We found the old man in his shed by following signs from the main road, signs that got progressively smaller and less distinct the closer we got. The man spoke no English and possibly not much French—most of our communication was through German and hand signals. His signs said he produced something called “Rouge de Ottrot,” Ottrot being the name of the nearest town. We managed to hand-wave our way to a tasting, and found it to be a light, fruity red. Six euros later and we had our own bottle, along with the only piece of information I managed to understand out of the conversation, which was that it was to be drunk at 16 degrees C.
Going wine tasting in Alsace was Cameron’s idea; despite having grown up in California, it’s not something I’ve done much of. But we both like wine, and this was a wine-producing region, and the tourist office had a map of a wine route, so it seemed like a winning idea. The key, of course, was getting an early start, and for at least one of us that was not a problem– jetlag having picked this day to strike Cameron with a vengeance, leaving him wide awake to wander the streets of Strasbourg at about five am. He ended up on a mission to try every pastry in the city, and he also located some car rental companies. They weren’t open yet, but it was a start.
By the time I got up, at a slightly more respectable sevenish (because, no matter how jetlagged I am, I have a basic moral objection to getting up before dawn while I’m on vacation*) and we made it out the door, a few snowflakes were floating down, causing me to react with the kind of childish wonder only seen in Californians in rare encounters with actual weather. And, I guess, children. I believe this remained amusing for a while, but I tried to dial it back before it crossed the cute/annoying boundary. By this time, the rental agencies were actually open, and after a couple of tries we found one that was willing to rent us something with an automatic transmission, in exchange for a large amount of money. Europe seems to be a lot cheaper if you can drive a stick shift. And so, armed with an array of maps, we set out into the thickening snowfall, which was quickly transitioning from charmingly fluffy to just thick and wet and cold.
Between the Canadian and the Californian, there wasn’t much question of who was going to be doing the driving in the snow (gender roles aside), so I was navigator. Which was somewhat complicated by the fact that the “wine route tour map” we had picked up at the tourist office was kind of non-specific about what actual roads you were expected to take, so we had supplemented it was a full-sized fold-out map of the region, plus another detailed one of the city. Basically, what I’m saying is, it’s really quite understandable that I happened to initially put us on the freeway going the wrong direction. But we figured it out within an exit, and it only took a little figuring to get back on in the right direction.
The trip really wasn’t about freeways, anyway; we only were on that one for long enough to get us away from the city. Then it was off onto smaller local roads, going through a series of little towns with mounting adorableness. Honestly, there’s something about France that seems a little unfair. Does any one nation really deserve to have that much of the world’s supply of charming? And they just live in them like they’re normal places. At one point we got slightly off track because one of the signs (there were signs for the wine route, though they were infrequent and rarely appeared at critical intersections) seemed to be directing us through a narrow, apparently medieval stone arch.
“We can’t possibly be expected to drive through there,” we thought, until we had driven a little way in the other available direction and it became clear that this was not the way to go. So back we went, and followed the rest of the traffic through it and into yet another perfect little country town, about the fifth in a series.
Interestingly, almost all of them seemed to have Chinese restaurants.
It took us a while before we actually found anywhere to taste some wine. At first we weren’t finding any places at all, and the ones we did find were closed. It was very much the off-season, which can’t have helped, and signage wasn’t exactly a feature. So I’ll admit that I was getting a little nervous about this enterprise as we approached the town of Ottrot.
To call the guy’s operation “small” would be to stretch the limits of understatement. He had a shed. And about eighty-five percent of the shed was taken up with wine making equipment and what I believe was “stuff.” There was a small counter in the front, where he poured our tastings into square, green-stemmed glasses, and we all did a lot of smiling and nodding.
Honestly, that experience alone would have made the whole day worth it but we weren’t anywhere near done. We were just getting started.
*Or, really, ever.