Thoughts Between Courses at L’Orangerie
“How do we know which fork to use first?” Wes whispers. I look down to see three forks of varying sizes. Normally I know what to do but this third fork is throwing me off. “Just look at which one they use.” I answer, signaling over to the others at our table who surely don’t feel as out of place as we do.
We’ve just sat down for lunch at our table in L’Orangerie, a fine-dining restaurant at the Chateau de Chenonceau in France. The food hasn’t arrived yet but I already know this is going to be the fanciest meal we’ve ever had. A part of me is slightly nervous about this wine tasting since I’ll spend the next two hours sitting directly beside Thierry Delaunay, winemaker and fifth-generation owner of Domaine Joel Delaunay. What if he quizzes me?!
It’s the last day of our wine tour in France and I’m trying to hold on to every minute we have left in the Loire Valley because I don’t want this trip to end. We’ve spent the better part of a week exploring all that this region has to offer thanks to Loire Valley Wines and the experience has been more eye-opening, rewarding and inspiring than I could have ever imagined. After touring vineyards, meeting winemakers and learning about the labour intensive processes behind every bottle, I’m not sure I’ll look ever look at a glass of wine the same way again.
While we wait for our entrées, I’m reminded of the first time Wes and I visited France nearly five years ago. We were backpacking then and likely trying to sneak an extra croissant from the breakfast buffet at our hostel in Paris. Now we’re sitting under a chandelier at a restaurant IN A CASTLE trying to figure out which fork to use for each dish. Funny how much things can change with time. Much like wine, I guess.
Thierry pours us our first glass for this tasting of his vineyard’s wines, a Sauvignon Blanc to enjoy with the salmon tartare we’ve just been served. The presentation is colourful and elegant but I make eye contact with Wes who is not a fan of seafood, much less when it’s not uncooked. He’s a trooper and not only has a taste but continues filming this experience so we can document it on our YouTube channel. I try my best to keep up with the conversation as Thierry shares with us his passion for wine and this region.
Next we try a Le Grand Ballon white wine that was actually among the very first Loire Valley wines to be made available in Canada. I notice the bottle’s logo looks almost identical to a photo Wes snapped only a few days earlier when I took my very first hot air balloon ride overlooking the picturesque countryside. Hot air balloons are a common sighting in this part of France since they’ve become popular with visitors looking for the most magical views of the vineyards. Thierry shows us a photo on his phone taken from a summer commute to work and there are dozens of balloons in the air. It looks like a postcard and so, so different from the daily commute of most people back home in Canada.
“After his travels, I hope my son will bring everything he has learned back to our vineyards.” Thierry continues and I bring my wandering mind to the table again. He’s referring to his vineyards at Domaine Joel Delauney, the property that has been passed down from father to son for the last five generations. His son (whose name I’ve completely missed and am now too embarrassed to ask) plans to travel to various wine regions after finishing his studies and will eventually oversee the 27 hectares of family property here in the Loire Valley.
I think back to the vineyards we’ve visited this week and realize they nearly all have strong family ties. I know what it’s like to grow up in the family business but neither my sister nor I had strong desires to continue running my dad’s paint store. He recently sold the business after over 40 years of dedication and I wonder if he wishes it had stayed in the family. Maybe if it had been a wine store…
We enjoy our grilled beef filet with a glass of Gamay, a light-bodied red wine with fruity notes. I’ve barely had a sip and Wes has almost wiped his dish clean. I’m sure he appreciates a nice piece of meat after some of the more unfamiliar local specialties we’ve been treated to this week. Just yesterday we ate rillettes for the first time; a deliciously salty meat spread we might have gone our whole lives without trying had it not been for this trip. I make a mental note to look for a place that sells rillettes in Vancouver. And the goat cheeses here are so fresh and flavourful that I actually closed my eyes while savouring some at our Domaine Saint Vincent tasting in Saumur the other day.
I see the uniformed waiters are on their way with dessert and realize we’ve nearly made it to the end of lunch without any awkward or embarrassing moments. If someone starts asking me questions about minerality, lees or tannin, my face will probably turn as red as this Malbec-Cabernet blend but I remind myself that wine doesn’t need to be as complex as we make it out to be. It’s perfectly okay to take it off the pedestal, put it on the table and enjoy it with good company. Much like we’ve been doing everyday here in France.
Moments like these — sitting at a table full of local foods with strangers turned friends — remind me of why I love travelling so much. If only I could bottle this all up and have something to show people the next time I get asked the ever so popular, “When are you coming home?” question.
The last plate is placed in front of me and I stare down at a masterpiece that probably took hours to make and looks far too pretty to eat. It’s a 3-way apple pavlova dessert in the shape of a green apple but I hesitate before digging in and take a discreet look around the table.
“Do we use a fork or a spoon for this?”