The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Domaine Moltes, lunch in France and goodbye to Alsace, for now

I need to accept that it is impossible to have lunch in France in less than two hours. I am consistently late to appointments and dumped off schedule during busy days by interminable detours to French bistros. There is one man (plus one nation) to blame: I did not fly 1/4 of the way around the world to eat doner kebabs or gyros on the streets of Strasbourg. Capital of Europe. Crossroads of French, German, and Austro-Hungarian cuisines. I look for something at least nominally local, and cooked, not reheated (or constantly, terminally heated).

Because of an inevitably long, slow midday meal, Mickael Moltes was left to tap his foot on a wine cellar floor just a few kilometers south of where we marooned. The French are powerless against the glacial forces of lunchtime as well. Clement and Regine Klur accompanied us to lunch with 2+ hours to spare before the start of my next business engagement. They were kind enough to phone ahead and advise the restaurant (whose chef they were chummy with) that we were in need of a delicious, but brief, meal. Of course, that will be no problem. When we arrived, ever so slightly late (customers, always getting in the way of an unhurried meal), Mrs. Klur mentioned again the galloping pace at which we intended to dine. All smiles, no worries. Wine is opened, food is ordered. Perhaps an amuse arrives. Then, we wade into the tar pit. Clocks seem pointless. The restaurant is operating on geologic time. Courses arrive as oases, startling diversions from the long, long pauses during which nothing appears to be happening. With good accompaniment (and the Klurs are delightful to dine with, and they bring the wine) perhaps one gets into the vicinity of the entree before the gears lock. But there must come a pause in the chatter; watches are glanced at, then glared at. Panic commences. Everyone forces a smile. A waiter may be consulted - they tend to be loitering by now. During many of the worst time-warp French lunches that I've experienced it seems impossible to imagine that the scattering of remaining diners, poor unfed souls bound to us on the awful Fitzcarraldo-like journey through the meal, could keep even one member of kitchen or wait staff busy. The staff seems unhurried.

I know I am the gauche American, but I do not possess fast-food expectations. I do think that 1 /2 to 2 hours is sufficient time to lavish a small salad, meat course, and dessert with all the attention French gastronomy could possibly deem necessary.

And the food, when it appears, is generally good, sparking periods of happiness, even relaxation. Then nothingness creeps back in. . . .

So we're late, late enough to not even bother going directly to Domaine Moltes' original winery building in the village of Pfaffenheim (the brothers have added an impressive, larger cellar a kilometer away in the new part of town.) We parked back at our gite and walked to the winery - to stretch legs, mentally deal with the situation, and because really there is no difference between 1 1/2 and 2 hours late. You are really late, either way. On the way, I decide/rationalize that: #1 Moltes cannot fire me as a customer. Sellers put up with infuriatingly unreliable buyers; it's the way of the world. #2 Mickael Moltes has been to French restaurants, more often than any of us. This may make him unlikely to fall into the trap we snared in, but he'll understand.

He's young, serious (hopefully not just angry) and willing to field the 1,001 questions I asked with 85% of the English language skills necessary to make dialogue happen (I compensate for lateness by acting really interested and enthusiastic. Wow! A pneumatic press. How does that work? Those sure are big barrels. I'd love to taste the wine from every one). I'm embarrassed to say French is too slippery for me. German words stick to my brain, whole useful phrases, even. After many hours trying to learn at least some French, I can barely say, "I'm sorry."

And to be honest our tour of Moltes was pretty cool, and notably comprehensive. Mickael took time for us, opened a fair amount of old wines (along with a score of new ones) and treated us really well. He even grudgingly allowed his picture to be taken at the old winery's door. And the view from Moltes' vines in the Steinert Grand Cru above Pfaffenheim was worth the travel and struggle to get there. Oh, the toil . . .fancy meals, foudre after foudre of wine to taste, long looks into the personal worlds of the people who make the wines we choose to sell. I'll slap myself now. I allow myself to be jaded by the greatness of all this; experiences I dreamed of before wine became my job have become routine enough that only for a moment or two do I snap out of work mode to realize that standing half way up the Vosges with a talented winemaker surrounded by a panorama of grand cru vineyards and verdant, sunny Rhine Valley floor is completely awesome. So I'll end with that rather earnest, heartfelt statement. We are lucky that all this still exists.


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