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An Excellent Half Bottle of the 'Local Plonk'

An Excellent Half Bottle of the ‘Local Plonk’

There is a wine tasting event at our campsite here in Kaysersberg. It is being organised by our local Vineyard … obviously an opportunity to sell some of their wine to our motley collection of happy campers. Our immediate neighbours, Hansel and Gretel (the German couple in the antique ‘jerry-built’ camper van that is possibly even older then me) are going. They come back and hour or so later with several bottles of local wine. They have obviously sampled most of the wines on display … no ‘inhaling the fragrances, rolling the wine around the mouth, then spitting out’ for them? ‘It is really very good wine!’ they tell us, ‘You ought to go and try some for yourselves!’ Hansel (strangely, it seems to us) is a ‘wine man’ not a ‘beer man’ (unlike most German men I have met over the years). We politely refuse. ‘One of our brothers-in-law, Jack, is a wine expert!’ we tell them. ‘He has given us the names of several really good wines produced in this area (none of the ‘local plonk’ for us) … we are going to take two days to travel the ‘Route des Vins d’Alsace’ and we will buy some ‘quality wine’ en route!’

We set off early the next day and head for Eguiseim following the signs for the ‘Route des Vins d’Alsace’. We drive through mile after mile of vines. As far as the eye can see there are vines. They cover the entire landscape right up into the hills and trespassing right into the villages and towns dotted around here and there. There is no sign of anything else being grown … just vines. The locals must either import all their food … or survive on a diet of wine? We pass numerous Vineyards, all named after particular families. We even come across one called ‘Binner’ … the nearest we can get to our own vineyard, we guess? Julia has planned our route. Needless to say it takes in more towns and churches than vineyards, and places to stop for coffee and tea than places to sample a glass or two of wine?

We plan to stop at Eguisheim for coffee, but it is such a pretty little town that we end up spending an hour or so just walking around it taking in the beautiful houses and shops. There is a lovely church, which also has a lovely atmosphere, and a wonderful chapel nearby. As with other towns in the area many of the churches and buildings have wrought iron baskets on their steeples and roofs where storks can build their nests. The area is famous for its storks and we see them nesting everywhere … the parent birds standing watch and the baby birds peeping over the edges of the nests. We stop for coffee in a nice restaurant before moving on to a nearby Abbey Church that Julia is anxious to see at Murbach.

The Abbey Church is very impressive from a distance and we stop in the car park for a picnic lunch before visiting the Abbey itself. The site itself is very impressive with lovely herb gardens, some wonderful statues, and a lovely chapel overlooking the whole area. But the Abbey itself … well most of it is missing? The magnificent façade hides a miniscule interior. The whole thing is just … weird!

Time has flown by so we start to drive home. We still have not bought any wine so we look out for possible Vineyards on the way home. We eventually see one with a stall outside ostensibly selling wines from the vineyard. Although the stall is open and there are bottles of wine inside … there is no one there selling the wine. We drive up to the impressive looking house where we are greeted by two Alsatian dogs, and a party of Dutch cyclists who are also looking to buy some wine. There is no one obvious around so we ring the doorbell. After ringing the door bell several times a rather ferocious looking French woman answers the door. She is a female version of Herr Flick (from the TV series ‘Allo! ‘Allo!) and is none too pleased that we have dared call at the house. We tell her that we would like to buy some of their quality wine. ‘Shove off!’ she tells us in French! ‘But you have a stall by the roadside?’ we tell her, ‘Selling your wine!’ ‘But there is no one on duty there?’ we explain. ‘This is why we have come up to your house!’ ‘Shove off!’ she tells us once again. ‘We are not selling you any of our wine!’ and she slams the door in our faces. Julia and I shrug our shoulders, get back in our car, and resume our journey home. We pass the Dutch cyclists back at the unmanned wine stall by the road side. They are obviously contemplating helping themselves to some of the bottles of wine left lying about? If the wine is as bad as the reception we have just received I would leave well alone if I was them!

We are up early once again the next morning and resume our quest for good quality wine from one of the domains in the Alsace valley. Julia has a couple of villages she thinks we should see first so we head off to the first of these, Riquewihr. It is delightful with a great history and we end up spending far too long there. The day is running away from us and we still have not bought any quality wine from one of the posh Vineyards on the Wine Road. Eventually we manage to tear ourselves away because we have to visit the next village Julia has on her list, Ribeauville. Not only do we have to buy some wine, we have to go to the big Leclerc Supermarket to stock up with food. ‘We won’t stop for long in Ribeauville!’ says Julia, ‘Just long enough for a quick look and a cup of tea!’ When we get to Ribeauville, however, our new SatNav, Kate (so much politer than Jane our old SatNav) suddenly throws a complete wobbly and takes us right through the centre of the town? We are driving up cobbled streets, through pedestrian only zones, past quaint shops and historic houses? ‘Ah! Les Anglais!’ say the locals with the usual Gallic shrug of the shoulders. Obviously we are not the only Brits to have committed this faux pas! Travelling through the town seems to take for ever. We are expecting the Gendarmes to pounce any moment! We certainly get to see the whole of Ribeauville in the process!

Eventually we make it out the other side of the town. We are so stressed by the experience that we abandon our quest to buy some quality wine from one of the many Wine domains we pass on the way to the supermarket. We do our ‘big shop’ and then head back to our campsite sans wine. We are having fish for dinner … grilled on our wonderful new portable gas burner with fancy grill plate  that we bought for overnight stops but find ourselves using in addition to our normal larger gas cooker. ‘It would have been good to have had some really nice quality wine from Alsace to go with the fish?’ we think. So Julia walks up to the shop attached to the local Vineyard at the top of the road. She comes back with a half bottle of locally produced white wine … and very good it is, too!

Jim Binney

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