Some Authors And Vineyards

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A recent article in the Bordeaux regional newspaper Sud-Ouest called attention to a vineyard formerly owned by an outstanding French writer, Francois Mauriac. Mauriac, the author of Therese Desqueyroux, which has a fairly gloomy view of Bordeaux’s then (and perhaps still) rigid family heirarchies, had some property at Malagar in the Garonne Valley. He was said to be very proud of the wines that he cultivated there, particularly a sweet dessert wine, which he once sold in Belgium as a sacramental “vin de messe.” Since the writer’s death, the thirty-acre property has been owned by the regional authorities. Now it has been purchased by Jean Merlaut and wine consultant Georges Pauli. Merlaut is building a bit of a wine empire, for he has also purchased, with his niece Celine Villars-Fourbet, Chateau Camensac in the Medoc, a wine that was classified in the 1855 Classification. Such properties are only rarely on the market. They add to a prestigious portfolio that the Merlaut family has assembled, which already includes Chateaux Gruaud-Larose (St. Julien), Chasse-Spleen (Moulis), Haut-Bages Liberal (Pauillac), and Ferriere and La Gurgue (Margaux). Clearly this is a wine dynasty in progress. Mauriac was said to be very amused when some American tourists came to visit him at Malagar, and discovered oxen at work in the fields. “Now the Americans won’t think I’m an avant garde writer anymore,” he said. The year was 1952, when he won the Nobel Prize for literature. The new owners are enthusiastic about their purchase and its prospects. They expect production of some 40,000 bottles of red wine a year, plus 40,000 bottles of dry white wine. They will also produce 10,000 bottles annually of their sweet white wine, and hope also to introduce a rose wine. It will be fun to taste Chateau Malagar wines. That will be a new label to look for in the future at your favorite wine retailer. Mauriac was not the only writer associated directly with a vineyard in the Bordeaux region, by any means. Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, writer of The Essays (and perhaps their inventor) was also a sixteenth century Mayor of Bordeaux, who owned an estate in the country, near the Dordogne. Chateau Michel de Montaigne is a good and reasonably priced red Bordeaux regional wine, which is broadly available. On the wine label is a picture of the famous tower where the essayist wrote – some say, to get away from his wife, because they didn’t get along well. And I cannot say whether the vineyards were in operation during his lifetime. I would like to think so. Be that as it may, today’s estate is well managed and produces a fine wine. We may say without any doubts that the famous eighteenth century political writer Baron Montesquieu not only cultivated the grape, but took pleasure in doing so. His castle at La Brede, not far from Bordeaux is one of the locations used for the annual Mai Musicale, that is worth a trip to the region to hear. One sits in Montesquieu’s living room and hears chamber music. It is nice to recall that his Spirit Of The Laws, written in this very room, set forth the theory of separation of powers that became a foundation for the American Constitution. He would, I think, be very pleased that the Kressmann family has cultivated with distinction an excellent classified white wine at his Chateau Latour-Martillac, not far from Chateau La Brede in the Graves region. It is a delicious, high quality wine, and its cost has not yet soared as high as better known white Graves wines, such as Haut Brion Blanc, Laville Haut Brion, and Domaine de Chevalier. There is also a classified red wine produced, which I have not recently tasted. It will be interesting to see if the red wine rises to the level already attained by the white wine from this property. The “latour” in the property name, by the way, doesn’t refer to the famous Chateau Latour in Pauillac. Instead, it indicates a small, medieval tower that can still be seen on the property. Other famous writers could of course be mentioned in any survey of Bordeaux or other wine regions of France. So could some fictional characters. Inspector Maigret, for example, the wry creation of Georges Simenon, shares his views on regional, country wines from time to time. He tells us that he cannot afford pricey wines, but he certainly knows his way around unpretentious wines. And Raoul Dahl, in a celebrated short story about wine itself and a wine fraud, celebrates Chateau Branaire-Ducru in the Medoc. And then we have a famous writer who couldn’t afford good wine, and who said so, in a celebrated lament. The great fifteenth century rascal and poet Francois Villon penned a verse that is reproduced on the label of the St. Emilion grand cru Chateau Balestard La Tonnelle. This is a superior red wine with rich flavors, which is carefully produced, and ages well. As Villon wrote (my translation): “Virgin Mary, gentle goddess, save me a place in paradise. For here below, I have neither joy nor pleasure. I cannot drink that divine nectar that carries the name of Balestard. For I am poor, and cannot afford to buy it. So if, in heaven’s realm, this wine is found, I fear not Death. Take me there, amongst the elect, who now drink this wine in Heaven.” I cannot imagine any present day media consultant doing a better promotion. And one can only hope that Balestard La Tonnelle’s owners five centuries ago paid him in kind!  
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