamed garoupa flanks with shredded scallions and soy, deep-fried crunchy garoupa fins, claypot-braised garoupa liver with oyster sauce and ginger, and poached garoupa sperm in a clear broth. 

Mmmmm...sperm-alicious!  That's if you've got the balls to try it. (courtesy of Ludovic Belin)

Among our Burgundian guests, this last delicacy created much confusion tinged with not much amusement.  “C’est QUOI?” came the stunned query.  Well, you try explaining that in French!  After much obscene gesturing and unprintable language, Ludo got the idea.  “Couilles du poisson”, he explained.  Vincent’s eyes almost popped out of his head as Ludo popped a nugget of couille into his mouth.  If nothing else, this showed how different the cousins were.  Ludo, who in actual fact is a very warm, caring and friendly guy, carefully cultivates his image as a suave, slightly dangerous loose cannon who happens to make lovely wine.  Vincent, on the other hand, carefully cultivates his of a simple, dour working farmer carrying on a proud 250 year-old family tradition.

Vincent Rapet,, winemaker and proprietor of the vaunted Domaine Rapet (courtesy of Dr Peter Wong)

The night carried on and after almost two bottles of wine each, William had a brilliant idea – let’s have more wine!  We staggered out of the Maison des Couilles and made our way to Extra Space where William keeps his cellar.  The rest of the night/morning was a Barolo-tinged haze; I vaguely remember saying farewell to Ludo and how I looked forward to tasting his wine when he was next in Singapore, and Ludo replying “I am at the Hilton.  Come over tomorrow at 10.00 am and we’ll do a private tasting together before I fly out”.

I stumbled home with the missus around 3.45 am.  “Ha ha!” I laughed as I opened the front door, “he was so drunk he couldn’t possibly be serious”.  Emily looked at me.  “You know, you should probably go.  How would it look if he organises everything and you didn’t rock up?”  I pondered this for about one minute before passing out on the couch.

So the following morning, uncertainty compounded by the incessant drumming in my head, I made my way to the Hilton.  10.03 am, said my Blackberry as I crossed the threshold into the lobby.  “Great, I’m on time!” I thought.  Well, almost.  “Where ‘ave you been?” Ludovic cried as he gave me a meaty handshake, “I ‘ave been waiting for you”.  Well, at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious… He led me to the cream-and-wood Kaspia Bar, where a daunting row of ten wine bottles, each decorated with an angel in rapture and the legend “Domaine Ludovic Belin”, stood to terse attention.

Try taking these guys on while labouring under a hangover (courtesy of William Chong)

To cut a long story short, we swirled and we gargled, we swished and we spat.  Every now and again, we even swallowed.  I’m no expert, but we found much common ground as we shared our opinions on the wine.  At the end, he said “Your tasting eez quite good.  Maybe eef you like, you come to Pernand-Vergelesses in Septembre, you stay wiz me, we do ‘arvest, drink good wine?”

Now by this stage, I’m conditioned to obey our white masters.  Hell, I’ve been married to Emily for over five years now.  So the next thing I knew, I was back home on the interwebs booking flights to Paris for us and Liz.  And the next thing I knew, it was mid-September and I was at the departure lounge in Changi Airport.  Liz, as we had come to expect, was running (un)fashionably late.  She finally appeared as boarding commenced, wearing a chunky pink windcheater.  “Is this thick enough?” she babbled, clearly having rushed out of the office and straight to the airport, “I don’t know how cold it’s going to be and…”

But who cared?  We were finally going to Burgundy!

(To be continued…)

Related Posts:

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 2) -  

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 3) -

The Hill of Corton -

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