Bouncing through the vineyards of western France.
Concentrate in the early stages because – take it from me – it won’t make much sense later.
We’re bumping through vineyards in France’s Loire region. Literally through the vineyards, between the rows of vines, in a Land Rover Defender. One false move and we’d be among the grapes themselves.
The idea is to learn something about where wine comes from.
It does makes sense, when explained methodically, by patient tour guide and driver Sue, that grape variety, soil composition, field aspect and the ripeness of the grapes all affect the flavour of wine.
Any why gentle hand harvesting at exactly the right time has a better quality result than protracted and vigorous mechanical picking.
But I’m swamped by the blizzard of technical terms and regretfully drift off to gaze at the gently rolling countryside around Le Puy Notre Dame, 20km south of Saumur (and tightly grip the sides of the seat).
While everything here in France is more or less as God intended – even including some rather tatty organic vines – it boggles the mind that in other countries entire hillsides are constructed to bear the best fruit, facing in precisely the right direction.
After an hour or so bouncing around the fields, first stop is state of the art Domaine de la Paleine.
Here huge polished stainless steel vats sit in a spotless yard above artfully lit storage caves for the really good oak-cased stuff.
There’s a very comfortable tasting room too.
Sue fastidiously spits every mouthful but of course we gulp everything down. After eighteen samplings we are only just short of being totally pissed out of our minds.
It isn’t even eleven o’clock in the morning yet and there’s still another producer to visit.
Founded in 1892, Domaine du Vieux Pressoir changed hands a couple of years ago. It now produces highly drinkable wines, in general less sophisticated than Paleine but its Saumur Blanc ‘Elegance’ 2015 won Bronze medals in Paris and Macon this year.
At €5.40 a pop we can’t resist, especially compared to the UK price of £12. Soon twelve bottles of that – and twenty others – are being laid in the back of the Defender.
So that’s fifty bottles in total at €410.90, not bad before (a picnic) lunch eaten, naturally, among the vines.
Stupidly we’ve elected to cram almost everything La Grande Maison has to offer into a single day.
It means what would have been an idyllic afternoon float up and down the Loire by traditional sailing boat is accompanied by a growing hangover.
Despite the simple beauty, we can’t wait to get back to our beautifully appointed cottage in the walled grounds of the La Grande Maison wine estate for a rest.
Dating from the 17th century, and built out of the rocks excavated to make the wine caves, the estate is run by an English expat couple, Micaela and Sue. They met on the wine course at Plumpton Agriculture College in Sussex and moved out to the Loire in 2004.
Their expertise extends to food too. The wine tasting dinner in the manor house on the first evening – beside an outrageous solid oak staircase – was delicious. But the genius was the peach poached in Coteaux du Layon for dessert.
Bed and breakfast at La Grande Maison costs €105 for two people. Our two night stay including wine tasting dinner, 4×4 wine tour and sailing on the Loire cost €990. See more at LaGrandeMaison.net