Tuesday, October 18, 2011

France’s Vin de Domme and Dodue the Valiant (Pug) of the Dordogne

 [A Hike in Southern French Wine Country]

There was a scream and my friend Béa came running out from behind the stand of bushes where she had disappeared. Running behind her with tongue lapping out the side of her mouth was little Dodue, a blond pug with a black stub of a tail and a perennial smile on her hard-to-read, wrinkled face.
“She licked me!” Béa said with alarm. “While I was taking a leak!” She then quickly set straight the misunderstanding written on our faces, “No, not there, on the thigh, but still…”
Dodue was the name we had given this little member of our hiking team. I added, Dodue La Vaillante, The Valiant, after she joined me on an ascent up a lookout point that made us both sting mightily with vertigo: I inched my anxious self back down the shaky height and she stayed with me the entire way, body low to the ground and shaking like beech tree leaves in winter, but she did not abandon me. She let me know we were in it together.
We six, five humans—my four adventurous local friends Petrus, Béa, Thierry, and Bruno—and Dodue, were taking in a day hike of the Vin de Domme region south of Sarlat-la-Canéda in the Dordogne, that part of southwestern France famous for its prehistoric caves (such as Lascaux), foie gras, and black truffles. The local wine industry was only recently making a comeback after the devastation of the late 19th century phylloxera epidemic that wiped out a region once blanketed in vineyards. One glance today and all that once-striped wine land is now nearly covered in indigenous forest, except for the famous Bergerac area west of here and the Vin de Domme.
The Vin de Domme resurgence began in the mid-1990s with a grassroots gathering of several growers, some who were also sheep herders, tobacco growers, and farmers, who decided to turn their attention to the terroir and wine-making of the land, knowing its soil, climate, and exposure promised good bottles down the road.
The fifteen-kilometer rugged and rocky trail through forest, hills, abandoned ruins, and revived vineyards was the idea of Béa and Bruno, area experts from Dordogne Fellow Traveller. They were taking the slower winter season to show me and Petrus their favorite places. 

It was in one of the old villages that Dodue found us. She joined a larger dog, a tawny colored cocker spaniel, to bark at us as we arrived. Once we passed through the village so courageously guarded, the spaniel dropped off and went back to her front stoop to sleep. But Dodue stayed with us, trotting along with that funny smile and side-hanging tongue. We kept telling her to go back, but, no. Dodue was ours.  Or more accurately, we were Dodue’s.
Béa tried to read the tag hanging on Dodue’s red woven collar. After a struggle—Dodue jiggled any time a hand came near her—Béa got a hold of the tag and saw a cell phone number, with no name or address. She called from the edge of a vineyard. 

As we waited, I could see the sweep of merlot and cabernet franc vines rise then fall and dive toward the rocky hills north and south of here, hills that promised chalky limestone soil, hot sunny days, and cool nights.  A young man answered.
“Hello,” said Béa, she paused, then blurted, “I have your little pig here.” We all heard silence and then laughter coming through the phone and the man said, “She does that a lot. Where are you?” Béa explained that we were on the trail heading to the Vin de Domme cellars. They agreed that he would get “his little pig” at the winery.
We never got the little pig’s real name and so continued to call her “Dodue,” an endearing term in French that means plump, or in our usage, little fatty. Apparently, the village from which she adopted us was not her home either.
We then stopped for a picnic lunch in a thicket of oak and that was when Béa was jovially licked on the thigh in the bush.
By the time we arrived at the winery, Dodue had become a member of our expedition, a daring and valiant one at that. I was impressed by her courage and devotion, staying with me on that lookout height that made us both go green. But it was a spectacular height: it afforded us a view of the entire wine growing lands of some 17 growers, the serpent’s winding of the Dordogne River, and the hilltop fortress chateaus of Beynac and Castelnaud. To the south, it revealed the drier but more attuned to wine growing lands of the Lot that opened toward Cahors, another rich wine area, especially for malbec.
At the wine coop, we explained our dog situation. The president of the coop, Bernard Manières, did what any self-respecting French person would and invited Dodue to join the tour.
In 1989, Germinal Peiro, a native of the area and regional counselor, proposed reviving the vineyards that had lay silent for a century. In 1993, the Association des Amis du Vin de Domme, Association of the Friends of the Wine of Domme, was created, with over 300 members. By 1995, after some experimental plantings on half a hectare of land the year before, three locals joined the planting revival—Eric Duclaud, Bernard Manières, and Michel Perry—and planted several more hectares on prime wine land. Today, some fourteen others have joined the planting and the coop has twenty-three hectares of vines and aspires to increase it to thirty hectares in the future. The Amis du Vin de Domme now has over 2300 members.
The five wines that they produce—three reds (Cuvée Tradition, Périgord Noir, and Cuvée Cabernet Franc) and two rosé (Rosé de Domme and Rosé Gourmandise)—are standard fare in regional restaurants in an area dedicated to eating and cooking from locally grown and produced ingredients. The table is now complete: local grilled duck breast is heavenly with the Vin de Domme Cuvée Tradition, an unoaked cabernet franc and merlot blend, a wine made the old way, before oaking became popular.
(For those desiring oak, the Périgord Noir (cabernet franc and merlot) and the Cuvée Cabernet Franc (pure cabernet franc) deliver the right notes.)

We went to see the press, the stainless steel containers, and the barrels. Dodue wove in and out, like a seasoned wine connoisseur. We ended at the tasting room where Mr. Manières offered us tastes of the three reds since we were a crowd of red wine lovers. The Vin de Domme’s two roses are also worthy wines: the Gourmandise is sweet, meant as an aperitif that can easily be paired with foie gras, traditionally demanding a sweet pairing, and the Rosé de Domme is drier, perfect for pairing with first courses such as smoked Aquitaine trout or a traditional salad with greens and thin slices of dry cured duck breast.
Somewhere between the second and third wine, we lost Dodue. “Uh-oh,” said Petrus, “now we have to find her to make sure the young man gets her back.”
We looked around steel tanks, behind oak barrels, beneath the picnic bench in the tasting room, to no avail. Suddenly, there she was, all along, asleep on the floor with its dominant cream and brown tones just like hers. She was asleep right on the place names painted on the floor, imposed over the logo of the labyrinth of the Vin de Domme label, showing all the micro growing regions involved. He little paws and thick snout lay right on the word Domme. Clever girl. She went right to the heart of matters just as she had gone to the center of our hearts.           
At that moment, a young man walked into the tasting room. “I’m here for my little pig.” Everyone laughed. We were happy that he had not taken offense. Indeed, he looked relieved. By now, we all knew her as Dodue but were curious. “What is her name?”
“Ficelle.” Which means string.
“Ficelle?” Three of us said at once, incredulous.
Oui, Ficelle.”
We said goodbye to “Ficelle.” We bought a few bottles of wine. As we took off to the trail again, almost as one voice we each said, “She’s no Ficelle. She’s Dodue, Dodue the Valiant.” And we felt something lacking. We knew it was the presence of our sixth trekking member, smaller than all of us but full of life, energy, and daring. We could not imagine Dodue returning to a life as Ficelle, one that seemed woefully rife with lolling about before the television, eating bonbons, and longing for another adventure.
The wine from the Vin de Domme is an honest wine, made with traditional methods, by locals dedicated to the land and the fruit. For me, it also tastes of that day, of that little friend who adopted us, and of adventures as yet unknown until you strike out onto the trail.
Forever in my mind, the Vin de Domme will be the Vin de Dodue. Certainly not Ficelle.

Some practical advice:
Getting to the Dordogne, Quercy, and the Lot, where Vin de Domme is situated, is easy by train from Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse.
The two best ways to get to the Vin de Domme cooperative are either with Dordogne Fellow Traveller or by car. With Dordogne Fellow Traveller, they will tailor an excursion  to your interests and they will handle all the logistics, from picking you up from your home base (Sarlat is an excellent base), driving, arranging the tour, and if you desire, taking you on a wine trail hike. The appearance of adorable, must-take-home-dogs cannot be guaranteed. If you rent a car, head south from the town of Domme to the village of Bouzic and from there follow signs to the Cave du Vin de Domme, in Florimont-Gaumier.
Vin de Domme also makes an appearance at Sarlat’s Saturday market during the late spring and throughout the summer.  Their label is distinctive and the best way to find them au marché: a labyrinth in the shape of a wine leaf. When I asked Bernard Manières why they chose this emblem, he said, “It is a labyrinth to come here.” It felt that he meant this both physically, and it was, as well as metaphorically, detailing a century of return and comeback with slow, deliberate, and paced work.

Cave du Vin de Domme
24250 Florimont-Gaumier

telephone: 05-53-28-14-47

Hours: June-September: Monday thru Friday, 10 AM to 12 PM and 2 PM to 6:30 PM; Weekends and holidays, 2:30 pm to 6:30 PM. October-May: Contact them to arrange for a time to visit.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Esoteric Camino to Santiago de Compostela through France and Spain

Jaca’s cathedral in Aragón has a basilisk that seems to come from some pre-Christian Pyrenean past. 

Eunate’s church in Navarra has a sacred flutist possibly harkening to a Sufi influence, not to mention its ring of thirty-three external arches that are akin to Islamic prayer beads, acting as a meditation upon the ninety-nine names of God—three times around, and entering the hundredth door, as the Sufis call it. Eunate in Basque actually means 100 doors. 

Nearly 500 kilometers further along the Camino, Santo Tomas de las Ollas in León possesses nine horseshoe arches in its apse that form an eleven-sided polygon. Another mediation on 99, not to mention on the interfaith nature of the sacred road?

Even St. James’ tomb in Santiago de Compostela may instead contain the bones of another beheaded martyr, the Galician Priscillian, a monk, hermit, and local leader from the 4th century who wove many locally beloved pagan ideas into his rendering of Christianity.

Throughout the sacred pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela, the Camino, many churches are infused with a sacred geometry that only makes fuller sense if the pagan, the Classical, the Judaic, the Christian, and the Islamic traditions are considered together. Moreover, all along the corridor spanned by the Camino there are dolmens, menhirs, engraved stones and cave walls, and holy springs that also speak of a prehistoric past that saw this corridor as equally sacred.

The Camino—the many roads across Europe and across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela—has many layers; the Christian layer is only the most recent and evident.

I have recently published a multi-layered travel guide on the Camino, The Esoteric Camino France & Spain, as an application download for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch. (An eBook is forthcoming.) Based on over 25 years of exploring, walking, and studying the Camino as a pilgrim, anthropologist, and writer, this app carries in it explorations into the many layers of this sacred road, from prehistory to the present.

The Esoteric Camino France & Spain complements other Camino guides, the more numerous practical how-to guides, and does something no one of them does in one place: offer the deep layers of ancestry and the less obvious lineages and symbols of the places along the Camino. It is rich in esoteric lore, regional folklore, and sacred geometry.

Moreover, as I continue my treks, I will continue to explore stretches of the many Caminos in Europe. As I do so, I will expand the entries in the app. 

The current edition of The Esoteric Camino France & Spain covers the French Road, the Camino Francés, from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, to Finisterre, Spain. The current app also covers the Camino Aragonés from the Somport Pass to Puente la Reina, Spain, as well as parts of the road that begin in Le-Puy-en-Velay in France. 

The Esoteric Camino France & Spain is available through Sutro Media on iTunes and on Android.

Buen Camino!