The next place we tried, after the tasting shed, looked to be a larger operation. For example, it had its own building. But the person in charge was out for lunch and it occurred to us that we might be seeing a lot of this for a while, as the French take their lunch breaks fairly seriously. So we decided to have one of our own, and stopped in the next town we came to.
Of all of the cute towns we had been through, this was the first one that was clearly aware of its cuteness. Little shops lined the cobblestone streets, signs directed you to the old and impressive church and a Christmas fair was in the process of being set up in the town square. All morning we had been going in and out of the snow; getting ahead of it only to have it catch up to us again, and when we stopped for lunch it was definitely in the catching-up phase, with winds and a descending coldness. Which is why, when we had only done a partial survey of the local restaurants, I declared that it was time to go inside somewhere warm and picked the nearest place. Which wasn’t a bad choice, but given the restaurant’s large size and almost-trilingual menu (French, German, English via Babelfish), it did seem to be verging on the touristy. But this being France, that didn’t stop the food from being just fine, from my grilled duck breast to Cameron’s Stoneware Pot With Four Different Kinds of Meat and About Eight Potatoes Cooked In It. So at least they didn’t short us on the portions.
The lunch stop was fine and all, but it happened to correspond with a moment of severe ambiguity in wine route map, where it was clear where we were expected to start from, and where we might hope to end up, but with little to no guidance as to how to connect these two points in space. Apparently, a certain amount of self-sufficiency is expected of wine tourists in France. Also, a GPS.
So, straightforward map usage was, at this moment, out. However, it seemed that if we were to head in the general direction of a place known to the map as Mont Ste-Odile (according to the map symbols, a religious site, and also possibly a mountain), we would be able to reconnect with the route. So we did, but having followed the signs for a while it seemed a shame to turn away from such a clearly-majorish site, so we went on to see what all the fuss was about. At the very least, we figured, we’d be able to get a nice view of the valley.
And we probably would have, since we ended going up quite high in elevation, only the storm we had been dodging in and out of all day happened to catch up with us on the way up, complete with snow, hail and some heavy cloud cover. The sight, when we got to it, appeared to be some sort of old convent, albeit one that had been converted into something involving a restaurant and tennis courts and a large parking lot. We got out, briefly, to look around, but it was very cold and even small hail can be kind of painful, so that didn’t last. Still not sure what that place was, but driving up through the snowy mountain scenery was lovely, particularly since I was not the one doing the driving.
Coming back down, we found much warmer conditions and, after a few tries the wine route. Our next stop was the most corporate-looking establishment we found all day, a dedicated tasting room that did not appear to be attached to anybody’s house. But even here, the guy working the counter (whose English was excellent) seemed to be actually involved in the operation of the winery (possibly a member of the family), and there didn’t seem to be any question of charging for tastings. I did buy two bottles– as an unabashed fan of the sweeter whites, I have discovered my happy place.
We were barely out of the one cute medieval town when we found ourselves in another one, and barely arrived there when we came upon a string of places advertising tastings. We parked and went in to the first one.
It was a combination home and winery, much larger than the first, and manned solely by the sister of the proprietors. Her sisters, she told us, were away in the south of France on a sales trip, and she had come over to mind the shop and keep an eye on the children. She was generous with her pourings of tastings (“Do you like to try them all? I can go get them all.”) and information about life in the wine business, but wasn’t able to tell us much about the wines themselves, as she didn’t drink. She apologized repeatedly for her English, though I would have described her as fluent. The wines were uniformly fine, and my only regret is that we didn’t buy more. We did pick up a late-harvest Sylvaner that reminded me of an icewine, but at a fraction of the cost. We stayed for probably at least half an hour, chatting and tasting in the stone-walled room filled with shelves of wine bottles.
Our final stop was just across the street. It was getting late and we were getting a little tasted-out, but we figured we might as well go into this one more place, what with having parked in their lot and all. Their tasting room seemed to be attached to a small hotel or house, a tiny but professional setup. There was a younger man who took his place behind the counter, and an older man (his father?) who would wander in and out and give orders as to what we should try next, and to demand that the young man break out the box of pretzels. Eventually, he settled in on a stool and took over the conversation, entirely in French, of course, which is why it took a little while to figure out that he was flirting with me. (It was the phrase “Une belle femme,” that tipped us off.)
It was getting dark by the time we were done there, and even though we had barely done a quarter of the total route, it was time to head home. After all, you have to leave something for next time.