Good food and good wine, this is heaven on earth.
King Henry IV of France
Every morning when I wake up I wonder how on earth I am going to fill my daily blog post. My target is to write around 1,500 words which I read somewhere is the ideal length for a blog. Since today was an extremely short stage (19 km), due to the lack of decent alternative accommodation options, today’s blog deals largely with a subject dear to my heart – wine.
The communal gite where I stayed the night in Champlitte was ideal. It was clean, well equipped and located a stone’s throw from the bakery, the church and the Chateau de Champlitte.
Even the bunk bed at the hostel was comfortable. Tge last time I remember sleeping in a bunk bed was in my bedroom in parents’ house in Surrey. It was a child’s bunk bed and only about 5ft 6 inches long. When, as a strapping 6 footer in my late teens, I suggested it might be time for an upgrade (as my feet used to stick through the metal grilles the end of the bed), my father steadfastly refused to countenance the notion and instead suggested that I should adapt my sleeping posture by rolling up like a ball!
After yesterday’s 37km walk from Torcenay I slept like a log! It’s a bit surprising that more pilgrims on the VF don’t use the communal hostel in Champlitte which only costs 18 euros a night. I looked at the visitors’ book. Since opening in 2019 only 48 pilgrims have stayed here. I am the 8th British pilgrim to have stayed at the hostel but the first in 2021!
I originally tried to spend the night in Champlitte with a local wine grower called Pascal Henriot. It seems he no longer accommodates pilgrims. I tried to arrange a visit to his vineyard, but sadly he was busy with the harvest.
In the 19th century wine making was the third largest industry in Haute-Saone. Unfortunately in 1886, the phylloxera blight from the US reached Champlitte and annihilated its vineyards. In a few months 80% of the slopes that were the pride of the village for more than 400 years disappeared and subsequently the vines were abandoned until the early 1960s when the first of the new vines were planted.
Since the 1960s, Champlitte vineyards have enjoyed something of a renaissance, nowhere more so than at the vineyard of Pascal Henriot. He is now so busy with his wine making business that he can’t accommodate pilgrims any more.
Pascal established his 6 hectare vineyard in 1985. He grows his vines organically, uses no pesticides and harvests the grapes entirely by hand. Each of his wines is made with only one type of grape. His white wines are produced using Auxerrois ( a grape variety particularly suited for the north west of France), Chardonnay and Pinot gris grapes. His reds use Gamay and Pinot noir while his Rosé uses a blend of Gamay and Pinot noir.
Alain Joyandot is another local wine producer who bought a vineyard that was established in 1974 and now exports his wine all over the world. In 2019 he sold 5,000 bottles to Asia ( Japan, South Korea, Thailand and China) as well as several Michelin starred restaurants in Paris.
“The vine teaches you the virtues of humility and patience. It is a beautiful lesson in life” says Alain from the slopes of his vineyard from where on a clear day you can see as far as Mont Blanc.
On Saturday I visited the heart of Burgundy winemaking country – Nuit- Saint-Georges and Beaune with Claude. We dropped in to chat with a wine grower in Nuit-Saint-Georges and had a fascinating conversation with him.
80% of the top 50 wines in the world come from Burgundy and over the last 20 years the local wine making business has changed completely. Due to French inheritance laws, estates have to be divided up equally between all the children of the owner of an estate when he dies. This system of inheritance contrasts with the English practice of primogeniture where estates pass entirely to the eldest male heir. As a result of the French inheritance system, small vineyards have been acquired by American and Chinese buyers as well as large multinationals like Louis Vuitton.
The owner of the vineyard divulged that some bottles of Burgundy can sell for as much as 15,000 euros a bottle and last year he had enjoyed an evening with wine rich friends where he had drunk a couple of bottles costing 150,000 euros each! One local collector of wine, who died recently, had a collection of 600 bottles and 200 magnums of fine wine auctioned in Switzerland. They were sold to a mystery buyer for a staggering 30 million euros!
Before I left Champlitte I had a quick look around the town. The impressive church of Saint Christophe boasts a 15th century bell tower and also contains an impressive vaulted chapel where the lords of Vergy are buried.
Without any doubt though it is the Chateau of Champlitte that is the most impressive building in town. Since its construction in the 16th century by Francois de Vergy, the chateau has been emblematic of Champlitte. The current building dates from 1781 and now houses a couple of museums. Sadly they were closed on Tuesdays so I had to be content with admiring the Chateau from the outside!
Just outside Champlitte I passed through Champlitte la Ville and couldn’t help admiring the beautifully manicured yew trees in the churchyard.
It was yet another sleepy and peaceful village where time seemed to have stood still. I couldn’t but help notice a baguette hanging from somebody’s front door. Food delivered straight to the door!
Fraimont, the next village I passed through, had a beautiful lavoir and a church with a lovely tiled roof that seems to be a feature in this area.
Gathering nuts in May be am old custom in parts of England, but it’s certainly not encouraged in these parts in October – unless perhaps you are a red squirrel!
Shortly after leaving Framont I came across a ‘smiley’ inscribed in the sand on the path. Was this a message from Baptiste I wondered, as he motored on towards the Alps?
There was rain in the air and a stiff wind as I made my way towards Dampierre-sur-Salon. The path was soft and sandy and I was in no real hurry to reach my destination. 19 km was pretty much my shortest daily walk since leaving Winterbourne Stoke.
As I climbed up to the plateau above Dampierre, I saw a lonely roadside cross on the horizon and heard a buzzard soaring in the sky overhead. It’s at times like these that I sometimes feel a veil in the heavens has been drawn aside and a glimpse provided of something that lies beyond.
The poet Gerald Manley Hopkins captured such moments brilliantly in his poetry, particularly ‘The Windhover’.
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
It had begun to drizzle as I reached Dampierre-sur-Salon. As I entered town I passed the pilgrim with the large rucksack whom I had seen yesterday outside Champlitte. The rucksack seemed as large as ever.
I made my way to the Tourist Office to get my pilgrim passport stamped. Inside a friendly chap enquired whether I needed accommodation for the night. I replied that I had already reserved a room with Monsieur Desre at the gite ‘au Bon Vivant’. The man in the tourist office raised his eyebrow slightly. “Do you like tea?” he asked, “because he may well try and sell you some!” he added with a mischievous grin and a twinkle in his eye.
Intrigued, I set off in search of Monsieur Desre and his tea emporium. After a ten minute walk I reached the gite ‘au Bon Vivant’ and Monsieur Desre greeted me at the door.
As he led me to my room he remarked “You will be sharing your room with another pilgrim. She is German I think”. “Does she have a large orange rucksack ?” I enquired. Quick as a flash came the reply ” Yes, most definitely!”…..
If you’d like to make a donation to the ‘Raise the Roof Appeal’ to help renovate the roof at St Peter’s Church, Winterbourne Stoke, you can do so by following this link: